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Comebacks Require Leaving

For as much as empire persists, it goes rather unmentioned by virtually anyone outside of Left opposition to it, which has (unfortunately) little weight in the US at all. Those who support US hegemony & keep it going have learned over time to use code words & feelgood lies to avoid having to actually discuss the intended outcomes they shoot for. Well, today Robert Kaplan of the Center for a New American Security (really) decided to ignore that memo, putting a piece at Foreign Policy titled “It’s time to bring imperialism back to the Middle East”.

Kaplan starts off by noting the capture of Palmyra by Islamic State, and stating that the conditions of the region indicate the usefulness of the long departed Ottoman Empire. Because there’s no way that diverse peoples can live in the same area without an imperial caliphate imposing its will over them. Funny how easily he implies that self-determination & multiculturalism are poisonous…

(Wait, if he thinks that, then shouldn’t he like I.S.? They even have a declared caliph!)

Along with that burst of Brown People Are Naturally Nuts, he contradicts himself about what happened after the fall of that empire, in one part saying its collapse brought forth the ethnic & sectarian disputes and then in the next acknowledging that Europe divvied up the land as if loot from a successful bank robbery, drawing the lines that are effectively being erased to begin with. You can’t pin the fights on what you consider a power vacuum AND admit foreign parties rushed in to play with the ruins — unless Kaplan is saying They Were Asking For It. “How dare they temp the West by not having the military power to push them out after a huge global war??”

He continues:

[…]the demonstrably hands-off approach to these developments by President Barack Obama manifests the end of America’s great power role in organizing and stabilizing the region.

Because missiles fired at both Iraq & Syria as well as arms & aid to Syrian anti-Assad fighters don’t count. Even a Spec Ops raid inside Syrian territory doesn’t count! At this rate, neo-cons won’t count any actions in a war as war acts unless the president themself is on the ground gunning like Rambo.

Going on, Kaplan states, in lamenting their falls, that post-colonial strongmen (his term) like Saddam and Qaddafi held together their regimes with a secular identity, indeed had to due to those borders left behind. Yet more Brown People Are Nuts, while glossing over who got those regimes removed (George W. Bush & Barack Obama) and how (invasion under false pretenses & an undeclared air offensive on a side in someone elses civil war under false pretenses). He then notes a correlation between the relative stability of Morocco, Tunisia & Egypt (I guess you can call going from de facto military dictatorship to a Muslim Brotherhood regime to a coup & return to de facto military dictatorship in the span of four years “stability” on Planet Kaplan) with the locations of old Roman settlements.

“Why, if only Strom Thurmond had won the Romans had conquered more we wouldn’t have all these problems now!”

Returning to Libya, Syria & Iraq, Kaplan reiterates his view of dictatorship as the only glue that works. There’s a question raised here though: if this view is correct, then why bother? Of what value is attempting to hold together something so unstable? I’m not a believer in the intractability of ethnic & religious conflict, nor a separatist, but as one familiar with a strand of anti-regime nationalism at home (that is, black nationalism as embodied in parts of the black power movement) I’m also not one to blame an oppressed group for at the least shooting a side-eye at being ruled by outsiders. If they can’t trust each other, call the whole thing off, why not?

Iran is observed by Kaplan as stable due to its Persian cultural identity (read: these brown people are smarter than Those Damn Arabs), and as having inherited what the American empire left behind. This is like saying you inherited from your cousin leaving town the deer that he hunted & butchered & brought back for you to cook. Of course, Kaplan is among those that pushed for the war in Iraq (even having helped draft a government document advocating the invasion) only to later wring his hands over it. Gee, who could’ve known that obliterating a hostile neighbor to Iran would work to the benefit of Iran?

That said, the benefit to Iran as Kaplan sees it of current situations is far overblown. He portrays the nuclear program negotiations as a declining global power coming to terms with a rising regional power, never mind that the global power’s sanctions & constant threats over a non-issue — the fable of Iran seeking nuclear weapons, despite no evidence of such nor any clear incentive for their use if they did get them — are the only reason there’s anything to talk about. Oh, the poor downtrodden USA, having to make deals with people they hold at gunpoint, how sad.

To contain a post-accord Iran, the United States will need not only to bolster Saudi Arabia, but Egypt and Turkey as well. […] America requires a strong Egypt — democratic or not — as a regional anti-Iran ally to bolster Saudi Arabia.

Caring at all how the Saudi royals are fairing among all this, while they spread & largely practice the same kind of nuttery that when it’s I.S. doing it prompts BREAKING NEWS!! bulletins & heaping scoops of Be Afraid in the media. Man, that oil addiction has some power, doesn’t it?

Strong Arab dictatorships across the region were convenient to American interests, since they provided a single address in each country for America to go to in the event of regional crises. But now there is much less of that. In several countries, there is simply no one in charge to whom we can bring our concerns.

Why should they care about the US regime’s concerns?

And just when that wasn’t enough, he coughs up an outright falsehood with regard to the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980’s (emphasis mine):

That war, going on as long as it did, represented in part the deliberate decision of the Reagan administration not to intervene.

