“The Last, Whole Introduction to Agorism” by Samuel Edward Konkin III

Agorism, unfortunately, needs an introduction.

Counter-economics and agorism were originally fighting concepts, forged in what seemed to be the ever-cresting revolution of 1972-73, and which proved to be the last wave instead. Revolutionary rhetoric or not, agorism arose in a time and a context where slogans required extensive published analysis and ongoing dialectic criticism with highly
committed competing factions. Thus, when the crucible of “The Sixities”1 had cooled, amongst all the garish Party pennants, Trashing rubbish, and exploded-Ideology ashes lay a hard, bright and accurate theory and methodology. Probably the first economically-sound basis for a revolutionary platform, agorism’s market melted away before it could even get on the display rack.

Origins of Agorism: Background
The collapse of the Berlin Wall was prefigured twenty years earlier by the collapse of statist economics, particularly the Orthodox Marxism and liberal Keynesianism. With our release from those reigning dead economists, alternatives flourished from heretical “anarcho”-capitalism to deviationist Marxism – the more heretical and deviationist, the better. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Murray Rothbard, paleoconservative (Old Right) class theory and isolationism was grafted onto (or synthesized with) a free-market economics that was so pure it generated the same systemic shock as, say, modern
Christianity discovering original, primitive Christianity.

Austrian School economics, particularly Ludwig von Mises’ uncompromising praxeology, was, most appealingly, uncompromising. Furthermore, it required  no patch-up or cover-up failures; in fact, in 1973-74, it successfully predicted the gold boom and the subsequent stagflation which so confounded the Official Court Economists. Mises died at his moment of triumph: Moses, Christ and Marx to the libertarian movement rising out of the ashes of the New Left and its dialectic opponent, the student Right.

Murray Rothbard was the Gabriel, St. Paul and Lenin. Rather than watering down praxeology to gain establishment acceptance and Nobel Prizes (as did Wilhelm Röpke and Friedrich Hayek, to name two), Rothbard insisted on radicalizing Austrianism still further.

Mises, though adored by radical rightists from Ayn Rand to Robert Welch, died calling himself a Liberal, though a 19th century Hapsburg Austrian Liberal, to be sure. Rothbard, with his academic historian allies Leonard Liggio and Joseph Peden, insisted that Austrianism went beyond the tepid classical liberalism being revived by the Milton Friedmans; it demanded not merely limited, constitutional, republican government – it required none at all.

How could  Röpke counsel Christian Democrat Kanzler Konrad Adenauer and Birchers love Mises when Rothbard preached outright anarchy? The answer lay in praxeology’s crucial concept of wertfrei – value free. As many critics later pointed out – even friendly, libertarian ones – economics assumed some values at various levels, such as to take the most blatant example, economic study itself. Nevertheless, suppressing conscious valuation allowed Mises to make a far more penetrating analysis devastating to all political illusionists of his time – but also allowed his theory to be sold in amputated parcels by selective opportunists and bought by well-meaning but narrow-focused activists.

The true meaning of Misesian “Austrian Economics” continues to be hotly debated in the Journal of Austrian Economics, Critical Review, and libertarian movement journals, but what concerns us here is what it was perceived as being at the founding of Counter-Economics.

Origins of Agorism: Counter-Economics
Austrian economics answered questions.

Q: Why do we value and how?
A: It is inherent in everyone and it is subjective.

Why do we give up anything at all ever?
A: Because we subjectively value A more than B while some Other values B more than A. We do not relinquish; we acquire a greater value.

But why would anyone give up something that is universally (or as close as possible)  subjectively valued for something of less value?
A: Because that one-thousandth unit of the seemingly more valuable is less subjectively valuable than the first unit of the seemingly lesser. Who would consider it folly to trade one’s hundredth loaf of bread for a first diamond? Utility is marginal.

Why do we have money?
A: Facilitate trade, keep quantitative accounts, make change and store value.

From where does money come?
It arises from commodities exchanged more and more as a middle or medium of exchange.

Q: Can government improve on money?
A: No, it is strictly a market function.

Q: What is the result of government intervention anywhere in the market?
Government is force, however legitimized and accepted; all force prevents subjective value satisfaction, that is, whatever human actors voluntarily give up and accept is, by their personal subjective (and unknowable to others) understanding, the best informed outcome to them. Any violence that deters their exchange is counter-productive to all the exchanges and to those whose exchanges depend on theirs – that is, violent intervention is a universal disutility in the market.

Mises thus concludes that all coercion – and that includes government action – is not just anti-market but inhumane. Not bad for value free assumptions!  Röpke (author of Humane Economy), Hayek, and even Mises felt that once private force or that of another state entered the marketplace, government counter-force was justified for rectification. Furthermore, none could conceive of any other way to deal with humane protection.

Enter Murray Rothbard… and Robert LeFevre.

Origins of Agorism: Anti-Politics
Between 1964 and 1974, the entire political spectrum save for a sliver of “liberal” machines in the Democratic and Republican parties were intensely alienated from politics. The moderate Left had their hopes dashed by Kennedy’s assassination and looked further Left; the moderate Right pinned their hopes on Goldwater and were driven out of politics by the establishment-medium distortions of his – their – positions. Some turned on, tuned in, and dropped out.

The rest of us pursued what Europeans call so diplomatically extra-parliamentary politics. Rothbard and his “East Coast” libertarians pursued an alliance of alienated “Old Right” and “New Left” for a classical revolution. Robert LeFevre and his “West Coast” libertarians pursued a civil-disobedience stance: non-participation in state-sanctioned politics, particularly elections and office-holding, coupled with education and activism to expand refusal until the State could no longer function. By 1969, the Weatherman tactic of exacerbating State violence with its own to accelerate revolution drove Rothbard
to give up his Ultra Left-Right coalition dream, and support peace candidates. LeFevre remained anti- collaborationist until his death in 1986, but civil disobedience and pacifism went out of fashion in the mid-1970s.

Origins of Agorism: Counter-Economics
Thus, when agorism appeared, there were several questions to be dealt with beyond the answers of then-current Austrian Economics and libertarian politics:

Q: Can the State be praxeologically dispensed with?
A: Answering that affirmatively, as both Rothbard and LeFevre and several others did…

Q: How?

Richard and Ernestine Perkins, Morris and Linda Tannehill, and David Friedman and the many contributors to The Libertarian Connection gave early answers as to how the market could provide protection agencies which would be competitive – eliminating the problem of the inherent coercion of the State. Unable to regulate or tax, able to act only when paid for and asked to protect or reclaim property, the agency solved the problem of intervention
against subjective-valuing human actors. Arbitration would replace magistration for justice – or at least settling rival claims.

But none of them describe the path of getting from here (statism) to there (stateless marketplace or agora). Assuming market entrepreneurs would find a way, the strategy for achieving liberty was left as an exercise for the readers.

In the same 1972 U.S. Presidential election where the power elite did to George McGovern and the non-revolutionary anti-war left what they had done to Barry Goldwater, a new party emerged. Although the Libertarian Party received a miniscule percentage of the vote and was ignored by everyone from Rothbard to LeFevre, a rebel elector in Virginia bolted Nixon’s overwhelming majority to put John Hospers and the LP on the political map. It turned out to be the high point of the LP’s success, but with the Fran Youngstein for Mayor Campaign in 1973, conservative and radical libertarians mingled and then repolarized. The crucial debate of 1974 was no longer anarchy vs. minarchy, but partyarchy vs. agorism.

The anti-party majority argued that working within the political system had failed for two centuries. The new “party anarchists” or partyarchs argued that nothing else had worked (everything else, presumably, had been tried in the Sixties)). At least they had a strategy. Furthermore, it could be perceived to work in stages and even increments as a law was repealed here or a tax there. Of course, in the twenty years of the LP’s existence, no “retreat of statism” has been noticeable.

The anti-party libertarians were forced to choose between yet another paradigm shift to respond (remember, most had been radicalized from conservatism to near Weathermen) or give up. Those who remained in the fight with their new analysis and corresponding strategy took the name of the market to oppose themselves to political parties and statism – agora. The new paradigm of the agorist was called (in tribute to the then-fading Counter-Culture) Counter-Economics.

Counter-Economics is the study and practice of the human action in the Counter-Economy. The Counter-Economy is all human action not sanctioned by the State.

Just as Quantum Mechanics arose by theoretical chemists and physicists refusing to ignore the paradigm-breaking experiments, and Relativity arose from Einstein’s acceptance of the Michelson-Morley results, Counter-Economics arose as a theory by taking into account what all standard economics either ignored or downplayed. Just as light tunneled out of Hawking’s black holes, human action tunneled under the control of the state. And this underground economy, black market, nalevo Russia turned out to be far, far to vast to ignore as a minor correction.

