“Where Are the Specifics?” by Karl Hess

Libertarianism is clearly the most, perhaps the only truly radical movement in America. It grasps the problems of society by the roots. It is not reformist in any sense. It is revolutionary in every sense.

Because so many of its people, however, have come from the right there remains about it at least an aura or, perhaps, miasma of defensiveness, as though its interests really center in, for instance, defending private property. The truth, of course, is that libertarianism wants to advance principles of property but that it in no way wishes to defend, willy nilly, all property which now is called private.

Much of that property is stolen. Much is of dubious title. All of it is deeply intertwined with an immoral, coercive state system which has condoned, built on, and profited from slavery; has expanded through and exploited a brutal and aggressive imperial and colonial foreign policy, and continues to hold the people in a roughly serf-master relationship to political-economic power concentrations.

Libertarians are concerned, first and foremost, with that most valuable of properties, the life of each individual. That is the property most brutally and constantly abused by state systems whether they are of the right or left. Property rights pertaining to material objects are seen by libertarians as stemming from and as importantly secondary to the right to own, direct, and enjoy one’s own life and those appurtenances thereto which may be acquired without coercion.

Libertarians, in short, simply do not believe that theft is proper whether it is committed in the name of a state, a class, a crises, a credo, or a cliche.

This is a far cry from sharing common ground with those who want to create a society in which super capitalists are free to amass vast holdings and who say that that is ultimately the most important purpose of freedom. This is proto-heroic nonsense.

Libertarianism is a people’s movement and a liberation movement. It seeks the sort of open, non-coercive society in which the people, the living, free, distinct people may voluntarily associate, dis-associate, and, as they see fit, participate in the decisions affecting their lives. This means a truly free market in everything from ideas to idiosyncrasies. It means people free collectively to organize the resources of their immediate community or individualistically to organize them; it means the freedom to have a community-based and supported judiciary where wanted, none where not, or private arbitration services where that is seen as most desirable. The same with police. The same with schools, hospitals, factories, farms, laboratories, parks, and pensions. Liberty means the right to shape your own institutions. It opposes the right of those institutions to shape you simply because of accreted power or gerontological status.

For many, however, these root principles of radical libertarianism will remain mere abstractions, and even suspect, until they are developed into aggressive, specific proposals.

There is scarcely anything radical about, for instance, those who say that the poor should have a larger share of the Federal budget. That is reactionary, asking that the institution of state theft be made merely more palatable by distributing its loot to more sympathetic persons. Perhaps no one of sound mind could object more to giving Federal funds to poor people than to spending the money on the slaughter of Vietnamese peasant fighters. But to argue such relative merits must end being simply reformist and not revolutionary.

Libertarians could and should propose specific revolutionary tactics and goals which would have specific meaning to poor people and to all people; to analyze in depth and to demonstrate in example the meaning of liberty, revolutionary liberty to them.

I, for one, earnestly beseech such thinking from my comrades.

The proposals should take into account the revolutionary treatment of stolen ‘private’ and ‘public’ property in libertarian, radical, and revolutionary terms; the factors which have oppressed people so far, and so forth. Murray Rothbard and others have done much theoretical work along these lines but it can never be enough for just a few to shoulder so much of the burden.

Let me propose just a few examples of the sort of specific, revolutionary and radical questions to which members of our Movement might well address themselves.

—Land ownership and/or usage in a situation of declining state power. The Tijerina situation suggests one approach. There must be many others. And what about (realistically, not romantically) water and air pollution liability and prevention?

—Worker, share-owner, community roles or rights in productive facilities in terms of libertarian analysis and as specific proposals in a radical and revolutionary context. What, for instance, might or should happen to General Motors in a liberated society?

Of particular interest, to me at any rate, is focusing libertarian analysis and ingenuity on finishing the great unfinished business of the abolition of slavery. Simply setting slaves free, in a world still owned by their masters, obviously was an historic inequity. (Libertarians hold that the South should have been permitted to secede so that the slaves themselves, along with their Northern friends, could have built a revolutionary liberation movement, overthrown the masters, and thus shaped the reparations of revolution.) Thoughts of reparations today are clouded by concern that it would be taken out against innocent persons who in no way could be connected to former oppression. There is an area where that could be avoided: in the use of government-‘owned’ lands and facilities as items of exchange in compensating the descendants of slaves and making it possible for them to participate in the communities of the land, finally, as equals and not wards.

Somewhere, I must assume, there is a libertarian who, sharing the idea, might work out a good and consistent proposal for justice in that area.

Obviously the list is endless. But the point is finite and finely focused.

With libertarianism now developing as a Movement, it earnestly and urgently requires innovative proposals, radical and specific goals, and a revolutionary agenda which can translate its great and enduring principles into timely and commanding courses of possible and even practical action.

“What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.”

—Thomas Jefferson, 1787


Originally appeared in The Libertarian Forum Vol. 1, No. 6, June 15, 1969

“The Meaning of Revolution” by Murray N. Rothbard

In his vitally important article in this issue, Karl Hess properly refers to the genuine libertarian movement as a “revolutionary” movement. This raises the point that very few Americans understand the true meaning of the word “revolution”.