Reality: during the Iran-Iraq war, the US provided intelligence help & weapons to Iraq, including helping with the launch of chemical weapons, and funneled arms to Iran. That is, not only did the Reagan administration intervene, but they did so on both sides. Whatever contractors made those weapons is probably still spending money from ’88.

The challenge now is less to establish democracy than to reestablish order. For without order, there is no freedom for anyone.

Actually, “order” in the sense that the West sees it in that part of the world (that is, centralized authority that happens to play ball with their interests, populace be damned) is the problem. Seeking to impose that order is itself the chaos, as people like Robert Kaplan will never accept the alternative: a spontaneous order that finally writes the US out.

The Weekly Libertarian Leftist Review 83

Laurence M. Vance discusses dental regulations.

Ramona Wadi discusses the School of Americas and death squads.

Jacob G. Hornberger discusses Morsi’s death sentence in Egypt.

Michael D. Yates discusses honoring the Vietnamese rather than those who killed them.

Jacob G. Hornberger discusses the U.S. troops who died in Ramadi.

Jim Miles discusses Stephen Kinzer’s book on the Dulles Brothers.

Glenn Greenwald discusses the use of LGBT causes to further militarism and imperialism.

Dan Sanchez discusses Israel and the Palestinians.

Garry Leech discusses why Israel should not exist.

Laurence M. Vance discusses the GOP’s proposed budget for 2016.

Sheldon Richman discusses Marco Rubio as reactionary big government man.

David S. D’Amato discusses thomism and decentralism.

Lucy Steigerwald discusses Rand Paul and the tripartisan case for optimism.

Sheldon Richman discusses the Magna Carta and libertarian strategy.

Nathan Goodman discusses slavery’s incomplete end.

Andrew Levine discusses U.S. ties to Saudi Arabia.

Richard M. Ebeling discusses why government deficits and debts matter.

David S. D’Amato discusses wonkish libertarianism.

Glenn Greenwald discusses how the U.S. and U.K. hide their war crimes by invoking national security.

Ray McGovern discusses how to honor Memorial Day.

Adam Johnson discusses boots on the ground in Syria and the media reaction.

Bill Quigley discusses praying for peace while waging permanent war.

Peter Lee discusses the 1999 U.S bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.

Binoy Kampmark discusses the death sentence for Morsi.

Bionic Mosquito discusses centralization, war, and the Middle Ages.

William Norman Grigg discusses the state’s plundering parasites.

Eric Peters discusses cop immunity.

Magna Carta and Libertarian Strategy

The middle of next month will mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. My knowledge of the “great charter” is modest, to be sure, but lately I have been reading about it and its legacy. (See the “Liberty Matters” discussion, in which I have a small editorial role, going on this month at Liberty Fund’s Online Library of Liberty. Also listen to Nicholas Vincent’s conversation with Russ Roberts on EconTalk. Vincent is the author of Magna Carta: A Very Short Introduction.)

Magna Carta was an agreement a group of rebellious barons forced on King John on June 15, 1215, at Runnymede, a meadow on the Thames in England, about midway between London and Windsor Castle. I won’t attempt to summarize the gripping story, but I’ll oversimplify by saying that the barons were fed up with the king’s demands for revenue to finance war in France and John felt compelled agree to their demands to rein in his power; in his estimation, refusal would have brought less-desirable consequences. The English branch of the Catholic church (this was pre-Reformation, of course) also had an interest in protecting itself from the king, and its concerns were addressed in the document, all 63 clauses of which were written in Latin on a single sheet of deer-skin parchment.

The charter is one of those things that virtually everyone across the political spectrum (however defined) has invoked in support of his or her cause. As the scholars point out in the “Liberty Matters” discussion, dissidents have held it up as a shield against tyrants, while kings have used it to defend the legitimacy of their rule. It’s been enlisted in a variety of missions. Advocates of slavery took refuge in Magna Carta, but so did the proto-libertarian Levellers.

It’s tempting to think of Magna Carta as a declaration of the limits of state power and therefore as an early charter of liberty. But the arguments against this perspective are persuasive. It contains little if any political philosophy. As Nicholas Vincent says, the barons would be appalled by modern conceptions of liberty. It’s also important to note that the barons, who appealed to tradition English, were not interested in everyone’s liberty but only the liberty of a small minority of free men. The language imposing limits on the king’s power was vague at best. Bringing the king under the rule of law sounds promising, but it leaves open the question of what the law should be. That was the king’s province. The much-lauded clause 39 in the 1215 Magna Carta (there were several versions) states:

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land. [Emphasis added.]

The italicized words are hardly crystal clear. Trial by jury in criminal matters did not exist at that time. These words are followed by:

To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

Again, this sounds promising, but what is right or justice when the king owns his realm?

The principle “no taxation without baronial consent” also appears, though not in those exact words, of course. Nevertheless, the barons were not proto-libertarians. Defending the liberties of “free men” left a lot of people out of the class of beneficiaries. What the barons sought to minimize were John’s arbitrary diktats over themselves. They didn’t want it so “good to be the king.”