In the earliest agorist-influenced science-fiction in 1975, the story predicted the USSR would fall to counter-economic forces by 1990 and soon thereafter turn into such a free-market paradise that it would be invaded statist world lead by the imperialist U.S. (as this article is being written, the last of that prophecy would come to pass).

The Counter-Economic alternative gave the agorists a devastating weapon. Rather than slowly amass votes until some critical mass would allow state retreat (if the new statists did not change sides to protect their new vested interests), one could commit civil disobedience profitably, dodging taxes and regulations, having lower costs and (potentially) greater efficiency than one’s statist competitors – if any. For many goods and services could only arise or be provided counter-economically.

In 1975, the New Libertarian Alliance left their campuses and aboveground “white market” jobs and went full-time counter-economic for a decade to prove the strategy’s viability. In 1980, the long delayed New Libertarian Manifesto was issued to those into party politics or other forms of hopelessness.

Agorism Today
Surprisingly little systematic research has been done in counter-economics since the agorist discovery a decade after the immersion of the agorist cadre. They surfaced to find a changed political landscape. It had been expected that their more-timid allies would stay aboveground to conduct officially-sanctioned research, but that failed to happen for now obvious institutional reasons. Hence, determined to report their findings, take advantage of freedom of the press and academic freedom to do so, and, incidentally, raise families, the publishing cadre formed the Agorist Institute in the libertarian-rich American Southwest at the end (symbolically) of 1984. The rest of the history of agorism is the history of The
Agorist Institute’s trials and tribulations (which will presumably be published someday). AI flourished at the end of the 1980’s, hitting its nadir as counter-economics – if not full agorism – swept the globe and tossed socialism into the dustbin of history.

The Future of Agorism
Unlike in the Counter-Economy itself, agorists had a problem with market feedback operating aboveground, especially in the almost-market-devoid realm of tax-deductible, educational foundations – a fund devouring unreality forbidding enough to consume a fat chunk of the Koch family fortune and spit out Charles and David. Although receiving some financial support from mid-range successful entrepreneurs, AI attempted to do it all: research support, classes, seminars, academic conferences and publication of journals and newsletters (internal and external). (All the staff had additional jobs or businesses to support themselves.)

Hence, the 1995 revival also marks the AI’S tenth anniversary and the long-awaited and delayed publication of this quarterly. Once again, we embark on studying the vast iceberg below the tip – the Counter-Economy – and report our findings. To avoid our previous pitfalls, AI is focusing on three self-supporting (in short order) publications: AQ, the already appearing but infrequent New Isolationist, and new moment-by-moment newsletter of the primary concern, Counter-Economics. The test or preview issue, #0, follows this journal.

The world has changed in a second decade – but, strangely enough, the Russian nalevo market is still there to study after the Second Revolution – only this time, we will not be able to rely on CIA sponsored published accounts. How will the European Counter-Economy, particularly the Black Labor market, fare with the dropping of borders? What about Canada’s and Mexico’s “informal” economies with the passage of NAFTA? Is Hernando de Soto’s El Otro Sendero going to win over Abimael Guzman’s Sendero Luminoso, especially after betrayal by de Soto’s alleged political (partyarch) disciples, Mario Vargas Llosa and then Alberto Fujimori? Recently, the former Comandate Cero  of the Tercerista (uncompromising) faction of the Sandanistas, Eden Pastora, chose the agorist Karl Hess Club to announce his candidacy for President of Nicaragua.

And what about the United States? How does all of the above affect America’s counter-economic foreign interface [academic for “the smuggling industry”]? What effect will Clinton’s State medicine do to the health-providing service? Will all medical treatment end up like 1950’s abortion, and will people grab free needles at the AIDS-prevention center to give to their black doctors for unauthorized immunization of their children who cannot wait their “turn” (due after their scheduled death, as in Canada and England)?

Every issue in today’s press from Bosnia to Oklahoma City has an overlooked Counter-Economic component that AI can explore, compile and publish. Other areas can be excavated from the underground that will become issues once exposed and explained, and then there is the new battleground for agorists and statists: cyberspace, where cypherpunk agorist road warriors have an early lead over the Gore statist superhighwaymen.

But, finally and overall, the issue needing the most attention is that of agorism itself. To the extent that it is “agorology” and not just ideology, what is and should be its methodology? We most urgently invite our newly awakened and empowered students of agorism and multi-disciplinarians of counter-economics to contribute their first – and second – thoughts on the subject. Are some methods out of bounds in agorism that are academically acceptable, for example? Or are some methods acceptable  in counter-economic study that are unacceptable to academic researchers? Can we wertfrei when we are
obviously attracted to the Black as Departments of Marxist Studies are to the Red? Should there be competing methodologies? (In case there was the least doubt, AI encourages one, two, many agorist foundations.)

And what about that new Power Mac equipment to hook up to the Video Toaster? Is traditional publishing enough or should it be supplemented – or supplanted – by full-scale video production passed along by videotape – or hurtled through the Internet like “Breaker, breaker” trucks on the information superhighway? Should AQ continue to appear on paper, or in .PDF on-line files as New Libertarian magazine is now doing?

Now it is the “Rightist” Militia instead of New Left cadre blowing up federal
buildings and protesting massacres of peaceful women and children, but
fighting for freedom against the American Empire is turning serious again. In
an important way, our Nineties are like the Sixties: we don’t know where
we’re going to end up, but we know we’re on our way. Or, in 90’s parlance, as
our children’s spokesperson would say, when asked about “the future,”
agorists answer, “The Future? We’re there.”

Originally published in The Agorist Quarterly, Fall 1995, Volume 1, Number 1.


“Copywrongs” by Samuel Edward Konkin III

Having done every step of production in the publishing industry, both for myself and others, I have one irrefutable empirical conclusion about the economic effect of copyrights on prices and wages: nada. Zero. Nihil. So negligible you’d need a Geiger counter to measure it.

Before I move on to exactly what copyrights do have an impact on, one may be interested as to why the praxeological negligibility of this tariff. The answer is found in the peculiar nature of publishing. There are big publishers and small publishers and very, very few in between. For the Big Boys, royalties are a fraction of one percent of multi-million press runs. They lose more money from bureaucratic interstices and round-off error. The small publishers are largely counter-economic and usually survive on donated material or break-in writing; let the new writers worry about copyrighting and reselling.

Furthermore, there are a very few cases of legal action in the magazine world because of this disparity. The little ‘zines have no hope beating a rip-off and shrug it off after a perfunctory threat; the Biggies rattle their corporate-lawyer sabres and nearly anyone above ground quietly bows.

Book publishing is a small part of total publishing and there are some middle-range publishers who do worry about the total cost picture in marginal publishing cases. But now there are two kinds of writers: Big Names and everyone else. Everyone else is seldom reprinted; copyrights have nothing to do with first printings (economically). Big Names rake it in – but they also make a lot from ever-higher bids for their next contract. And the lowered risk of not selling out a reprint of a Big Name who has already sold out a print run more than compensates paying the writer the extra fee.

So Big Name writers would lose something substantial if the copyright privilege ceased enforcement. But Big Name writers are an even smaller percentage of writers than Big Name Actors are of actors. If they all vanished tomorrow, no one would notice (except their friends, one hopes). Still, one may reasonably wonder if the star system’s incentive can be done away without the whole pyramid collapsing. If any economic argument remains for copyrights, it’s incentive.

Crap. As Don Marquis put in the words of Archy the Cockroach, “Creative expression is the need of my soul.” And Archy banged his head on typewriter key after typewriter key all night long to turn out his columns – which Marquis cashed in. Writing as a medium of expression will continue as long as someone has a burning need to express. And if all they have to express is a need for second payments and associated residuals, we’re all better off for not reading it.

But, alas, the instant elimination of copyrights would have negligible effect on the star system. While it would cut into the lifelong gravy train of stellar scribes, it would have no effect on their biggest source of income: the contract for their next book (or script, play or even magazine article or short story). That is where the money is.

“You’re only as good as your last piece” – but you collect for that on your next sale. Market decisions are made on anticipated sales. Sounds like straight von Mises, right? (Another great writer who profited little from copyrighting – but others are currently raking it in from Ludwig’s privileged corpse – er, corpus.)

The point of all this vulgar praxeology is not just to clear the way for the moral question. The market (praise be) is telling us something. After all, both market human action and morality arise from the same Natural Law.

In fact, let us clear out some more deadwood and red herrings before we face the Great Moral Issue. First, if you abolish copyrights, would great authors starve? Nope. In fact, the market might open a trifle for new blood. Would writers write if they did not get paid? Who says they wouldn’t? There is no link between payment for writing and copyrights. Royalties roll in (or, much more often, trickle in) long after the next work is sold and the one after is in progress.

Is not a producer entitled to the fruit of his labor? Sure, that’s why writers are paid. But if I make a copy of a shoe or a table or a fireplace log (with my little copied axe) does the cobbler or wood worker or woodchopper collect a royalty?