Most people, when they hear the word “revolution”, think immediately and only of direct acts of physical confrontation with the State: raising barricades in the streets, battling a cop, storming the Bastille or other government buildings. But this is only one small part of revolution. Revolution is a mighty, complex, long-run process, a complicated movement with many vital parts and functions. It is the pamphleteer writing in his study, it is the journalist, the political club, the agitator, the organizer, the campus activist, the theoretician, the philanthropist. It is all this and much more. Each person and group has its part to play in this great complex movement.

Let us take, for example, the major model for libertarians in our time: the great classical liberal, or better, “classical radical”, revolutionary movement of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. These our ancestors created a vast, sprawling, and brilliant revolutionary movement, not only in the United States but throughout the Western world, that lasted for several centuries. This was the movement largely responsible for radically changing history, for almost destroying history as it was previously known to man. For before these centuries, the history of man, with one or two luminous exceptions, was a dark and gory record of tyranny and despotism, a record of various absolute States and monarchs crushing and exploiting their underlying populations, largely peasants, who lived a brief and brutish life at bare subsistence, devoid of hope or promise. It was a classical liberalism and radicalism that brought to the mass of people that hope and that promise, and which launched the great process of fulfillment. All that man has achieved today, in progress, in hope, in living standards, we can attribute to that revolutionary movement, to that “revolution”. This great revolution was our father; it is now our task to complete its unfinished promise.

This classical revolutionary movement was made up of many parts. It was the libertarian theorists and ideologists, the men who created and wove the strands of libertarian theory and principle: the La Boeties, the Levellers in seventeenth-century England, the eighteenth-century radicals — the philosophes, the physiocrats, the English radicals, the Patrick Henrys and Tom Paines of the American Revolution, the James Mills and Cobdens of nineteenth-century England, the Jacksonians and abolitionists and Thoreaus in America, the Bastiats and Molinaris in France. The vital scholarly work of Caroline Robbins and Bernard Bailyn, for example, has demonstrated the continuity of libertarian classical radical ideas and movements, from the seventeenth-century English revolutionaries down through the American Revolution a century and a half later.

Theories blended into activist movements, rising movements calling for individual liberty, a free-market economy, the overthrow of feudalism and mercantilist statism, an end to theocracy and war and their replacement by freedom and international peace. Once in a while, these movements erupted into violent “revolutions” that brought giant steps in the direction of liberty: the English Civil War, the American Revolution, the French Revolution. (Barrington Moore, Jr. has shown the intimate connection between these violent revolutions and the freedoms that the Western world has been able to take from the State.) The result was enormous strides for freedom and the prosperity unleashed by the consequent Industrial Revolution. The barricades, while important, were just one small part of this great process.

Socialism is neither genuinely radical nor truly revolutionary. Socialism is a reactionary reversion, a self-contradictory attempt to achieve classical radical ends liberty, progress, the withering away or abolition of the State, by using old-fashioned statist and Tory means: collectivism and State control. Socialism is a New Toryism doomed to rapid failure whenever it is tried, a failure demonstrated by the collapse of central planning in the Communist countries of Eastern Europe. Only libertarianism is truly radical. Only we can complete the unfinished revolution of our great forebears, the bringing of the world from the realm of despotism into the realm of freedom. Only we can replace the governance of men by the administration of things.


“The right of revolution is an inherent one. When people are oppressed by their government, it is a natural right they enjoy to relieve themselves of the oppression, if they are strong enough, either by a withdrawal from it, or by overthrowing it and substituting a government more acceptable.”

—Ulysses S. Grant, 1885

Originally published in The Libertarian Forum, Vol. I, No. VII, July 1st, 1969

“Conservative Libertarianism” by Karl Hess

Libertarianism has managed to develop its own form of counter-revolutionary conservatism. Its future as a movement, much less as an influence on future social change, could be crushed by it if unopposed and unanalyzed.

Underlying this conservatism are an undying and undeniable respect for institutionalized, traditional injustice, as opposed to possible future injustice, and the unbeatable contradictions of reformism.

No person even on the fringes of a libertarian discussion can have escaped the explicit wording of the former or the overtones of the latter.

Libertarians, this conservative position holds, cannot take part in revolutionary action because, as it now stands, such action always is dominated by persons with a healthy disrespect for private property and a feverish fondness for communist rhetoric.

The argument is made, time and time again, that “if they get power, they will be worse than what we have.” The notion that they might include libertarians if only libertarians were up there on the barricades working with them either eludes these conservatives or they reject it because of their spotless, yea immaculate conceptions of theoretical purity. But most pernicious is the possibility that such persons truly mean what they say: that they prefer the certainty of the injustices we have to any risk of injustices that we might have. There is a trap here deep enough to engulf freedom itself. Theories do not produce revolutionary action. Rather, revolutionary actions enable theories to become practices. It is from the ferment of the action that the ferment of the idea brews its future impact. Long before Mao or machineguns it was apparent that political thought, without political act, equalled zero and that political ideas born in the minds of men have a chance to grow only after actions by the hands of men. Not even Christianity or Ghandian [sic] resistance grew solely as an idea. All great ideas have grown as the result of great actions.

No example comes to mind of a great teacher who was not also a great exemplar, a personification of and not merely a mouthpiece of his ideas. Take Christ and the money-lenders. He unquestionably had the benefit of sound advice in regard to economic analysis and pedagogy. He could have held classes to expose usury to a few who would go out and expose it to more and so on and on until the entire world was revulsed by the practice and ceased doing business with the usurers. The story, of course, is different. It tells of a decision to teach by acting.