Regardless, neither side abided by the agreement, and war between king and barons ensued. King John appealed for help from Pope Innocent III, who excommunicated the barons and declared Magna Carta null and void because the king signed under duress. However, it was reissued by subsequent kings, albeit with important changes from the original, such as elimination of clause 61, which called for the creation of a council of barons that could sanction the king for wrongdoing. Why would any king reissue a charter that appeared to limit his power? Because having power doesn’t mean never having to bargain with those who would oppose you — bargaining may be the least costly way to maintain some power. (This point is made clear in the excellent British television series Monarchy.)

As Magna Carta scholars point out, the interpretation (mythology) and impact of the charter over the last eight centuries are as important as — maybe more important than — the document and the authors’ intentions themselves. Even if it wasn’t actually a charter of liberty, it is regarded as such — by people, as I’ve already noted, who have widely differing views on liberty.

This has implications for libertarian strategy today.

That genuine liberty — in the sense of what Roderick Long calls “equality of authority” — can grow out of efforts intended to achieve something less is worth keeping in mind. I claim no profound insights in the matter of strategy, but I do know that social processes, like the people who actuate them, are complex, and therefore unintended consequences — good and bad — are ubiquitous and to be expected. This makes devising a strategy for social change complicated and more likely impossible. There’s no algorithm for changing a society from unlibertarian to libertarian. We have no script. That’s an argument for the “let a thousand flowers bloom” strategy. (An earlier “Liberty Matters” examined the “spread of liberal ideas” through history.)

If troublesome barons in the 13th century helped to promote future general liberty without its being part of their intention, the case for libertarian optimism may be buoyed. Things may look bleak on a variety of fronts, but we can never know what might turn the tide. Magna Carta is not the only example of such unintended consequences. In Lust for Liberty: The Politics of Social Revolt in Medieval Europe, 1200-1425, Samuel K. Cohn Jr. describes many peaceful and violent acts of resistance against local tyranny, some of which won significant concessions from rulers. It is unlikely the rebels carried a treatise on political philosophy under their arms or a theory of rights in their heads. They didn’t gather in the village square to hear a political philosopher read from his latest treatise. The rebels simply reacted against particular burdens that had become intolerable; they did not set out to make a libertarian society. Yet they created facts on the ground, not always permanent, and set precedents for their descendents.

It’s more than likely that theorists developed their ideas after studying local revolts. In those days, theory and history weren’t compartmentalized. So it’s a mistake to think that libertarian theory must precede libertarian social action or that inchoate resistance unguided by “pure” libertarianism can’t make real progress toward liberty. Couldn’t a thinker spin out a theory of individual rights without prompting from history? It’s possible, but it seems more likely that historical episodes will jump-start the intellectual process and that theory and action (history) will mutually determine each other.

If you want a more modern example to go with Cohn’s, I recommend Thaddeus Russell’s A Renegade History of the United States, which chronicles how liberty was won in the streets through the misbehavior of riffraff who probably never read Locke or Paine or even Jefferson.

There is no one right strategy. If anything proves successful, it will be a loose web of complementary strategies (perhaps too loose to call a “web”), with a good measure of improvisation. Theories will prompt action; and action will prompt theories. Some approaches will consist in what will be labeled “compromise.” (Oh horror!) That is, individuals and organizations will advance liberty through partial measures to reduce state power. Savvy libertarians will capitalize on such measures to push for more progress toward liberty. (“If you liked Measure X, you’ll love Measure Y.”) They won’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. In truth, no compromise is involved if an incremental step is regarded as such and not as an end in itself.

I need not point out  — or need I? — that merely because one incremental measure meets the libertarian standard as a genuine short-run step toward liberty, not all measures represented as such must do so. Each proposal is to be judged on its own merits, and good-faith disagreements are to be expected. That’s the nature of the endeavor. I see no reason for libertarians, in the name of purity, to withhold support for steps that make real progress toward liberty and pave the way for more.

The libertarian movement needs individuals and organization that devote their efforts to sound incrementalism, just as it needs those who do nothing more than teach pure libertarian philosophy. These approaches need not be at odds. In fact, they are complementary. One without the other is unlikely to succeed because society is unlikely to turn libertarian or dismantle the state all at once. Incrementalism without a guiding philosophy probably won’t get us all the way to where we want to go, while merely issuing declarations about libertarianism is unlikely to bring about change. How do we get from here to there if it won’t happen in a single bound?

It’s important not to conflate philosophy and strategy. An uncompromising market anarchist can coherently embrace incrementalism, understanding that because of most people’s conservatism, the state will not be abolished overnight. Murray Rothbard used to say that libertarians should take any rollback of state power they can get. In today’s environment, we won’t be setting the priorities.

What strikes me as futile is a “strategy” that consists in little more than boldly announcing that — if one could — one would push a button to (make most of the) government go away. That approach tells the uninitiated something about the speaker, but it says little about why a free society is worth achieving and why the state is our enemy. That requires something more than moralizing shock therapy.