A. J. Galambos, bless his anarchoheart, attempted to take copyrights and patents to their logical conclusion. Every time we break a stick, Ug The First should collect a royalty. Ideas are property, he says; madness and chaos result.

Property is a concept extracted from nature by conceptual man to designate the distribution of scarce goods – the entire material world – among avaricious, competing egos. If I have an idea, you may have the same idea and it takes nothing from me. Use yours as you will and I do the same.

Ideas, to use the ‘au courant’ language of computer programmers, are the programs; property is the data. Or, to use another current cliché, ideas are the maps and cartography, and property is the territory. The difference compares well to the differences between sex and talking about sex.

Would not ideas be repressed without the incentive (provided by copyrights)? ‘Au contraire’ the biggest problem with ideas is the delivery system. How do we get them to those marketeers who can distribute them? (Ed. note: most readers probably know the answer to this in 1996, this was written in 1986)

My ideas are pieces of what passes for my soul (or, if you prefer, ego). Therefore, every time someone adopts one of them, a little piece of me has infected them. And for this I get paid, too! On top of all that, I should be paid and paid and paid as they get staler and staler?

If copyrights are such a drag, why and how did they evolve? Not by the market process. Like all privileges (emphasis added), they were grants of the king. The idea did not – could not – arise until Gutenberg’s printing press and it coincided with the rise of royal divinity, and soon after, the onslaught of mercantilism.

So who benefits from this privilege? There is an economic impact I failed to mention earlier. It is, in Bastiat’s phrasing, the unseen. Copyright is a Big publisher’s method, under cover of protecting artists, of restraint of trade. Yes, we’re talking monopoly.

For when the Corporation tosses its bone to the struggling writer, and an occasional steak to the pampered tenth of a percent, it receives an enforceable legal monopoly on the editing, typesetting, printing, packaging, marketing (including advertising) and sometimes even local distribution of that book or magazine. (In magazines, it also has an exclusivity in layout vs other articles and illustrations and published advertisements.) How’s that for vertical integration and restraint of trade?

And so the system perpetuates, give or take a few counter-economic outlaws and some enterprising Taiwanese with good smuggling connections.

Because copyrights permeate all mass media, Copyright is the Rip-off That Dare Not Mention Its Name. The rot corrupting our entire communications market is so entrenched it will survive nothing short of abolition of the State and its enforcement of Copyright. Because the losers, small-name writers and all readers, lose so little each, we are content – it seems – to be nickel-and-dime plundered. Why worry about mosquito bites when we have the vampire gouges of income taxes and automobile tariffs?

Now for the central moral question: what first woke me up to the problem that was the innocent viewer scenario. Consider the following careful contractual construction.

Author Big and Publisher Bigger have contracts not to reveal a word of what’s in some publication. Everyone on the staff, every person in the step of production is contracted not to reveal a word. All the distributors are covered and the advertising quotes only a minimal amount of words. Every reader is like Death Records in Phantom of the Paradise, under contract, too; that is every reader who purchases the book or ‘zine and thus interacts with someone who is under contract – interacts in a voluntary trade and voluntary agreement.

No, I am not worried about the simultaneous creator; although an obvious victim, he or she is rare, given sufficient complexity in the work under questions. (However, some recent copyright decisions and the fact that the Dolly Parton case even got as far as a serious trial – means the corruption is spreading.)

One day you and I walk into a room – invited but without even mention of a contract – and the publication lies open on a table. Photons leap from the pages to our eyes and our hapless brain processes the information. Utterly innocent, having committed no volitional act, we are copyright violators. We have unintentionally embarked on a life of piracy.

And God or the Market help us if we now try to act on the ideas now in our mind or to reveal this unintended guilty secret in any way. The State shall strike us – save only if Author Big and Publisher Bigger decide in their tyrannous mercy that we are too small and not worth the trouble.

For if we use the ideas or repeat or reprint them, even as part of our own larger creation – bang! There goes the monopoly. And so each and every innocent viewer must be suppressed. By the Market? Hardly. The entire contractual agreement falls like a house of cards when the innocent gets his or her forbidden view. No, copyright has nothing to do with creativity, incentive, just desserts, fruits of labor or any other element of the moral, free market.

It is a creature of the State, the Vampire’s little bat. And, as far as I’m concerned, the word should be copywrong.

“Counter-Economics: Our Means” by Samuel Edward Konkin III

The following is a chapter from SEK3’s “New Libertarian Manifesto”.

Having detailed our past and statist present and glimpsed a credible view of a far better society achievable with present understanding and technology – no change in human nature needed – we come to the critical part of the manifesto: how do we get from here to there? The answer breaks into two naturally – or maybe unnaturally. Without a State, the differentiation into micro (manipulation of an individual by himself in his environment – including the market) and the macro (manipulation of collectives) would be at best an interesting statistical exercise with some small reference to marketing agencies. Even so, a person with a highly sophisticated decency may wish to understand the social consequences of his or her acts even if they harm no other.

With a State tainting every act and befouling our minds with unearned guilt, ait becomes extremely important to understand the social consequences of our acts. For example, if we fail to pay at tax and get away with it, who is hurt: us? The State? Innocents? Libertarian analysis shows us that the State is responsible for any damage to innocents it alleges the “selfish tax-evader” has incurred; and the “services” the State “provides” us are illusory. But even so, there must be more than lonely resistance cleverly concealed or “dropping out?” If a political party or revolutionary army is inappropriate and self-defeating for libertarian goals, what collective action works? The answer is agorism.

It is possible, practical, and even profitable to entrepreneur large collections of humanity from statist society to the agora. This is, in the deepest sense, true revolutionary activity and will be covered in the next chapter. But to understand this macro answer, we must first outline the micro answer. [1]

The function of the pseudo-science of Establishment economics, even more than making predictions (like the Imperial Roman augurers) for the ruling class, is to mystify and confuse the ruled class as to where their wealth is going and how it is taken. An explanation of how people keep their wealth and property from the State is then Counter-Establishment economics, or Counter- Economics [2] for short. The actual practice of human actions that evade, avoid and defy the State is counter-economic activity, but in the same sloppy way “economics” refers to both the science and what it studies, Counter- Economics will undoubtedly be used. Since this writing is Counter-Economic theory itself, what will be referred to as Counter-Economics is the practice.

Mapping and describing all or even a significantly useful part of Counter- Economics will require at least a full volume itself. [3] Just enough will be sketched here to provide understanding for the rest of the manifesto.

Going from an agorist society to a statist one should be uphill work, equivalent to a path of high negative entropy in physics. After all, once one is living in and understanding a well-run free society, why would one wish to return to systematic coercion, plunder, and anxiety? Spreading ignorance and irrationality among the knowledgeable and rational is difficult; mystifying that which is already clearly understood is nearly impossible. The agorist society should be fairly stable relative to decadence, though highly open to improvement.

Let us run backwards in time, like running a film backward, from the agorist society to the present statist society. What would we expect to see?

Pockets of statism, mostly contiguous in territory, since the State requires regional monopolies, would first appear. The remaining victims are becoming more and more aware of the wonderful free world around them and “evaporating” from these pockets. Large syndicates of market protection agencies are containing the State by defending those who have signed up for protection- insurance. Most importantly, those outside the statist pockets or sub- societies are enjoying an agorist society save for a higher cost of insurance premiums and some care as to where they travel. The agorists could co-exist with statists at this point, maintaining an isolationist “foreign policy” since the costs of invasion of statist sub-societies and liberation would be higher than immediate returns (unless the State launches an all-out last aggression), but there is no real reason to imagine the remaining victims will choose to remain oppressed when the libertarian alternative is so visible and accessible. The State’s areas are like a super-saturated solution ready to precipitate anarchy.

Run backward another step and we find the situation reversed. We find larger sectors of society under Statism and smaller ones living as agorically as possible. However, there is one visible difference: the agorists need not be territorially contiguous. They can live anywhere, though they will tend to associate with their fellow agorists not only for social reinforcement but for ease and profitability of trade. It’s always safer and more profitable to deal with more trustworthy customers and suppliers. The tendency is for greater association among more agorist individuals and for dissociation with more statist elements. (This tendency is not only theoretically strong; it already exists in embryonic practice today.) Some easily defendable territories, perhaps in space or islands in the ocean (or under the ocean) or big-city “ghettos” may be almost entirely agorist, where the State is impotent to crush them. But most agorists will live within statist-claimed areas.

There will be a spectrum of the degree of agorism in most individuals, as there is today, with a few benefiting from the State being highly statist, a few fully conscious of the agorist alternative and competent as living free to the hilt, and the rest in the middle with varying degrees of confusion.