In the more real, or at least contemporary world we can think of the many political and economic theorists—some of them libertarians!—who did not have the act of revolution to spread their thoughts, as did Karl Marx.

If Bakunin or Warren had had a Lenin we might live in a free and anarchistic world today.

The consequence of conservative libertarianism’s concentration on ideas to the exclusion of action is to turn a prudent sense of priority on its head. The priorities, as I see them, are to first participate in social change so that, second, there will be a chance of influencing its direction later on. Unless one can reject flatly the possibility that there is even going to be a change, the priority should not be to fret about what it might be like, the priority is to maintain a position from which or in which you can do something about it.

The impossibility of simple neutrality in this situation should be apparent. You cannot just say “a pox on both of your houses” because, unfortunately, you happen actually to live in one of the houses. By that act alone neutrality is made impossible—except for those very rare few who actually can withdraw totally, to dream out their isolation so long as, and only so long as, the unleashed dogs of the system, against which they have refused to struggle, are not set upon them.

From the conservative position comes the position of libertarian reformism. It holds that, since there is a good base to build upon—the at least lip-service traditions of liberty in this country, for instance—that the way to avoid the dangers that might lurk on the other side of revolutionary change is to opt for evolutionary change. The repeal of certain laws is, in this position, held as crucial and, of course, it probably is true that if the withholding tax were repealed that the government would be bankrupted as millions of taxpayers simply found themselves unable to pay up.

That is, this situation might be true if it were not for the amazing ingenuity of American state-monopoly-capitalism. Few if any corporation heads would stand idly by and see the source of their prosperity—a partnership with the state—seriously jeopardized. One can imagine a “voluntary” tax withholding system going into effect which, if anything, might be more effective than the state system which, after all, is operated by businessmen anyway even though with a lot of wasteful bureaucratic interference. Same with the voluntary or even ‘corporate’ military concepts. A libertarian should be the first to recognize that such systems would, if anything, make imperialism more effective by making its military machine more efficient. Such reforms, in short, would not necessarily end injustices but might merely streamline them.

More pertinent is the central error of reformism as a possible instrument of change. To reform a system you must, first of all, preserve it against attacks more precipitous than those called for in the reformist timetable. This position not only makes neutrality impossible, it makes siding with the system (the state) unavoidable in the long run.

I sum up my concern over these matters in this way: Libertarians are faced with a real, not merely theoretical world in which revolutionary change is at the very least a real possibility everywhere. If libertarians will not participate in that change they cannot influence that change now or later. It is the important characteristic of this journal that it does not intend to relegate the black flag of the most revolutionary of positions, libertarianism, to the sidelines of any revolution, no matter the color of the other banners unfurling.

Originally appeared in The Libertarian Forum Vol. 1, No. 13, October 1, 1969

“Anarcho-Rightism” by Murray N. Rothbard

Karl Hess’s brilliant article in this issue turns the spotlight on a new and curious phenomenon of “libertarians” and even “anarchists” who yet are strongly opposed to revolutionary change, and who therefore at least objectively stamp themselves as defenders of the existing state and the status quo. But this opposition to revolution is no accident; it is part and parcel of the entire world-view of these people—whom we may call “anarcho-rightists”. For the anarcho-rightist, beneath the veneer of his professed anarchism, still remains what he generally was before his anarchistic conversion: a benighted right-winger.

In a sense, it is heartwarming that the overwhelming logic and consistency of the anarcho-capitalist position has won over a large number of former laissez-fairists and Randians. But every rapidly developing movement has growing pains; anarchism’s growing pain is that this conversion has, in all too many cases, been skin deep. The curious conservatism and moderation of the Libertarian Caucus of YAF is but one glaring example of this defect.

Let us analyze the anarcho-rightist. In effect, he says: “O.K., I’m convinced that it is immoral for a government to impose a monopoly of coercion by the use of force, and it [is] possible or even probable that the free market could supply all services now considered governmental, including judicial and police protection. Since this is anarchism, I am an anarchist.”

But his anarchism is only an anarchism for the far distant future, to be achieved solely by patient education, the issuing of leaflets and pronouncements, etc. In the meanwhile, in his concrete, day-to-day attitudes, the anarcho-rightist remains fully as right-wing as he was before. His anarchism is only a thin veneer laid on top of a moral of profoundly “anarchist” ["archist"] and statist views, views that he has not bothered to root out of his social philosophy.

Thus, the anarcho-rightist remains an American patriot. He reveres the American government as the “freest in the world”, he worships the Founding Fathers (failing to realize that the Constitution was a profoundly statist coup d’etat imposed upon the far more libertarian Articles of Confederation), he loves and admires the two major enforcement-good [sic] squad arms of the State: the army and the police. Defining the police a priori as defenders of person and property, he supports their clubbing, beating, and torturing of dissenters and opposition movements to the State. Totally ignorant of the American guilt for the Cold War and of the long-time expansionist nature of U. S. imperialism, he supports that Cold War in the belief that the “international Communist conspiracy” is a direct military threat to American liberties. Critical of Establishment propaganda in domestic affairs, he yet has allowed himself to be totally sucked in by the Establishment propaganda about the Communist bogey. Hence, he supports the American military. Even if he opposes the Vietnam War, he does so only as a tactical error that is not in American “national interests”. Although a self-proclaimed libertarian, he shows no concern whatever for the genocidal American murder of millions of innocent Vietnamese peasants. And, beset by a narrow, solipsistic desire to keep his university classes open, he actually takes the lead in defending the State’s brainwashing apparatus—the American schools and colleges (either State-owned or State-subvened)—against the rising opposition to that educational system.