Marco Rubio: Reactionary Big-Government Man

Republican presidential aspirant and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio gave a major foreign-policy speech recently, and the best that can be said is that he did not claim to favor small government and free markets. What he wants in a foreign policy couldn’t possibly be reconciled with any desire to limit government power. Rubio is for big government no matter he might say on the campaign trail.

He acknowledged this when he said, correctly, “Foreign policy is domestic policy.”

Rubio set out a doctrine with three pillars, none of which which should comfort anyone who understands, as the great libertarian writer Albert Jay Nock noted, that political power displaces social power. The three pillars are: “American Strength,” “protection of the American economy,” and “moral clarity regarding America’s core values.” All three display a hubris typical of a big-government advocate, including those of the conservative variety.

Regarding strength, Rubio wants you to believe that America’s ability and eagerness to project global power prevents war, while “weakness” promotes it: “the world is safest when America is at its strongest.”

Where has he been this century? Does he not know that U.S. power knocked out Shiite Iran’s chief regional adversary (Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime in Iraq), in turn giving rise to a more-virulent form of al-Qaeda (ISIS), which controls large parts of Iraq and Syria while extending its influence to Africa and elsewhere? Contrary to Rubio, violent disorder has been the direct outcome of George W. Bush’s post-9/11 invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and Barack Obama’s 2011 declaration of open season on Bashar al-Assad in Syria and bombing of Libya. (Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks of course followed decades of U.S. intervention on behalf of, among others, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel.)

It’s not that the U.S. government should have sided with Saddam, Assad, and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, all secular rulers. Rather, the point is that the exercise of American power is most likely to muck things up. If government can’t manage health care (as Rubio believes), how can it manage regime changes in foreign societies? Why don’t conservatives ever ask themselves this?

Rubio thinks Obama, who’s hardly a dove, hasn’t war-mongered enough. The Republican wants even more confrontation — with Russia, China, Cuba, and North Korea. What he calls strength is just recklessness. Rubio’s speech demonstrates his unfitness for office (assuming anyone is fit for office).

He says he wants to spread freedom and other values, but he must realize that what American drones, bombers, and special ops spread are death and social upheaval. Again, where has Rubio been?

“America did not intend to become the world’s indispensable power,” Rubio said, adding, “America is the first power in history motivated by a desire to expand freedom rather than its own territory.” Here he adds historical demagoguery to political recklessness. From the start, many American rulers, who embraced empire, intended to make America the continental, hemispheric, and even world hegemon. War was an option, and no one — not the Indians, Spanish, English, French, or Russians — would thwart destiny. Rubio’s glorification of American “strength” is reactionary.

His second pillar, protection of the American economy, also shows his attraction to government power. Although he invokes “free trade,” Rubio embraces “trade’s role as a tool of statecraft that can bolster our relationships with partners and create millions of jobs.” So much for the free market. Again, Rubio is a reactionary. Most American presidents believed that trade was not a matter for free enterprise but a government program designed for politically objectives, including the benefit of special interests. (The military-industrial complex must be licking its chops.)

Rubio says he will promote, as his third pillar, moral clarity regarding America’s core values. Are those the same core values promoted by America’s embrace of dictators and monarchs in the Middle East (and elsewhere) and Israel’s decades-long oppression of the Palestinians, which Rubio supports? Note well that Rubio’s values do not include privacy. He wants to protect the NSA’s PATRIOT Act bulk-data-collection program.

Rubio seeks to “restore America’s status as a nation that shapes global events rather than one that is shaped by them.” We can’t afford another ruler with such hubris.

Media Coordinator Mid-Month Update, May 2015

Dear C4SS Supporters,

This is a new feature designed to keep you up-to-date with what we’re up to here at C4SS. This report will not be as in-depth as the monthly report, but it will feature some key numbers such as: number of pickups, and number of submissions to date. It’ll also function as sort of a digest of what we’ve published lately.

So far in May, we’ve made 12299 submissions to over 2150 newspapers worldwide. If that number seems low right now, it’s because we’ve only published 10 op-eds so far this month, and not all of them got a worldwide distribution. As of this writing, I’ve recorded four pickups for our articles, with more on the way.

Now, earlier this week I got a Facebook message from someone who was curious to know what my “process” for submitting articles is. Given that I’m still trying to figure out what that answer is myself, I figure it would be edifying to share this with y’all.

The Mailing List

This is where it all starts. I inherited this list from Tom Knapp, who had built it up from basically nothing over the space of about five years. It’s divided up over various regions: The US, Canada, Latin America, the Middle East and Israel, Europe, Asia, Africa, the UK, Australia and then two short lists for foreign policy and left media. Altogether, we’ve got a “list” of about 2150 various newspapers and media outlets who might be amenable to publishing our work.

During my first month on the job, the biggest headscratcher for me was figuring out how to actually send articles out to 2150 unique email addresses. Eventually, after struggling with manually sending bulk emails out, I settled on using Mailchimp to do the job. It’s one heck of a lot easier to manage.