Finally, we step back to where only a handful understand agorism, the vast majority perceiving illusory gains from the existence of the State or unable to perceive an alternative, and the statists themselves: the government apparatus and the class defined by receiving a new gain from the State’s intervention in the Market. [4]

This is a description of our present society. We are “home.”

Before we reverse course and describe the path from statism to agorism, let us look around at our present society with our newly-acquired agorist perception. Much as a traveller who returns home and sees things in a new light from what he or she has learned from foreign lands and ways of life, we may gain new insights on our present circumstances.

Besides a few enlightened New Libertarians tolerated in the more liberal statist areas on the globe (“toleration” exists to the degree of libertarian contamination of statism), we now perceive something else: large numbers of people who are acting in an agorist manner with little understanding of any theory but who are induced by material gain to evade, avoid, or defy the State. Surely they are a hopeful potential?

In the Soviet Union, a bastion of arch-statism and a nearly totally collapsed “official” economy, a giant black market provides the Russians, Armenian, Ukrainian and others with everything from food to television repair to official papers and favors from the ruling class. As the Guardian Weekly reports, Burma is almost a total black market with the government reduced to an army, police, and a few strutting politicians. In varying degrees, this is true of nearly all the Second and Third Worlds.

What of the “First” World? In the social-democrat countries, the black market is smaller because the “white market” of legally accepted market transactions is larger, but the former is still quite prominent. Italy, for example, has a “problem” of a large part of its civil services which works officially from 7 A.M. to 2 P.M. working unofficially at various jobs the rest of the day earning “black” money. The Netherlands has a large black market in housing because of the high regulation of this industry. Denmark has a tax evasion movement so large that those in it seduced to politics have formed the second largest party. And these are only the grossest examples that the press has been able or willing to cover. Currency controls are evaded rampantly; in France, for example, everyone is assumed to have a large gold stash and trips to Switzerland for more than touring and skiing are commonplace.

To really appreciate the extent of this counter=economic activity, one must view the relatively free “capitalist” economies. Let us look at the black and grey markets [5] in North America and remember this is the case of lowest activity in the world today.

According to the American Internal Revenue Service, at least twenty million people belong in the “underground economy” of tax evaders using cash to avoid detections of transactions or barter exchange. Millions keep money in gold or in foreign accounts to avoid the hidden taxation of inflation. Millions of “illegal aliens” are employed, according to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Millions more deal or consume marijuana and other proscribed drugs, including laetrile and forbidden medical material.

And there are all the practitioners of “victimless crimes.” Besides drug use, there are prostitution, pornography, bootlegging, false identification papers, gambling, and proscribed sexual conduct between consenting adults. Regardless of “reform movements” to gain political acceptance of these acts, the populace has chosen to act now – and by so doing are creating a counter-economy.

But it doesnt stop here. Since the 55 mph speed limit enacted federally in the U.S., most Americans have become counter-economic drivers. The trucking industry has developed CB communications to evade state enforcement of regulations. For independents who can make four runs at 75 mph rather than three runs at 55 mph, counter-economic driving is a question of survival.

The ancient custom of smuggling thrives today from boatloads of marijuana and foreign appliances with high tariffs and truckloads of people from less- developed countries to the tourists stashing a little extra in their luggage and not reporting to customs agents.

Nearly everyone engages in some sort of misrepresentation or misdirection on their tax forms, off-the-books payments for services, unreported trade with relatives and illegal sexual positions with their mates.

To some extent, then, everybody is a counter-economist! And this is predictable from libertarian theory. Nearly every aspect of human action has statist legislation prohibiting, regulating or controlling it. These laws are so numerous that “Libertarian” Party which prevented any new legislation and briskly repealed ten or twenty laws a session would not have significantly repealed the State (let alone the mechanism itself!) for a millennia! [6]

Obviously, the State is unable to obtain enforcement of its edicts. Yet the State continues. And if everyone is somewhat counter-economic, why hasn’t the Counter-Economy overwhelmed the economy?

Outside of North America we can add the effect of imperialism. The Soviet Union has received support from the more developed countries in the 1930’s and large quantities of instruments of violence during World War II. Even today, “trade” heavily subsidized by non-repayable loans props up the Soviet and new Chinese regimes. This capital (or anti-capital, being destructive of value) flow, together with military aid, from both blocs maintains regimes in the rest of the globe. But that does not explain the North American case.

What exists everywhere on Earth allowing the State to continue is the sanction of the victim. [7] Every victim of statism has internalized the State to some degree. The IRS’s annual proclamation that the income tax depends on “voluntary compliance” is ironically true. Should the taxpayers completely cut off the blood supply, the vampire State would helplessly perish, its unpaid police and army deserting almost immediately, defanging the Monster. If everyone abandoned “legal tender” for gold and goods in contracts and other exchanges, it is doubtful that even taxation could sustain the modern State. [8]

This is where the State’s control of education and the information media, either directly or through ruling-class ownership, becomes crucial. In earlier days, the established priesthood served the function to sanctify the king and aristocracy, mystify the relations of oppression, and induce guilt in evaders and registers. The disestablishment of religion has put this burden on the new resisters. The disestablishment of religion has put this burden on the new intellectual class (what the Russians called the intelligentsia). Some intellectuals, holding truth as their highest value (as did earlier dissenting theologians and clerics), do work at clarifying rather than mystifying, but they are dismissed or reviled and kept away from State and foundation-controlled income. Thus is the phenomenon of dissidence and revisionism created; and thus is the attitude of anti-intellectualism generated among the populace who suspect or incompletely understand the function of the Court Intellectual.

Note well how anarchist intellectuals are attacked and repressed under every State; and those arguing for an overthrow of the present ruling class – even only to replace it with another – are suppressed. Those who propose changes which eliminate some beneficiaries of the State and add other\s are often laud ed by the benefiting elements of the Higher Circles and attacked by the potential losers.

A common characteristic of most hardened black marketeers is their guilt. They wish to “make their bundle” and return to the “straight society.” Bootleggers and hookers all long some day for re-acceptance in society – even when they form a supportive “sub-society” of outcasts. Yet there have been exceptions to this phenomenon of longing for acceptance: the religious dissenting communities of the 1700s, the political utopian communities of the 1800s, and most recently, the counter-culture of the hippies and New Left. What they had was a conviction that thir sub-society was superior to the rest of society. The fearful reaction to themselves they generated in the rest of society was the fear they were correct.

All of these examples of self-sustaining sub-societies failed for one overriding reason: ignorance of economics. No social binding, no mater how beautiful, can overcome the basic glue of society – division of labor. Thu anti-market commune defies the only enforceable law – the law of nature. The basic organizational structure of society (above the family) is not the commune (or tribe or extended tribe or State) but eh agora. No matter how many wish communism to work and devote themselves to it, it will fail. They can hold back agorism indefinitely by great effort, but when they let go, the “flow” or “Invisible Hand” or “tides of history” or “profit incentive” or “doing what comes naturally” or “spontaneity” will carry society inexorably closer to the pure agora.

Why is there such resistance to eventual happiness? Psychologists have been dealing with that since they began their embryonic science. But we can at least give two broad answers when it comes to socioeconomic questions: internalization of anti=principles (those seeming like principles but actually contrary to natural law) and the opposition of vested interests.

Now we can see clearly what is needed to create a libertarian society. One the one hand we need the education of the libertarian activists and the consciousness-raising of counter-economists to libertarian understanding and mutual supportive ness. “We are right, we are better, we are surviving in a moral, consistent way and we are building a better society – of benefit to ourselves and others,” our counter-economic “encounter groups” might affirm.

Note well that libertarian activists who are not themselves full practicing counter-economists are unlikely to be convincing. “Libertarian” political candidates undercut everything they say (of value) by what they are doing; some candidates have even held jobs in taxing bureaus and defense departments!

On the other hand, we must defend ourselves against the vested interests or at the very least lower their oppression as much as possible. If we eschew reformist activity as counter-productive, how will we achieve that?

One way is o bring more and more people into the counter-economy and lower the plunder available to the State. But evasion isn’t enough; how do we protect ourselves and even counter-attack?

Slowly but steadily we will move to the free society turning more counter- economists onto libertarianism and more libertarians onto counter-economics, finally integrating theory and practice. The counter-economy will grow and spread to the next step we saw in our trip backward, with an ever=-larger agorist sub-society embedded in the statist society. Some agorists may even condense into discernible districts and ghettos and predominate in islands or space colonies. At this point, the question of protection and defense will become important

Using our agorist model (Chapter 2), we can see how the protection industry must evolve. Firstly, why do people engage in counter-economics with no protection? the pay-off for the risk they take is greater than their expected loss. This statement is true, of course, for all economic activity, but for counter-economics it requires special emphasis:

The fundamental principle of counter-economics is to trade risk for profit. [9]

The higher the expected profit, the greater the risk taken. Note that if risk is lowered, a lot more would be attempted and accomplished – surely an indicator that a free society is wealthier than an unfree one.