In short, the fact that, in philosophic theory, the anarcho-rightist is indeed an anarchist should cut very little ice with those anarchists who are truly opponents of the American State, and who are therefore revolutionaries. For when it comes to concrete actions, actions in which he must line up either for the State or for the opposition to that State, he has generally lined up on the wrong side of the barricades—defending the American State against its enemies. So long as he does so, he remains an opponent rather than an ally.

A strategic argument has been raging for some time among revolutionaries whether or to what extent the anarcho-rightist offers prime material for conversion to the revolutionary position. Basically, how much time one spends working on any given rightist is a matter of personal temperament and patience. But one gloomy note must be sounded: there is a grave tendency among many rightists to be solipsistic: in short, to not give a damn about principle, about justice, or, in the last analysis, about liberty. There is a tendency for rightists to be concerned only with their own narrow monetary profits and immediate creature comforts, and therefore to scorn those of us who are dedicated to liberty and justice as a cause. For these ignoble solipsists, any form of dedication to principle smacks of “collectivism” or “altruism”. I had wondered for years why so many Randians, for example, place such great emphasis on combatting “altruism” (which has always struck me as an absurd social philosophy of little importance.) Now I am beginning to realize that for many of these people, “altruism” means any form of devotion to principle, to liberty and justice for all men, to any principle, indeed, which may disturb their own cozy accommodations to the statist evils which they recognize in the abstract.

Thus, when, many years ago, I raised a call for a revolutionarylibertarian movement, I was dismissed by these people as crackpotty and unrealistic. There could never be a revolution here, and that was that. Then, in the mid-1960’s, when, almost miraculously, the New Left revolutionary

movement began to take hold in America, these libertarians shifted to a new position: that a revolution in this country would never be libertarian, it would only be Marxist and dictatorial. But now, now when libertarian revolutionism has begun to spread like wildfire among the youth, now the anarcho-rightists have begun to display their cloven hooves: they have begun to reveal that they oppose even a libertarian movement. Several of such people have recently declared that I, or rather the revolutionary libertarian movement of which I am a part, am “more of a threat to them” than the State. Why? There appear to be two reasons. First, that any revolution will disturb their cozy accommodations, their petty profits, their lousy classes. In short, their dedication to liberty is so weak, so feeble, that they oppose bitterly any rocking of the boat, any disturbance to their cozy little lives. They don’t really oppose the State, certainly not in practice. They can “live with” the State quite contentedly. The second reason is that many of these people cringe from revolutionary justice, because they know that much of their income and wealth have derived from unjust State robbery.

And so these anarcho-rightists sit basely on the sidelines, hugging their petty comforts, griping and carping about the revolution while the New Left and other revolutionaries put their lives on the line in opposition to the very State which they claim to oppose but do so much to defend. And yet, should the revolution ever succeed, these people expect that the fruits of liberty will drop into their laps, that they will reap benefits which they have done not one whit to earn through struggle. And O the recriminations that they will heap upon us if liberty is not then handed to them, unearned, upon a silver platter. For their own opportunist sakes, anarcho-rightists might ponder the fact that successful revolutionaries, no matter how libertarian, tend to be very impatient with those who have opposed them every step of the way. As Karl Hess has eloquently written, the position of any revolutionary tends to be: “No voice, no choice; no tickee no shirtee; no commitment now, no commitments later.”

Originally appeared in The Libertarian Forum Vol. 1, No. 13, October 1, 1969

“My Taxes” by Karl Hess

On April 15, I sent the following letter, accompanying my filled-out 1040 Form, to the Tax Collector:

The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America establishes a bill of particulars in regard to intolerable infringements, abuses, and denials of political power which belongs to the people.

The Federal government of the United States of America today is guilty of exactly every sort of infringement, abuse, and denial stated as intolerable by the Declaration of Independence.

I cannot, in conscience, sanction that government by the payment of taxes.

Further, the Federal government of the United States of America has established as a principle, and ruthlessly by the power of its officials enforces as a practice, that it can demand the primary loyalty of the people, that it can exercise all political power on their behalf, that it can wage war without their approval, and that it can and should establish the standards of their behavior and the goals of their lives.

I could not in conscience sanction such a government by the payment of taxes.

Finally, the Declaration of Independence, in the clearest possible language, tells Americans that when a government becomes destructive of the ends of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that it is the right and the duty of the people to abolish such government, to “throw off such government.”

It is in the spirit of that Declaration, and in comradeship with men everywhere who seek freedom and to throw off such governments, that i now refuse to pay the taxes demanded by the government in the attached form.

Originally published in The Libertarian (Forum) Vol. I, No. III May 1, 1969

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What the Movement Needs” by Karl Hess

This may well be a long, cool summer of consolidation. The political establishment will be seeking to consolidate its power behind an advancing wave of law-and-order blue-nose, Constitutional ‘constructionism’. (Constructionism is a new code word for reading the Constitution as instrument of state power rather than individual freedom.)