But while having an email list is great, and while having an email list manager is even better, it’s all useless if I don’t have anything to send. Which is where our op-ed commentaries come in.

The Commentaries

Like I said, as of this writing we’ve published 10 op-eds this month. Before they’re published, they go through a vetting process in our internal workgroup, where each of the other fellows here at C4SS can read an article and see if it fits two important criteria:

  1. is it written clearly and succinctly?
  2. is it anarchist enough?

Sometimes this process can take a while. If an op-ed is time sensitive, that process may be abridged. After that, it’s cleaned up and scheduled for publication. Once the piece is published, it’s ready to be sent off to the mailing list.

I don’t automatically send every piece to every email or region on the list, as a rule. Take Billy Christmas’s latest article on the Tory victory in the United Kingdom, for example. While this article arguably is of interest to everyone who would normally read C4SS (and you should go read it), that isn’t how newspaper editors judge what to publish. Whether it’s a local or national outlet, what is of prime importance to an editor is whether or not a piece is relevant to their readers. US-based newspapers are drastically less likely to publish articles on the Tory victory than papers based in the UK or even in the “commonwealth” of Canada and Australia.

Likewise, an article about a US politician doing something that is only going to affect US citizens may not necessarily be relevant to readers in, say, China, Spain or Latvia. So for each article that gets published here, I have to determine the target audience. Once that’s done, it’s a simple assembly line process of crafting the email and sending it out. All in all, the whole process usually takes about 10 to 30 minutes per article.

Of course, none of this would be possible without your support.

Check back in at the end of the month for a more in-depth look at our numbers!

Yours in solidarity,
Trevor Hultner
English Language Media Coordinator
Center for a Stateless Society

The Weekly Libertarian Leftist Review 82

Jacob G. Hornberger discusses the hypothetical scenario of assassinating drug users.

Lucy Steigerwald discusses Jackson State and forgotten history.

Johnny Barber discusses the never-ending Nakba.

Sheldon Richman discusses the lies of empire and the Osama Bin Laden killing.

Jared Labell discusses libertarians and political violence.

Laurence M. Vance discusses what we should be saying to veterans.

Robert Fantina discusses Christian and Islamic fundamentalism.

Michael S. Rozeff discusses why Osama Bin Laden was killed.

Douglas Valentine discusses the Phoenix Program and torture.

Richard M. Ebeling discusses why spending and redistribution are not the answers to slow growth.

Amira Hass discusses Israeli colonialism.

John Feffer discusses celebrating destruction.

Ramzy Baroud discusses the Nabka and refugees.

Uri Avnery discusses the second Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

Jonathan Cook discusses humanitarian double standards in Israel.

Dave Lindorff discusses the potential jailing of a person captured at age 15.

Linn Washington Jr. discusses the bombing of MOVE.

Chris Floyd discusses the use of U.S. provided cluster bombs in Yemen.

Bo Filter discusses nuclear war.

Carol Miller discusses special ops training and the response of progressives.

Lawrence Samuels discusses the importance of chaology to liberty.

Cory Massimino discusses non-aggression, self-defense, and the death penalty.

David S. D’Amato discusses a new lexicon of liberty.

Billy Christmas discusses the Tory victory.

Kevin Carson discusses how wealth is already being redistributed by heavy taxation.

Erick Vasconcelos discusses Rothbard’s perversion of Marx.

Donald Devine discusses how to fight the bureaucratic state.

Dr. T.P. Wilkinson discusses the legacy of the Vietnam War.

Marc Victor discusses the increasingly libertarian world we live in.

Sara Mayeux discusses the dark side of police reform.

Disillusion and Dispossession: An Expansion

Anarchists usually don’t get too hot and bothered about general elections. While a change of command can no doubt mitigate some of the harms inflicted by particular governments, it makes no meaningful step towards the better world that anarchists want to see. We don’t feel any great victory if and when the lesser of two evils gets elected, but we might feel a sense of relief that particular injustices might be put on pause for a few years. On the other hand, when the greater of two evils gets elected, we might take solace in the hope that the current system could become so awful that it hastens its own demise. (I am reminded here of when American Leftists say they wish McCain had been elected over Obama — though their administrations would have been nearly identical, Obama’s pretty face is enough to prevent the revolution that McCain might have otherwise provoked.)

As an anarchist, I avoid doing anything that expresses consent to being governed, or an endorsement of any government; I am therefore a principled ballot-spoiler. However, there are two reasons why I was rooting for a Labour victory (or at least a Conservative defeat).