Risk may be lowered by increasing care, precautions, security (locks and stashes), and by trusting fewer persons of higher trustworthiness. The last indicates a high preference for dealing with fellow agorist and a strong economic incentive binding an agorist sub-society and an incentive to recruit or support recruitment.

Counter-economic entrepreneurs have an incentive to provide better security devices, places of concealment, instructions to help evasion and screen potential customers and suppliers for other counter-economic entrepreneurs. And thus is the counter-economic protection industry born.

As it grows, it may begin insuring against “bursts,” lowering counter-economic risks further and accelerating counter-economic growth. Then it may provide lookouts and guarded areas of safekeeping with alarm systems and highly technological concealment mechanisms. Guards may be provided against real criminals (other than the State). Already many residential, business and even minority districts have private patrols, having given up on the State’s alleged protection of property.

Along the way the risk of contract-violation between counter-economic traders will be lowered by arbitration. Then the protection agencies will start providing contract enforcement between agorists, although the greatest “enforcer” in the early stages will be the State to which each can turn the other cone into. Yet that act would quickly result in one’s expulsion from the sub-society; so an internal enforcement mechanism will be valued.

In the final stages counter-economist transactions with statists will be enforceable by the protection agencies and the agorists protected against the criminality of the State. [10]

At this point we have reached the final step before the achievement of a libertarian society. Society is divided between large agorist areas inviolate and statist sectors. And we stand on the brink of Revolution.


[1] Micro and macro are terms from present Establishment economics. While Counter-Economics is part of agorism (until the State is gone), agorism includes both Counter-Economics in practice and libertarianism in theory. Since that theory includes an awareness of the consequences of large-scale Counter-Economic practice, I will use agorist in the macro sense and counter- economic in the micro sense. Since the division is inherently ambiguous, some overlap and interchangeability will occur.

[2] “Counter-Economics” was formed the same way as “counter-culture;” it does not mean anti-economic science any more than counter-culture was anti-culture.

[3] This volume, Counter-Economics (the book), has been begun and should be completed in 1981 and published in 1982 one way or the other, Market willing!

o Note to Second Edition: The Market is not yet willing, but soon…

[4] That class has been called the Ruling Class, Power Elite, or Conspiracy, depending on whether the analysis comes from a Marxist, Liberal, or Bircher background. The terms will be used inter changeably to show the commonality of the identification.

[5] While some coercive acts are often lumped into the label “black market,” such as murder and theft, the vast majority of this “organized crime” is perfectly legitimate to a libertarian, though occasionally unsavory. The Mafia, for example, is not black market but as government over some of the black market which collects protection money (taxes) from its victims and enforces its control with executions and beatings (law enforcement), and even conducts wars when its monopoly is threatened. These acts will be considered red market to differentiate them from the moral acts of the black market which will be discussed below. In short, the “black market” is anything non-violent prohibited by the State and carried on anyways.

The “grey market” is used here to mean dealing in goods and services not themselves illegal but obtained or distributed in ways legislated against by The State. Much of what is called “white-collar crime” falls under this and is smiled upon by most of society.

Where one draws the line between black and grey market depends largely on the state of consciousness of the society one is in. The red market is clearly separable. Murder is red market; defending oneself against a criminal (when the State forbids self-defense) – including a police officer – is black in New York City and grey in Orange County.

[6] Thus an “L”P would perpetuate statism. In addition, and “L”P would preserve the ill-gotten gain of the ruling class and maintain the State’s enforcement and execution.

[7] An example of how this works may be helpful. Suppose I wished to receive and sell a contraband or evade a tax or violate a regulation. Let’s say I can make $100,000 a transaction.

Using government figures on criminal apprehension, always exaggerated in the State’s favor simply because they cannot know how much we got away with, I find an apprehension rate of 20%. One may then find out the percentage of those cases that come for trial and the percentage of those that result in conviction even with a good lawyer. let’s say 25% make it to trial and 50% result in conviction. (The latter is high but we’ll throw in the legal fees involved so that even a decision involving loss of legal costs but acquittal is still a “loss.”) I therefore incur a 2.5% risk (.20 x .25 x .50 = 0.025). This is high for most real cases.

Suppose my maximum fine is $500,000 or five years in jail – or both. Excluding my counter-economic transactions (one certainly cannot count them when deciding whether or not to do them), I might make $20,000 a year so that I would lose another $100,000. It’s very hard to ascribe a value to five years of incarceration, but at least in our present society it’s not too much worse than other institutionalization (school, army, hospital) and at least the counter-economist won’t be plagued with guilt and remorse.

So I weigh 2.5% of $600,000 loss or $15,000 and five years against $100,000 gain! And I could easily insure myself for $14,000 (or less) to pay all costs and fines! In short, it works.

[8] It probably should be noted explicitly that businesses could grow quite large in the counter-economy. Whether or not “wage workers” would exist instead of “independent contractors” for all steps of production is arguable, but this author feels that the whole concept of “worker-boss” is a holdover from feudalism and not, as Marx claims, fundamental to “capitalism.” Of course, capital-statism is the opposite of what the libertarian advocates.

Furthermore, even large businesses today could go partially counter-economic, leaving a portion in the “white market” to satisfy government agents and pay some modicum of taxes and report a token number of workers. The rest of the business would (and already often does) expand off the books with independent contractors who supply, service, and distribute the finished product. Nobody, no business, no worker, and no entrepreneur need be white market.

“Kropotkin Was No Crackpot” by Stephen Jay Gould

IN LATE 1909, two great men corresponded across oceans, religions, generations, and races. Leo Tolstoy, sage of Christian nonviolence in his later years, wrote to the young Mohandas Gandhi, struggling for the rights of Indian settlers in South Africa:

God helps our dear brothers and co-workers in the Transvaal. The same struggle of the tender against the harsh, of meekness and love against pride and violence, is every year making itself more and more felt here among us also.

A year later, wearied by domestic strife, and unable to endure the contradiction of life in Christian poverty on a prosperous estate run with unwelcome income from his great novels (written before his religious conversion and published by his wife), Tolstoy fled by train for parts unknown and a simpler end to his waning days. He wrote to his wife:

My departure will distress you. I’m sorry about this, but do understand and believe that I couldn’t do otherwise. My position in the house is becoming, or has become, unbearable. Apart from anything else, I can’t live any longer in these conditions of luxury in which I have been living, and I’m doing what old men of my age commonly do: leaving this worldly life in order to live the last days of my life in peace and solitude.

But Tolstoy’s final journey was both brief and unhappy. Less than a month later, cold and weary from numerous long rides on Russian trains in approaching winter, he contracted pneumonia and died at age eighty-two in the stationmaster’s home at the railroad stop of Astapovo. Too weak to write, he dictated his last letter on November 1, 1910. Addressed to a son and daughter who did not share his views on Christian nonviolence, Tolstoy offered a last word of advice:

The views you have acquired about Darwinism, evolution, and the struggle for existence won’t explain to you the meaning of your life and won’t give you guidance in your actions, and a life without an explanation of its meaning and importance, and without the unfailing guidance that stems from it is a pitiful existence. Think about it. I say it, probably on the eve of my death, because I love you.

Tolstoy’s complaint has been the most common of all indictments against Darwin, from the publication of the Origin of Species in 1859 to now. Darwinism, the charge contends, undermines morality by claiming that success in nature can only be measured by victory in bloody battle – the “struggle for existence” or “survival of the fittest” to cite Darwin’s own choice of mottoes. If we wish “meekness and love” to triumph over “pride and violence” (as Tolstoy wrote to Gandhi), then we must repudiate Darwin’s vision of nature’s way – as Tolstoy stated in a final plea to his errant children.

This charge against Darwin is unfair for two reasons. First, nature (no matter how cruel in human terms) provides no basis for our moral values. (Evolution might, at most, help to explain why we have moral feelings, but nature can never decide for us whether any particular action is right or wrong.) Second, Darwin’s “struggle for existence” is an abstract metaphor, not an explicit statement about bloody battle. Reproductive success, the criterion of natural selection, works in many modes: Victory in battle may be one pathway, but cooperation, symbiosis, and mutual aid may also secure success in other times and contexts. In a famous passage, Darwin explained his concept of evolutionary struggle (Origin of Species, 1859, pp. 62-63):

I use this term in a large and metaphorical sense including dependence of one being on another, and including (which is more important) not only the life of the individual, but success in leaving progeny. Two canine animals, in a time of dearth, may be truly said to struggle with each other which shall get food and live. But a plant on the edge of a desert is said to struggle for life against the drought…. As the mistletoe is disseminated by birds, its existence depends on birds; and it may metaphorically be said to struggle with other fruit-bearing plants, in order to tempt birds to devour and thus disseminate its seeds rather than those of other plants. In these several senses, which pass into each other, I use for convenience sake the general term of struggle for existence.