Radical opponents of the state also will be consolidating. The picture with SDS is now one of building new structures on either side of a schism. YAF is said to be facing a similar task with pro-state “trads” under lively assault from those with at least anti-statist tendencies if not fully fledged libertarian positions. The Resistance, after Staughton Lynd’s moving plea for a “new beginning”, will be attempting to broaden its base far beyond that of fighting the draft. And, of course, the Panthers will simply be trying to stay alive.

For libertarianism, burgeoning now as a movement rather than merely a mood, it will be a crucial time, testing the difference between the dedicated and the dilettante.

The young people in the movement are irrepressible and, in the long term, so is the movement. In the short term, however, much of its velocity will depend upon whether it attracts, along with its great and growing ranks of young militants, those few men of substance who, in the early stages of most movements, can make a difference of years in the movement’s development. Engels’ financial support of Marx is an example. The few who supported the early spokesmen of the New Left are a latter-day example. There are few similar examples on the right, interestingly enough, inasmuch as right-wing support almost exclusively has been toward the institutionalization of a currently vested interest (i. e. anti-Communism, corporate protectionism, class or race privilege, religion) rather than in the development of a new movement.

Because, therefore, there may be a man of substance, and libertarian values, somewhere, who, watching the movement develop, may want to participate in it rather than just talk about it, some words of friendly (dare we say comradely?) advice may be in order.

First there is the simple responsibility to be serious. Taking a pioneering interest without following through could be more destructive of morale than silence. For young people, particularly, the idea of faintheartedness may be the hardest of all to take: There always is hope that heroes will come along and it would be better to have that hope remain unrequited than to have it dashed.

Then there is resistance to a familiar syndrome, the notion of “one thing for sure, we can’t do the whole job alone.” There are two points to make about this to anyone who may appear as a serious supporter of the libertarian movement.

1. You may have to.

2. If so, you can.

The first point, of course, is that it shouldn’t make any difference how many are similarly interested. For an individualist and a libertarian, surely, his own interest should be sufficient to the action. If only one such person appears, that is 100% more than we have now anyway!

The second point is simply a citation of the need of the most effective use of what resources are available rather than any despair that they are limited. If they are all that there is, then prudence says only “use them well.” And courage says, only, “use them!”

One consideration arising from that is the need to use available resources to produce a well-rounded base, if nothing else, hoping that on the base, subsequently, new support will arise. At the same time, securing a base also helps secure the on-going momentum of the movement itself, by recognizing that it is a movement and that it does require not just casual advancement but hard, full-time organizing, propagandizing, crusading and so forth.

If, on the other hand, there already was a more general sort of support available, the movement could afford what is now a luxury: the support of very specific researches or programs. As it stands, the urge to build various superstructures before the movement is firmly based as a movement is to tactically do just what such imprudence would do tectonically: create a top-heavy structure which would topple in any stiff wind.

One course, in forming the base, would be to inventory needs and evaluate priority versus cost and so forth. Practical as well as visionary men should examine this agenda carefully lest the caution of the one extinguish the beacons of the other or the passions of the latter ignore the prudence of the former.

Some of the items which should, in my view, earnestly be considered are these:

—Full-time movement organizers and co-ordinators, at least on a regional basis.

—Creation of even the most modest East Coast ‘center’ for libertarian studies to fill an incredible geographic vaccuum [sic]. Although the West Coast has seen the development of such centers, the East remains barren.

—Support of our own movement activists, the spearhead people whose speaking on campus, pamphleteering, even arrests and trials, provide the sort of excitement centers which, to cite a compelling example, turned the New Left from a phrase by C. Wright Mills into the wedge which has now opened wide the entire range of radical, revolutionary developments in America.

—Entry into new media, such as films, for libertarian ideas as well as on-going encouragement for those who can break into the regular media. How many good libertarian books or articles go down the drain each year simply because potentially productive people cannot take the time, or afford to do the work on a speculative basis? The number, no matter how small, is too large if the libertarian mood is to turn into the libertarian movement.

—A campus organization. Plans for the Radical Libertarian Alliance already are well advanced as plans. But practical organizational work, production of recruiting materials and so forth requires some practical support which the non-existent means of the founding members simply cannot provide. This does not mean that R. L. A. will not move at all, without added support. It will move, indeed, no matter what. Its founding chapters and members are not to be stopped. But its people know full well that they will not move with the summer-lightning speed of, say, SDS or YAF because, as in the one case, it does not have (thankfully) the relatively well-heeled zeal of a Progressive Labor Party to send travelers across the country and keep the literature coming or, as in the other case, it does not offer eccentric millionaires a chance to advance their own quirky causes by buying the energies of the young. R. L. A., to be precise about this point, would rather poop along on pennies than take anybody’s money if it came marked with any word other than LIBERTY.

—Travel support for permitting libertarians with something to say to say it where the action is. The fact that the several outstanding libertarian-SDSers couldn’t even afford the train fare to the Chicago convention is just another evidence of wasting major opportunities for want of minor investments.

Not one of those suggestions is made in a spirit of exclusion or primacy. They cover areas which seem common-sensical but they are intended to convey, first and foremost, a sense of base-building as opposed to panacea-pathing. The libertarian who says that this action or that action is all that should be taken or that this or that will ‘solve’ everything is avoiding action, not taking it.