As someone who started thinking about politics around the time Tony Blair decided to send British Armed Forces into Iraq, I have always loathed New Labour. The British Left’s endorsement of new Labour on the basis that, whatever their faults, they kept the Tories out, is probably a major contributing factor to my disdain for the mainstream British Left to this day. In the lead up to this election, I was hearing more and more pro-Labour sanctimony; that they’re not perfect by any means, but they are our only hope. This snowballed into outright worship of Ed Milliband at a shockingly fast rate. All I could think about is how stupid these supposed Leftists would feel if Labour had gotten elected, and continued the overarching agenda of neo-liberalism at home, and economic and military imperialism abroad. Maybe after placing so much hope into the possibilities of meaningful change through the electoral system, they might start seeing why the problems society faces to day are nothing to do with the personnel at the top, but rather, the existence of a “top” at all. In other words I hoped that the election of the main party on the mainstream Left, and their ultimate disappointment, would hasten the end of the Left’s support for the Labour party, and perhaps the state altogether.

The other reason I had for hoping that Labour would win (or that the Tories would lose) was of other kind: I hoped that one particular harm that the Coalition was perpetuating might be mitigated by a change of government.

The Conservative Chancellor has been sustaining and inflating the housing bubble, particularly in London. The intimate and fragile ties between the housing market and financial products being traded in the City has meant that in order to protect GDP, the value of housing has been inflated through artificially cheap mortgages for landlords and more recently direct subsidies for first time buyers. This added on top of a layer of state interventions that give certain developers privileged access to land, and all the cronyism that dictates urban zoning rules. The increasing number of flats being built in London get bought as investments by people who live overseas and will often keep them unoccupied. The ever-increasing value of land in central urban areas has meant not only that there is a continual exodus of the poorest to cheaper areas out of town, but that developers look upon inner city council housing with pounds signs in their eyes. From the perspective of the government and their cronies, the opportunity cost of permitting poor people to take up urban space is just too high. Since the whole point of council houses is that they are not for sale (at least, not to people who don’t live in them), developers have to lobby the government to kick the residents out in some way. Of course, a straightforward eviction of council tenants and subsequent private development of the land would be too inhuman for most people to tolerate. But when corporations and the state get together, it’s a case of “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Many London borough councils have gone into partnership with private developers, such as Berkeley Homes, to “solve” the housing crisis by building more houses. Council estates are handed over to such developers for them to redevelop with vague promises in return that some proportion of them will be “affordable”, and that council tenants will be rehoused in the new development. Unsurprisingly, the developers usually find reasons to back up on their promises. Council tenants often end up being rehoused somewhere where their taking up space doesn’t have such an opportunity cost to the accumulation of capital (Wales, the North of England, etc.). Small businesses in the old developments are promised access to the new developments, only to be left on the outside looking in.

One does not have to dig very far in the mainstream left-wing media outlets to find countless incidents of these kinds of tales of gentrification through developers failing to deliver on the promises that putatively legitimised their redevelopments in the first place. But what is often brushed over, is that many of the people being forced out of their homes actually purchased their homes (or inherited them from those who bought them) under the “right-to-buy” scheme.

During his flirtation with the New Left, Murray Rothbard argued that the state’s control of any property is illegitimate and criminal, as such it should be considered the private property of its actual users and occupiers. For this reason I think that council homes should be considered the natural property of their residents (individually, or collectively as homeowners’ associations); however, even for those who don’t share this view (and one need not share this view to be concerned about the forcible relocation of people) and think that governments has some right to make “hard choices” about how to allocate housing, there is still cause for alarm. Even those who bought their homes under the “right-to-buy” scheme are being forced out. Developers “offer” homeowners a certain price (way under market value) for their property, and promise them that they will be able to afford to move back into a new unit once the redevelopment is finished (even though the whole purpose of redevelopment is to increase the value and hence the price of the property). Unfortunately homeowners don’t have the right to turn this offer down. There is too much money to be made by redeveloping inner city space; so the borough councils and the developers they are in bed with can hardly let a few holdouts get in their way.

The seizure of land belonging to the poor, for the benefit of the wealthy elite, at the behest of the state, is not a new phenomenon. Karl Marx called it “primitive accumulation”: it was a necessary condition for the creation of capitalism in England, and went on throughout the early modern period (and continues overseas today). If someone owns their own land, which, before the industrial revolution, meant their own home and their own means of production, there is no way to exploit them. No framework for exploitation means no income for the classes who deem themselves too highborn for real wealth-creating work. Workers owning their own land is therefore a stumbling block for economic exploitation, one that, as history has shown, can only be removed forcefully through the state. Modern capitalism gets its legitimacy from the notion that, while perhaps unfair or ugly in many ways, it does not depend upon theft or fraud in any way. The fresh round of primitive accumulation going on in London should be a reminder to everyone that this is a fiction: in order for economic exploitation to continue, the poor must be continually plundered, pushed around, and denied any degree of autonomy by the state. The robbery of the working class is not an inevitability or a “natural” economic force; it is something that can be brought to an end. If there were no state through which to violently impose the will of corporate developers, they would have to find other more honest ways of earning their money. As Franz Oppenheimer said, there are two ways to make a living: one can create wealth (the “economic means”), or one can take wealth from those who create it (the “political means”). Without help from the state (which Oppenheimer called “the organization of the political means”), housing developers would have a far harder time making a living.