Yet, in another sense, Tolstoy’s complaint is not entirely unfounded. Darwin did present an encompassing, metaphorical definition of struggle, but his actual examples certainly favored bloody battle – “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” in a line from Tennyson so overquoted that it soon became a knee-jerk cliche for this view of life. Darwin based his theory of natural selection on the dismal view of Malthus that growth in population must outstrip food supply and lead to overt battle for dwindling resources. Moreover, Darwin maintained a limited but controlling view of ecology as a world stuffed full of competing species – so balanced and so crowded that a new form could only gain entry by literally pushing a former inhabitant out. Darwin expressed this view in a metaphor even more central to his general vision than the concept of struggle – the metaphor of the wedge. Nature, Darwin writes, is like a surface with 10,000 wedges hammered tightly in and filling all available space. A new species (represented as a wedge) can only gain entry into a community by driving itself into a tiny chink and forcing another wedge out. Success, in this vision, can only be achieved by direct takeover in overt competition.

Furthermore, Darwin’s own chief disciple, Thomas Henry Huxley, advanced this “gladiatorial” view of natural selection (his word) in a series of famous essays about ethics. Huxley maintained that the predominance of bloody battle defined nature’s way as nonmoral (not explicitly immoral, but surely unsuited as offering any guide to moral behavior).

From the point of view of the moralist the animal world is about on a level of a gladiator’s show. The creatures are fairly well treated, and set to fight – whereby the strongest, the swiftest, and the cunningest live to fight another day. The spectator has no need to turn his thumbs down, as no quarter is given.

But Huxley then goes further. Any human society set up along these lines of nature will devolve into anarchy and misery – Hobbes’s brutal world of bellum omnium contra omnes (where bellum means “war,” not beauty): the war of all against all. Therefore, the chief purpose of society must lie in mitigation of the struggle that defines nature’s pathway. Study natural selection and do the opposite in human society:

But, in civilized society, the inevitable result of such obedience [to the law of bloody battle] is the re-establishment, in all its intensity, of that struggle for existence – the war of each against all – the mitigation or abolition of which was the chief end of social organization.

This apparent discordance between nature’s way and any hope for human social decency has defined the major subject for debate about ethics and evolution ever since Darwin. Huxley’s solution has won many supporters – nature is nasty and no guide to morality except, perhaps, as an indicator of what to avoid in human society. My own preference lies with a different solution based on taking Darwin’s metaphorical view of struggle seriously (admittedly in the face of Darwin’s own preference for gladiatorial examples) – nature is sometimes nasty, sometimes nice (really neither, since the human terms are so inappropriate). By presenting examples of all behaviors (under the metaphorical rubric of struggle), nature favors none and offers no guidelines. The facts of nature cannot provide moral guidance in any case.

But a third solution has been advocated by some thinkers who do wish to find a basis for morality in nature and evolution. Since few can detect much moral comfort in the gladiatorial interpretation, this third position must reformulate the way of nature. Darwin’s words about the metaphorical character of struggle offer a promising starting point. One might argue that the gladiatorial examples have been over-sold and misrepresented as predominant. Perhaps cooperation and mutual aid are the more common results of struggle for existence. Perhaps communion rather than combat leads to greater reproductive success in most circumstances.

The most famous expression of this third solution may be found in Mutual Aid, published in 1902 by the Russian revolutionary anarchist Petr Kropotkin. (We must shed the old stereotype of anarchists as bearded bomb throwers furtively stalking about city streets at night. Kropotkin was a genial man, almost saintly according to some, who promoted a vision of small communities setting their own standards by consensus for the benefit of all, thereby eliminating the need for most functions of a central government.) Kropotkin, a Russian nobleman, lived in English exile for political reasons. He wrote Mutual Aid (in English) as a direct response to the essay of Huxley quoted above, “The Struggle for Existence in Human Society,” published in The Nineteenth Century, in February 1888. Kropotkin responded to Huxley with a series of articles, also printed in The Nineteenth Century and eventually collected together as the book Mutual Aid.

As the title suggests, Kropotkin argues, in his cardinal premise, that the struggle for existence usually leads to mutual aid rather than combat as the chief criterion of evolutionary success. Human society must therefore build upon our natural inclinations (not reverse them, as Huxley held) in formulating a moral order that will bring both peace and prosperity to our species. in a series of chapters, Kropotkin tries to illustrate continuity between natural selection for mutual aid among animals and the basis for success in increasingly progressive human social organization. His five sequential chapters address mutual aid among animals, among savages, among barbarians, in the medieval city, and amongst ourselves.

I confess that I have always viewed Kropotkin as daftly idiosyncratic, if undeniably well meaning. He is always so presented in standard courses on evolutionary biology – as one of those soft and woolly thinkers who let hope and sentimentality get in the way of analytic toughness and a willingness to accept nature as she is, warts and all. After all, he was a man of strange politics and unworkable ideals, wrenched from the context of his youth, a stranger in a strange land. Moreover, his portrayal of Darwin so matched his social ideals (mutual aid naturally given as a product of evolution without need for central authority) that one could only see personal hope rather than scientific accuracy in his accounts. Kropotkin has long been on my list of potential topics for an essay (if only because I wanted to read his book, and not merely mouth the textbook interpretation), but I never proceeded because I could find no larger context than the man himself. Kooky intellects are interesting as gossip, perhaps as psychology, but true idiosyncrasy provides the worst possible basis for generality.

But this situation changed for me in a flash when I read a very fine article in the latest issue of Isis (our leading professional journal in the history of science) by Daniel P. Todes: “Darwin’s Malthusian Metaphor and Russian Evolutionary Thought, 1859-1917.” I learned that the parochiality had been mine in my ignorance of Russian evolutionary thought, not Kropotkin’s in his isolation in England. (I can read Russian, but only painfully, and with a dictionary – which means, for all practical purposes, that I can’t read the language.) I knew that Darwin had become a hero of the Russian intelligentsia and had influenced academic life in Russia perhaps more than in any other country. But virtually none of this Russian work has ever been translated or even discussed in English literature. The ideas of this school are unknown to us; we do not even recognize the names of the major protagonists. I knew Kropotkin because he had published in English and lived in England, but I never understood that he represented a standard, well-developed Russian critique of Darwin, based on interesting reasons and coherent national traditions. Todes’s article does not make Kropotkin more correct, but it does place his writing into a general context that demands our respect and produces substantial enlightenment. Kropotkin was part of a mainstream flowing in an unfamiliar direction, not an isolated little arroyo.

This Russian school of Darwinian critics, Todes argues, based its major premise upon a firm rejection of Malthus’s claim that competition, in the gladiatorial mode, must dominate in an ever more crowded world, where population, growing geometrically, inevitably outstrips a food supply that can only increase arithmetically. Tolstoy, speaking for a consensus of his compatriots, branded Malthus as a “malicious mediocrity.”

Todes finds a diverse set of reasons behind Russian hostility to Malthus. Political objections to the dog-eat-dog character of Western industrial competition arose from both ends of the Russian spectrum. Todes writes:

Radicals, who hoped to build a socialist society, saw Malthusianism as a reactionary current in bourgeois political economy. Conservatives, who hoped to preserve the communal virtues of tsarist Russia, saw it as an expression of the “British national type.”

But Todes identifies a far more interesting reason in the immediate experience of Russia’s land and natural history. We all have a tendency to spin universal theories from a limited domain of surrounding circumstance. Many geneticists read the entire world of evolution in the confines of a laboratory bottle filled with fruit flies. My own increasing dubiousness about universal adaptation arises in large part, no doubt, because I study a peculiar snail that varies so widely and capriciously across an apparently unvarying environment, rather than a bird in flight or some other marvel of natural design.

Russia is an immense country, under-populated by any nineteenth-century measure of its agricultural potential. Russia is also, over most of its area, a harsh land, where competition is more likely to pit organism against environment (as in Darwin’s metaphorical struggle of a plant at the desert’s edge) than organism against organism in direct and bloody battle. How could any Russian, with a strong feel for his own countryside, see Malthus’s principle of overpopulation as a foundation for evolutionary theory? Todes writes:

It was foreign to their experience because, quite simply, Russia’s huge land mass dwarfed its sparse population. For a Russian to see an inexorably increasing population inevitably straining potential supplies of food and space required quite a leap of imagination.