Fixated, narrowly focused approaches may build egos but they can scarcely build movements. The purpose of a revolutionary, in one of the truisms of our time, is to make the revolution. To a libertarian that should mean that the advancement of liberty and the opposition to coercion by all means possible and necessary. It means each person making his part of the revolution as he can best do it, recognizing always that each part is subsumed under the vision of a movement. Many of us may be always restricted to just doing one job or another in the movement. None of us, happily, if we retain faith with liberty itself, will waste our time seeking to be leaders or wanting to be.

We do not want to lead or be led. We want to be free.

We now sense in a way that gives us ties with men in many lands and in many postures of political development, that being free always will be a chancy, iffy, and very conditional transitory condition until the institutions of coercive power have been brought down.

We have advanced through the stage when many thought that freedom could be found simply by retiring to a hilltop somewhere far distant. We know that such a hilltop may be by next Tuesday the site of another government radar station, just as the valley below it may be a detention camp.

We now know that men who want to be free cannot run forever. Sometime, somewhere they must stand firm — and fight, not as the state’s agents fight, with bloody hands and blazing eyes, but as free men fight, in a movement of resistance, with respect for life, each man as he can and each man as he will.

My overall point is that a movement demands many elements. It requires public heroes and private genius; it must work out in the streets as though it were the confident spearhead of a triumphant cause, it must work in garrets and offices as though there would be no tomorrow, it must sometimes bite its tongue at tactical errors, loving the sinner even while deploring the sin.

It must seek its friends in other lands, creating a new citizenry of un-bordered liberty. It must create and recreate its literature. It must teach its young and, equally important, it must find its young.

It must sustain its weary, heal its wounded, and protect its cadre. And, above all, it must know its own heart and mind and be aware of itself as a Movement. Finally, it must have a sense of time and place, knowing where the world is and not nostalgically looking back at where it was. And if it errs it should err on the side of dedication and vision, not on the side of inaction.

Libertarians are not determinists who feel that unseen, mystic forces move men and history in inexorable patterns, up and down fated graphs. Libertarians, being radicals, know that men can move history, that Man is history, and that men can grasp their own fate, at the root, and advance it.

Interestingly and compellingly, libertarians have been through much of this before in this lovely but looted land. The first American revolution, just as with the Russian, was almost a libertarian and not a statist victory. The victory, instead, of the Federalists, with their glib talk of “legal systems” and of measuring liberty in terms of special favors to those who would best “serve” society, was not a foregone conclusion any more than Stalin’s victory was the end in Russia. Contrary forces now seethe in both lands.


Also, in the days before the first American revolution, men heard the same arguments we hear today — that we could never beat the system, so why try; why risk oppression by being uppity; why not keep on trying to go through channels and why not chuck it all because the majority of people don’t want any trouble anyway.

In those days it was erring on the side of militancy and civil disobedience that gave libertarians the opportunity even to speak and to speculate. Caution then would have meant an even deeper gloom today (just look at the Mother Country!).

We are again at such a time and place.

You — whoever you are! — now have it in your power to some extent or another move history and advance libertarianism as a Movement and not a mere moral mutter.

This summer, then, should be the time when you decide just how seriously you actually do take the times — and yourself.

Originally published in The Libertarian Forum, Vol. I, No. VII, July 1st, 1969

“Bartering” by Karl Hess

About 10 years ago, back in the days when I worked for Republican politicians battling Democratic Presidents, constant harassment by the Internal Revenue Service caused me to snap my twig and just stop paying taxes altogether. I won’t go into the tedious details, but I will note that I announced my decision to the I.R.S. by sending along a copy of the Declaration of Independence. By return mail, my tax collector informed me that a lien would be placed against all my property–that they would take every cent, literally 100 percent, of every penny I might earn and that they could discern.

I asked, then, how they would handle it if I decided to just barter for a living. They had a ready answer: “If you get some turnips for your work, we’ll take the turnips.” Fortunately for me, either the I.R.S. is surfeited with vegetables, or turnips are a good deal more difficult to track down than cold cash.

And so I survive. The other day I welded up a fish-smoking rack for a family in Washington, D.C. It will earn me a year’s supply of smoked fish. At about the same time, I helped a friend dig a foundation. He’ll help me lay the concrete blocks for a workshop. Part of my pay for a lecture at a New England college was the use of the school’s welding shop, to make some metal sculptures. Three such sculptures have paid my attorney’s fees in maintaining the tax resistance which is the reason barter has become such an integral part of my life.

Cash is not altogether gone from my existence. First of all, the taxpaying lady with whom I live generates a bit. Second, there are jobs I can do for hard cash, getting the money before the tax collector. Of course, although I don’t pay my taxes, I dutifully file tax returns, publicly discuss my tax resistance, and always overstate, rather than ever try to hide, or falsify, income. Otherwise it wouldn’t be tax resistance, but simple fraud.

But barter, when you get into it, beats cash all hollow.

For all its practical uses as a formalistic place to “store” labor, cash becomes after a while a symbol without substance. It should always represent something: work, exchange, And yet it doesn’t for so many. It didn’t for me. I used to think of it as a value in and of itself.