The Conservative Party’s insistence on inflating the value of property, thus driving the forces of primitive accumulation forward along with Labour’s rejection of the various “help-to-buy” schemes that contribute toward this, led me to think that for all the harm a Labour government would continue to inflict, perhaps this, most naked form of injustice, might be mitigated or even stopped. Perhaps it was naïve to think that anything could stop it at this point, just as there is such opportunity cost for developers not to get the government to give them control of all this urban space, there was also too much of an opportunity cost to those same interests for allowing Labour to get elected. Then again, it was probably naïve to think that if Labour had gotten in, they would have had the desire or the political wherewithal to get in the way of such primitive accumulation. Maybe we all get a bit naïve around election time. But now that the Tories are safely back in power, let us not be naïve anymore. If every time an election comes around, our best (and in reality, vain) hope is that a party will get elected that will achieve some small reduction in the suffering caused by the ongoing global system of economic exchange rigged to benefit a certain class, then we really need to do better at looking beyond the ballot box for achieving change.

The Weekly Libertarian Leftist Review 81

Patrick Cockburn discusses whether ISIS is really on the run or not.

Gareth Porter discusses why Iran will remain an enemy of the U.S. government.

Ray McGovern discusses Obama’s snub of Russia on WW2.

Tom Engelhardt discusses body counts and American warfare.

Avens O’Brien discusses empathy and libertarianism.

Glenn Greenwald discusses IDF soldier testimony about the recent Gaza war.

Eric Margolis discusses how the U.S. learned nothing from Vietnam.

Richard M. Ebeling discusses benefits from free trade.

Neve Gordon discusses the new tactics of the IDF.

Laurence M. Vance discusses whether someone should be proud to be a Republican.

Laurence M. Vance discusses employment and a free society.

Andrew J. Bacevich discusses whether Reagan won the Vietnam War.

Jacob G. Hornberger discusses how the Cold War against Cuba changed us.

Michael Gould discusses the new age of counterinsurgency policing.

Ivan Eland discusses how war rarely enhances freedom.

Sheldon Richman discusses Fiorina is not the anti-Hilary.

Jacob G. Hornberger discusses paternalism and Cuba.

Coleen Rowley discusses drone warfare and drone assassination.

Joseph R. Stromberg discusses socialist and militarist calculation problems.

Sheldon Richman discusses Clinton vs Bush in 2016.

Cesar Chelala discusses why Germany should pay reparations to Greece.

David S. D’Amato discusses Dora Marsden.

Grant Babcock discusses Rothbard on racial equality and the Civil Rights Movement.

Paul de Rooij discusses Amnesty International’s reporting on the recent Gaza war.

Andrew Levine discusses islamophobia.

Doug Bandow discusses North Korea as evil but not a terrorist state.

Max McNabb discusses the Power Brothers and WW1 draft resistance.

Lucy Steigerwald discusses the future of domestic spying.

Philip Giraldi discusses Obama’s unaccountable drone war.

Daniel Larison discusses the U.S. backed war in Yemen.

Voltairine de Cleyre on “Thing-Worship”

One of my favorite anarchists and writers of all time was recently featured by actress Mary Tuomanen. Tuomanen read an excerpt from perhaps my favorite essay by de Cleyre called The Dominant Idea and it was presented during the 2015 Voices of a People’s History at Plays and Players in Philadelphia.

Just for some background, the main point of de Cleyre’s essay are to, in many broad strokes, see what ideas most resonated with people in a given era. With the Egyptians Voltairine claimed their dominant idea was about “…enduring and to work enduring things, with the immobility of their great still sky upon them and the stare of the desert in them…”

Voltairine goes through other ages but eventually comes to the time period she lives in and declares that the dominant idea of her time period is “thing-worship” or:

…the Much Making of Things, — not the making of beautiful things, not the joy of spending living energy in creative work; rather the shameless, merciless driving and over-driving, wasting and draining of the last lit of energy, only to produce heaps and heaps of things, — things ugly, things harmful, things useless, and at the best largely unnecessary.

Tuomanen cuts corners here and there in her reading but this is basically what she says:

And certainly the presence of things in abundance, things empty and things vulgar and things absurd, as well as things convenient and useful, has produced the desire for the possession of things, the exaltation of the possession of things. Go through the business street of any city, where the tilted edges of the strata of things are exposed to gaze, and look at the faces of the people as they pass, — not at the hungry and smitten ones who fringe the sidewalks and plain dolefully for alms, but at the crowd, — and see what idea is written on their faces. On those of the women, from the ladies of the horse-shows to the shop girls out of the factory, there is a sickening vanity, a consciousness of their clothes, as of some jackdaw in borrowed feathers. Look for the pride and glory of the free, strong, beautiful body, lithe-moving and powerful. You will not see it. You will see mincing steps, bodies tilted to show the cut of a skirt, simpering, smirking faces, with eyes cast about seeking admiration for the gigantic bow of ribbon in the overdressed hair. In the caustic words of an acquaintance, to whom I once said, as we walked, “Look at the amount of vanity on all these women’s faces,” “No: look at the little bit of womanhood showing out of all that vanity!”