If these Russian critics could honestly tie their personal skepticism to the view from their own backyard, they could also recognize that Darwin’s contrary enthusiasms might record the parochiality of his different surroundings, rather than a set of necessarily universal truths. Malthus makes a far better prophet in a crowded, industrial country professing an ideal of open competition in free markets. Moreover, the point has often been made that both Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace independently developed the theory of natural selection after primary experience with natural history in the tropics. Both claimed inspiration from Malthus, again independently; but if fortune favors the prepared mind, then their tropical experience probably predisposed both men to read Malthus with resonance and approval. No other area on earth is so packed with species, and therefore so replete with competition of body against body. An Englishman who had learned the ways of nature in the tropics was almost bound to view evolution differently from a Russian nurtured on tales of the Siberian wasteland.

For example, N. I. Danilevsky, an expert on fisheries and population dynamics, published a large, two-volume critique of Darwinism in 1885. He identified struggle for personal gain as the credo of a distinctly British “national type,” as contrasted with old Slavic values of collectivism. An English child, he writes, “boxes one on one, not in a group as we Russians like to spar.” Danilevsky viewed Darwinian competition as “a purely English doctrine” founded upon a line of British thought stretching from Hobbes through Adam Smith to Malthus. Natural selection, he wrote, is rooted in “the war of all against all, now termed the struggle for existence – Hobbes’ theory of politics; on competition – the economic theory of Adam Smith. … Malthus applied the very same principle to the problem of population. … Darwin extended both Malthus’ partial theory and the general theory of the political economists to the organic world.” (Quotes are from Todes’s article.)

When we turn to Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid in the light of Todes’s discoveries about Russian evolutionary thought, we must reverse the traditional view and interpret this work as mainstream Russian criticism, not personal crankiness. The central logic of Kropotkin’s argument is simple, straightforward, and largely cogent.

Kropotkin begins by acknowledging that struggle plays a central role in the lives of organisms and also provides the chief impetus for their evolution. But Kropotkin holds that struggle must not be viewed as a unitary phenomenon. It must be divided into two fundamentally different forms with contrary evolutionary meanings. We must recognize, first of all, the struggle of organism against organism for limited resources – the theme that Malthus imparted to Darwin and that Huxley described as gladiatorial. This form of direct struggle does lead to competition for personal benefit.

But a second form of struggle – the style that Darwin called metaphorical – pits organism against the harshness of surrounding physical environments, not against other members of the same species. Organisms must struggle to keep warm, to survive the sudden and unpredictable dangers of fire and storm, to persevere through harsh periods of drought, snow, or pestilence. These forms of struggle between organism and environment are best waged by cooperation among members of the same species-by mutual aid. If the struggle for existence pits two lions against one zebra, then we shall witness a feline battle and an equine carnage. But if lions are struggling jointly against the harshness of an inanimate environment, then lighting will not remove the common enemy – while cooperation may overcome a peril beyond the power of any single individual to surmount.

Kropotkin therefore created a dichotomy within the general notion of struggle – two forms with opposite import: (1) organism against organism of the same species for limited resources, leading to competition; and (2) organism against environment, leading to cooperation.

No naturalist will doubt that the idea of a struggle for life carried on through organic nature is the greatest generalization of our century. Life is struggle; and in that struggle the fittest survive. But the answers to the questions “by which arms is the struggle chiefly carried on!” and “who are the fittest in the struggle!” will widely differ according to the importance given to the two different aspects of the struggle: the direct one, for food and safety among separate individuals, and the struggle which Darwin described as “metaphorical” – the struggle, very often collective, against adverse circumstances.

Darwin acknowledged that both forms existed, but his loyalty to Malthus and his vision of nature chock-full of species led him to emphasize the competitive aspect. Darwin’s less sophisticated votaries then exalted the competitive view to near exclusivity, and heaped a social and moral meaning upon it as well.

They came to conceive of the animal world as a world of perpetual struggle among half-starved individuals, thirsting for one another’s blood. They made modern literature resound with the war-cry of woe to the vanquished, as if it were the last word of modern biology. They raised the “pitiless” struggle for personal advantages to the height of a biological principle which man must submit to as well, under the menace of otherwise succumbing in a world based upon mutual extermination.

Kropotkin did not deny the competitive form of struggle, but he argued that the cooperative style had been underemphasized and must balance or even predominate over competition in considering nature as a whole.

There is an immense amount of warfare and extermination going on amidst various species; there is, at the same time, as much, or perhaps even more, of mutual support, mutual aid, and mutual defense…. Sociability is as much a law of nature as mutual struggle.

As Kropotkin cranked through his selected examples, and built up steam for his own preferences, he became more and more convinced that the cooperative style, leading to mutual aid, not only predominated in general but also characterized the most advanced creatures in any group-ants among insects, mammals among vertebrates. Mutual aid therefore becomes a more important principle than competition and slaughter:

If we … ask Nature: “who are the fittest: those who are continually at war with each other, or those who support one another?” we at once see that those animals which acquire habits of mutual aid are undoubtedly the fittest. They have more chances to survive, and they attain, in their respective classes, the highest development of intelligence and bodily organization.

If we ask why Kropotkin favored cooperation while most nineteenth-century Darwinians advocated competition as the predominant result of struggle in nature, two major reasons stand out. The first seems less interesting, as obvious under the slightly cynical but utterly realistic principle that true believers tend to read their social preferences into nature. Kropotkin, the anarchist who yearned to replace laws of central government with consensus of local communities, certainly hoped to locate a deep preference for mutual aid in the innermost evolutionary marrow of our being. Let mutual aid pervade nature and human cooperation becomes a simple instance of the law of life.

Neither the crushing powers of the centralized State nor the teachings of mutual hatred and pitiless struggle which came, adorned with the attributes of science, from obliging philosophers and sociologists, could weed out the feeling of human solidarity, deeply lodged in men’s understanding and heart, because it has been nurtured by all our preceding evolution.

But the second reason is more enlightening, as a welcome empirical input from Kropotkin’s own experience as a naturalist and an affirmation of Todes’s intriguing thesis that the usual flow from ideology to interpretation of nature may sometimes be reversed, and that landscape can color social preference. As a young man, long before his conversion to political radicalism, Kropotkin spent five years in Siberia (1862-1866) just after Darwin published the Origin of Species. He went as a military officer, but his commission served as a convenient cover for his yearning to study the geology, geography, and zoology of Russia’s vast interior. There, in the polar opposite to Darwin’s tropical experiences, he dwelled in the environment least conducive to Malthus’s vision. He observed a sparsely populated world, swept with frequent catastrophes that threatened the few species able to find a place in such bleakness. As a potential disciple of Darwin, he looked for competition, but rarely found any. Instead, he continually observed the benefits of mutual aid in coping with an exterior harshness that threatened all alike and could not be overcome by the analogues of warfare and boxing.

Kropotkin, in short, had a personal and empirical reason to look with favor upon cooperation as a natural force. He chose this theme as the opening paragraph for Mutual Aid:

Two aspects of animal life impressed me most during the journeys which I made in my youth in Eastern Siberia and Northern Manchuria. One of them was the extreme severity of the struggle for existence which most species of animals have to carry on against an inclement Nature; the enormous destruction of life which periodically results from natural agencies; and the consequent paucity of life over the vast territory which fell under my observation. And the other was, that even in those few spots where animal life teemed in abundance, I failed to find – although I was eagerly looking for it – that bitter struggle for the means of existence among animals belonging to the same species, which was considered by most Darwinists (though not always by Darwin himself) as the dominant characteristic of struggle for life, and the main factor of evolution.

What can we make of Kropotkin’s argument today, and that of the entire Russian school represented by him? Were they just victims of cultural hope and intellectual conservatism? I don’t think so. In fact, I would hold that Kropotkin’s basic argument is correct. Struggle does occur in many modes, and some lead to cooperation among members of a species as the best pathway to advantage for individuals. If Kropotkin overemphasized mutual aid, most Darwinians in Western Europe had exaggerated competition just as strongly. If Kropotkin drew inappropriate hope for social reform from his concept of nature, other Darwinians had erred just as firmly (and for motives that most of us would now decry) in justifying imperial conquest, racism, and oppression of industrial workers as the harsh outcome of natural selection in the competitive mode.

I would fault Kropotkin only in two ways – one technical, the other general. He did commit a common conceptual error in failing to recognize that natural selection is an argument about advantages to individual organisms, however they may struggle. The result of struggle for existence may be cooperation rather than competition, but mutual aid must benefit individual organisms in Darwin’s world of explanation. Kropotkin sometimes speaks of mutual aid as selected for the benefit of entire populations or species – a concept foreign to classic Darwinian logic (where organisms work, albeit unconsciously, for their own benefit in terms of genes passed to future generations). But Kropotkin also (and often) recognized that selection for mutual aid directly benefits each individual in its own struggle for personal success. Thus, if Kropotkin did not grasp the full implication of Darwin’s basic argument, he did include the orthodox solution as his primary justification for mutual aid.