With barter, the symbol can never outpace the source. Work is exchanged for work, value is exchanged for value. Furthermore, if freely given to someone, work, or an object, represents a true transfer of something of value. Sharing your food with a neighbor (barter charity) is an act both personal and understandable–and expectantly reciprocal, should you sometime be the needy one. There is no hint of undignified pleading as with a person facing a welfare bureaucrat. But in money-charity, say, involving the impersonal billions of the Government welfare system, values are hard to keep straight.

Perhaps that is what being “reduced” in part to barter has taught me most strikingly. Being part of a nation is like being part of a bookkeeping system in which you are a mere entry.

Let me give you an example. Recently, my drivers license expired. (Well, actually, when I went to renew my license, I was informed that the District of Columbia had instituted a new regulation: I needed to show my Social Security card. Since I had lost my card, I had to fill out an application for a new one–which could not be processed, I was informed, for at least a month. Eventually, it arrived in the mail. By then, of course, my license had expired.)

Now, this fateful license is not just a vehicular adjunct to my life. It is my only, absolutely only, piece of official identification. The reason is–you guessed it–my long-standing tax resistance. That means no bank account, no credit cards, nothing in the way of usual identification. Just the driver’s license.

As it happens, I was recently summoned to lecture at the University of Wisconsin, in Milwaukee. Where there, I was given a check for expenses, to enable me to return to Washington. I needed cash. The check, I was told, could easily be cashed at the bank handling the university account. Up to the window, hand over the check. Then the voice of doom. “May I see some identification, please.”

I offered up my one, my only piece of identification. “I’m sorry, sir,” she reported, “we can’t accept this item of identification. It has expired.”

It dawned on me that I did not exist for the bank, excepting only as an unidentifiable object. To the bank, the license, the photo, the description–and, therefore, the person–had ceased to be recognizable as of the expiration date of the license.

“Well,” I said, “the license may have expired but I haven’t.” The cashier really had to think about that She did. Then she started to chuckle. Then she agreed. And I got my cash! But I knew that, for the bank, my identity had expired.

Needless to say, this sort of exchange would be inconceivable in the bartering life. Being part of a transaction of barter means that you are an equal person, fairly exchanging. It is flesh and blood, human, face to face.

Of course, to the extent that money does represent just the sort of barter exchange that I have been practicing, there seems to me to be no objection to it. Indeed, I still use money whenever necessary, as in buying airline ticket to reach a college where I may earn an honorarium for a lecture. The cash thus earned, because it is the immediate exchange for a job of work, seems fairly meaningful to me.

But in the days that such cash got deposited in a bank account–where it began a wild arithmetical dance with debts–the idea of money as an exchange value got lost, as I recall. This or that piece of debt did not seem to represent this or that specific amount of work. It was all just numbers.

Now, for a bookkeeper with a very sharp pencil, there might be one great disadvantage to barter. Its dynamic seems to press you toward wanting to be always just a bit on the short end of the deal; that is, to be in a position where you try to do a bit more than you receive so as to relieve any gnawing doubts of irresponsibility. It is my experience, however, that everyone involved in bartering feels the same way, and so the system remains dynamic and satisfying, not stultifying and worrisome.

This is not a system that every American could follow–heck, it was forced on me–and, anyhow, I wouldn’t seek to impose my economic life-style on others. But it works for me. It is important for me to know that the money from this essay, if i can find someone to cash the check for me, will be directly and personally transformed to trade goods in my neighborhood–payment for work done by me which will help some neighbor, then pay for some work done by someone else.

It will have been a living process all the way.

Originally published in The New York Times November 9, 1975.

“The Violent Hypocrites” by Joseph Labadie

All of this talk and legislation against the use of force and violence as means of changing sociological conditions is hypocrisy on the part of exploiters. Force and violence are at the bottom of exploitation. Government itself is force and violence. Tell me, some of you governmentalists who are so averse to the use of force and violence, not only here in American but the world over, how did you become possessed of the land on which the native races earned their living? How did England get to be ruler of India, Egypt, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and so much of the world elsewhere if not by force and violence? How did the U.S. become possessed of Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Philippines; indeed, how did these super-Americans–the spoilators, become the owners of the land and nearly every thing else in this country? How did the robbers, the pirates, land sharks, brigands, freebooters, buccaneers–governmentalists, every one–the world over get possession of the world, if not by force and violence?…

Say, Mr. Burglar, Mr. Exploiter, Mr. Profiteer–all of you capitalistic buccaneers–get out while the getting is good. It’ll soon be daylight, and you can’t put that out. The sun is painting the eastern sky an illuminating red and flooding the western horizon. They who have been asleep are yawning. They are about ready to get up out of a long and troubled sleep. If you don’t get out soon you may be put out, and there is no guarantee that they will be overly gentle in doing the job. Safety first, you know?

We who don’t like to have the place all mussed up want the job done orderly, gently–all of us gentle anarchists do–as this will save breaking up the furniture, shooting up the windows, covering the rugs with smudge and smutch; and, also, we have some regard of our own composure, dignity, and flesh and bones. We are not insured against rough-house stuff, and so we want to preserve what we’ve got and prevent you from taking any more than you have. If you’re a real high-class bandit you’ll recognize the fact that the jig is up, make the best of a bad situation and smilingly back out and scoot around the corner before the boys get you…

The war opened the lid and they looked in. This was fatal to governments and their favorites. What they saw was convincing that war is a governmental trades; that invasion, conquest, spoilation are inseparable from government; that peoples rarely ever make war; that the desire for more rulership is the prime cause of war, and that rulership is not beneficial to the masses, but the means by which they bcome the tools of a class as wealth producers for that class…

The World War surely uncovered a great prodigality of wrong in the world, and may also have gleamed to the world’s people that the rulership of man over man is a false doctrine that leads only to enmity, discord, and all that is eternally pernicious.