More generally, I like to apply a somewhat cynical rule of thumb in judging arguments about nature that also have overt social implications: When such claims imbue nature with just those properties that make us feel good or fuel our prejudices, be doubly suspicious. I am especially wary of arguments that find kindness, mutuality, synergism, harmony – the very elements that we strive mightily, and so often unsuccessfully, to put into our own lives – intrinsically in nature. I see no evidence for Teilhard’s noosphere, for Capra’s California style of holism, for Sheldrake’s morphic resonance. Gaia strikes me as a metaphor, not a mechanism. (Metaphors can be liberating and enlightening, but new scientific theories must supply new statements about causality. Gaia, to me, only seems to reformulate, in different terms, the basic conclusions long achieved by classically reductionist arguments of biogeochemical cycling theory.)

There are no shortcuts to moral insight. Nature is not intrinsically anything that can offer comfort or solace in human terms – if only because our species is such an insignificant latecomer in a world not constructed for us. So much the better. The answers to moral dilemmas are not lying out there, waiting to be discovered. They reside, like the kingdom of God, within us – the most difficult and inaccessible spot for any discovery or consensus.

Originally appeared in Natural History 106, June 1997.

“On Order” by Peter Kropotkin

We are often reproached for accepting as a label this word anarchy, which frightens many people so much. “Your ideas are excellent”, we are told, “but you must admit that the name of your party is an unfortunate choice. Anarchy in common language is synonymous with disorder and chaos; the word brings to mind the idea of interests clashing, of individuals struggling, which cannot lead to the establishment of harmony”.

Let us begin by pointing out that a party devoted to action, a party representing a new tendancy, seldom has the opportunity of choosing a name for itself. It was not the Beggars of Brabant who made up their name, which later came to be popular. But, beginning as a nickname — and a well-chosen one — it was taken up by the party, accepted generally, and soon became its proud title. It will also be seen that this word summed up a whole idea.

And the Sans-culottes of 1793? It was the enemies of the popular revolution who coined this name; but it too summed up a whole idea — that of the rebellion of the people, dressed in rage, tired of poverty, opposed to all those royalists, the so-called patriots and Jacobins, the well-dressed and the smart, those who, despite their pompous speeches and the homage paid to them by bourgeois historians, were the real enemies of the people, profoundly despising them for their poverty, for their libertarian and egalitarian spirit, and for their revolutionary enthusiasm.

It was the same with the name of the Nihilists, which puzzles journalists so much and let to so much playing with words, good and bad, until it was understood to refer not to a peculier — almost religious — sect, but to a real revolutionary force. Coined by Turgenev in his novel Fathers and Sons, it was adopted by the “fathers”, who used the nickname to take revenge for the disobedience of the “sons”. But the sons accepted it and, when they later realised that it gave rise to misunderstanding and tried to get rid of it, this was impossible. The press and the public would not describe the Russian revolutionaries by any other name. Anyway the name was by no means badly chosen, for again it sums up an idea; it expresses the negation of the whole of activity of present civilisation, based on the opression of one class by another — the negation of the present economic system. The negation of government and power, of bourgeois morality, of art for the sake of the exploiters, of fashions and manners which are grotesque or revoltingly hypocritical, of all that present society has inherited from past centuries: in a word, the negation of everything which bourgeois civilisation today treats with reverence.

It was the same with the anarchists. When a party emerged within the International which denied authority to the Association and also rebelled against authority in all its forms, this party at first called itself federalist, then anti-statist or anti-authoritarian. At that period they actually avoided using the name anarchist. The word an-archy (that is how it was written then) seemed to identify the party too closely with the Proudhonists, whose ideas about economic reform were at that time opposed by the International. But it is precisely because of this — to cause confusion — that its enemies decided to make use of the name; after all, it made it possible to say that the very name of the anarchist proved that their only ambition was to create disorder and chaos without caring about the result.

The anarchist party quickly accepted the name it has been given. At first it insisted on the hyphen between an and archy, explaining that in this form the work an-archy — which comes from the Greek — means “no authority” and not “disorder”; but it soon accepted the word as it was, and stopped giving extra work to proof readers and Greek lessons to the public.

So the word returned to its basic, normal, common meaning, as expressed in 1816 by the English philosopher Bentham, in the following terms: “The philosopher who wished to reform a bad law”, he said, “does not preach an insurrection against it…. The character of the anarchist is quite different. He denies the existence of the law, he rejects its validity, he incites men to refuse to recognise it as law and to rise up against its execution”. The sense of the word has become wider today; the anarchist denies not just existing laws, but all established power, all authority; however its essense has remained the same: it rebels — and this is what it starts from — against power and authority in any form.

But, we are told, this word brings to mind the negation of order, and consequently the idea of disorder, or chaos.

Let us however make sure we understand one another — what order are we talking about? Is it the harmony which we anarchists dream of, the harmony in human relations which will be established freely when humanity ceases to be divided into two classes, one of which is sacrificed for the benefit of the other, the harmony which will emerge spontaneously from the unity of interests when all men belong to one and the same family, when each works for the good of all and all for the good of each? Obviously not! Those who accuse anarchy of being the negation of order are not talking about this harmony of the future; they are talking about order as it is thought of in our present society. So let us see what this order in which anarchy wishes to destroy.

Order today — what they mean by order — is nine-tenths of mankind working to provide luxury, pleasure and the satisfaction of the most disgusting passions for a handful of idlers.

Order is nine-tenths being deprived of everything which is a necessary condition for a decent life, for the reasonable development of intellectual faculties. To reduce nine-tenths of mankind to the state of beast of burden living from day to day, without ever daring to think of the pleasures provided for man by scientific study and artistic creation — that is order!

Order is poverty and famine become the normal state of society. it is the Irish peasant dying of starvation; it is the peasants of a third of Russia dying of diptheria and typhus, and of hunger following scarcity — at a time when stored grain is being sent abroad. It is the people of Italy reduced to abandoning their fertile countryside and wandering across Europe looking for tunnels to dig, where they risk being buried after existing only a few months or so. It is the land taken away from the peasant to raise animals to feed the rich; it is the land left fallow rather than being restored to those who ask nothing more than to cultivate it.

Order is the woman selling herself to feed her children, it is the child reduced to being shut up in a factory or to dying of starvation, it is the worker reduced to the state of a machine. It is the spectre of the worker rising up against the rich, the spectre of the people rising against the government.

Order is an infinitesimal minority raised to positions of power, which for this reason imposes itself on the majority and which raises children to occupy the same positions later so as to maintain the same privileges by trickery, corruption, violence and butchery.

Order is the continuous warfare of man against man, trade against trade, class against class, country against country. It is the cannon whose roar never ceases in Europe, it is the countryside laid waste, the sacrifice of whole generations on the battlefield, the destruction in a single year of the wealth built up by centuries of hard work.

Order is slavery, thought in chains, the degradation of the human race maintained by sword and lash. It is the sudden death by explosion or the slow death by suffocation of hundreds of miners who are blown up or buried every year by the greed of the bosses — and are shot or bayoneted as soon as they dare complain.

Finally, order is the Paris Commune, drowned in blood. It is the death of thirty thousand men, women and children, cut to pieces by shells, shot down, buried in quicklime beneath the streets of Paris. It is the face of the youth of Russia, locked in the prisons, buried in the snows of Siberia, and — in the case of the best, the purest, and the most devoted — strangled in the hangman’s noose. That is order! And disorder — what they call disorder?

It is the rising of the people against this shameful order, bursting their bonds, shattering their fetters and moving towards a better future. It is the most glorious deeds in the history of humanity.

It is the rebellion of thought on the eve of revolution; it is the upsetting of hypotheses sanctioned by unchanging centuries; it is the breaking of a flood of new ideas, or daring inventions, it is the solution of scientific problems. Disorder is the abolition of ancient slavery, it is the rise of the communes, the abolition of feudal serfdom, the attempts at the abolition of economic serfdom.

Disorder is peasant revolts against priests and landowners, burning castles to make room for cottages, leaving the hovels to take their place in the sun. It is France abolishing the monarchy and dealing a mortal blow at serfdom in the whole of Western Europe.

Disorder is 1848 making kings tremble, and proclaiming the right to work. It is the people of Paris fighting for a new idea and, when they die in the massacres, leaving to humanity the idea of the free commune, and opening the way towards this revolution which we can feel approaching and which will be the Social Revolution.

Disorder — what they call disorder — is periods during which whole generations keep up a ceaseless struggle and sacrifice themselves to prepare humanity for a better existence, in getting rid of past slavery. It is periods during which the popular genius takes free flight and in a few years makes gigantic advances without which man would have remained in the state of an ancient slave, a creeping thing, degraded by poverty.

Disorder is the breaking out of the finest passions and the greatest sacrifices, it is the epic of the supreme love of humanity!

The word anarchy, implying the negation of this order and invoking the memory of the finest moments in the lives of peoples — is it not well chosen for a party which is moving towards the conquest of a better future?

“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