Rulership is inevitably anti-social. To love one’s master is sanely unthinkable. Only brutes do that, and those who have been brutalized. And even that which appears as love of a master is simply fear. Those who preach fear of God get further and further away from the carpenter of Nazareth. No sane person can love a fear-inspiring God…

He who wields physical power over his fellows is sure, sooner or later, to use it badly. It is given to but few to have the wisdom of not abusing this power. This is the truth which those who seek the powers of government fail to realize. They see the disaster that comes from the possession of this power in the hands of others and mislead themselves into the belief that they are made of sterner stuff and will resist the temptation to become despotic. Vain belief. I wouldn’t trust Jesus himself with political power over me. He who believes himself holier than others is ready for a good awakening.

“Cranky Notions” by Joseph Labadie

Into what a seething, turbulent, roaring condition the industrial world has suddenly been thrown!
The cry from every capitalistic quarter is now, ‘Go slow!’
But the cry comes too late.
For years a few hated and despised agitators have warned the people of breakers ahead, but they were look upon with scorn and their warnings were unheeded.
The privileged class are intoxicated with their successes at robbing the wealth producers, and in their glee they clap their hands and dance with joy.
Alas, it may prove the dance of death!
These industrial rumblings are only the more distinct thunder-claps that precede the devastating storm.
No power on earth can now avert a violent revolution!
The Hoxies, the Jake Sharpes, the Goulds, the Vanderbilts, the Muirs; the Lumber Barons, the Salt Dukes, the Land Lords, the Railroad Kings, the Money Princes–in short, the privileged class, have invited a revolution, and it will come upon them with relentless fury.
The downfall of Capitalism is inevitable!
The blind Sampson [sic] of Labor has been groping, lo! These many years; the memories of the abuses heaped upon him are rankling in his breast; he is at this moment tugging at the pillars of the Temple of Capitalism, and its destruction is as sure as that tomorrow will come.
The agitators have sought to avert this calamity, but their warnings have been as unheeded as the moaning of the wind.
It is useless now to try to escape the revolution.
All we can do is to prepare for it and try to modify its destructive tendencies, and at the same time reap the full benefits that will naturally result from the overturning of a vicious social system.

“Different Phases of the Labor Question” by Joseph Labadie

…Nothing exists without a cause, and the cause of the labor movement is that labor products have not been justly distributed. This defect in the present industrial system has brought into existence the trades unions, the political labor parties, the socialists, communists, anarchists, single-taxers, etc., the central aim of all being to give to the laborer the full fruits of his toil…

Liberty of the individual should be the guiding principle of all reforms…Individual liberty does not, however, destroy the right of association for the accomplishment of specific objects. The entering freely, voluntarily, into a contract with others to do something is not a curtailment of one’s liberty. You do not give up any rights when you join a society. In the case of a trade union, for example, one does not give up his freedom when he becomes a member, because the object of his joining is to enlarge his sphere of liberty. It is the exemplification of gaining freedom by association. Without his union, the workman is much more the slave of his employer than he is with it.

There is, however, too often an inclination on the part of the ruling power in the union, as well as in other societies, to disregard the letter and the spirit of the contract (which is the constitution), and by superior force or threats compel members to do what they have not contracted to do. This is what every true, intelligent union man should enter his most vigorous protest against, because it is the germ which will in time destroy any society if allowed to grow. The personal responsibility of a vote in a society is not always, in fact it is very rarely, fully appreciated, and this leads to grave abuses. Persons are too prone to cast a vote, especially a secret one, to have the society do acts which they would not do as individuals. This is the weakness of all democracies, and one which to avoid requires a high degree of intelligence, and a fine sense of the rights of others.

It seems to me that those who are desirous of reform should keep these things in mind, namely, that the movement is international, and any attempt to confine it within national boundaries simply retards it; that immigration or the prevention of immigration is no means of reform, and is of no practical benefit to the movement in general; that occupancy and use only must be recognized as a valid title to land; that the monopoly of machinery must be destroyed by the abolition of the patent right system; that the furnishing of a currency, of a medium of exchange, must be left to individuals and associations, taking away from the general governments the monopoly of making the tools of exchange–that, in fact, general governments have no more right to monopolize the making of the tools of trade than they have to monopolize the making of the tools of production; that the true interests of the working and business classes is in the repeal of laws instead of the making of new ones, and that the powers and functions of governments must be reduced as so as to leave the individual a greater degree of freedom and responsibility for his own acts.

The men who form the trades unions in all countries will probably continue to lead in this movement. The trades unions themselves will be powerful factors in accomplishing good results. There is no doubt in my mind that, contrary to the advice of many well-meaning friends of trades unions, the unions to enhance their usefulness will have to restrict their own functions rather than enlarging them, and confine their efforts to economic problems, leaving the political and the social to associations especially formed for carrying on the work peculiar to those two departments of sociology. They must learn the utility of specializing the work to be done, and they may learn from modern industry the power that comes from the division of labor.