And on the faces of the men, coarseness! Coarse desires for coarse things, and lots of them: the stamp is set so unmistakably that “the wayfarer though a fool need not err therein.” Even the frightful anxiety and restlessness begotten of the creation of all this, is less distasteful than the abominable expression of lust for the things created.

Such is the dominant idea of the western world, at least in these our days. You may see it wherever you look, impressed plainly on things and on men; very like if you look in the glass, you will see it there.

But the dominant idea of the age and land does not necessarily mean the dominant idea of any single life.

And now, to-day, though the Society about us is dominated by Thing-Worship, and will stand so marked for all time, that is no reason any single soul should be. Because the one thing seemingly worth doing to my neighbor, to all my neighbors, is to pursue dollars, that is no reason I should pursue dollars. Because my neighbors conceive they need an inordinate heap of carpets, furniture, clocks, china, glass, tapestries, mirrors, clothes, jewels and servants to care for them, and detectives to, keep an eye on the servants, judges to try the thieves, and politicians to appoint the judges, jails to punish the culprits, and wardens to watch in the jails, and tax collectors to gather support for the wardens, and fees for the tax collectors, and strong houses to hold the fees, so that none but the guardians thereof can make off with them, — and therefore, to keep this host of parasites, need other men to work for them, and make the fees; because my neighbors want all this, is that any reason I should devote myself to such abarren folly? and bow my neck to serve to keep up the gaudy show?

Behold these same idealists then, successful business men, professionals, property owners, money leaders, creeping into the social ranks they once despised, pitifully, contemptibly, at the skirts of some impecunious personage to whom they have lent money, or done some professional service gratis; behold them lying, cheating, tricking, flattering, buying and selling themselves for any frippery, any cheap little pretense. The Dominant Social Idea has seized them, their lives are swallowed up in it; … And so the cancer goes on rotting away the moral fibre, and the man becomes a lump, a squash, a piece of slippery slime taking all shapes and losing all shapes, according to what particular hole or corner he wishes to glide into, — a disgusting embodiment of the moral bankruptcy begotten by Thing-Worship.

The essay doesn’t entirely revolve around this one concept or only commentary on de Cleyre’s then modern age. There’s also quite a bit of proto-existentialist thought and much to be digested and analyzed besides her comments on consumerism.

I think it’s also worth pointing out that not all feminists agree that consumerism is as ghastly as de Cleyre portrays here.

A last word and warning to those listening with ear-buds or loud sound systems, the reading can get a bit loud at times.

Fiorina Is Not the Anti-Hillary

As an advocate of a stateless society, I don’t want anyone to be president. Nevertheless, someone will be chosen to live in the White House next year. Will it be a woman?

Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina hope so. But these two women are essentially indistinguishable from each other and from their male rivals. Style must not overshadow substance. Really, what’s the point?

Clinton is a well-known champion of the all-state. To her the U.S. government is the source of order both domestic and foreign. Her fondness for social engineering is indisputable. Domestically, she likes corporatism, which comes down to bureaucrats and big business — with input from big official labor unions — running “the economy.” (That’s in quotation marks because an economy is just people: we’re the economy the ruling elite wants to regulate.) Little is to be left to the spontaneous process that arises from peaceful social cooperation and mutual aid in the marketplace and the wider society. In foreign affairs, Clinton has a preference for military intervention. She certainly demonstrated this as secretary of state under Barack Obama. She is an enthusiast for the conceit known as “American exceptionalism.”

If you need further evidence, peruse her husband’s foreign-policy record, which she embraces with gusto. It was Bill Clinton who bombed and killed thousands of people in the former Yugoslavia and who devastated the Iraqis with bombs and economic sanctions. His policies in the Middle East — which included unswerving support for Israel’s brutality against the Palestinians — helped set the stage for al-Qaeda’s actions on 9/11, just as his domestic policies, particularly housing policy, helped to bring on the Great Recession. He also built on his predecessors’ anti-Iran policy. Let’s remind candidate Clinton of this whenever she invokes her husband’s presidency.

How about Fiorina? If you’re looking for the anti-Hillary, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Fiorina will play up the fact that she comes out of the world of (big) business. She ran Hewlett-Packard (unsuccessfully by many accounts) and held executive positions in other large companies. This may thrill fans of “private enterprise,” but beware. Corporate America is no place to find advocates of freed markets, as opposed to capitalism or corporatism. When have you heard the CEO of a major company call for laissez faire — that is, the radical separation of the people and state? (Like most of her Republican rivals she opposes the Export-Import Bank. But without a more comprehensive critique of government-granted privilege, I suspect this is more a fashionable token gesture against Democratic cronyism.)

“I understand how the economy actually works. I understand the world, who’s in it, how the world works,” Fiorina said on ABC’s Good Morning America. We’ve heard this rhetoric before, and it’s always followed by an expansion of power. Let’s not be fooled by her criticism of the “political class” and her appeal for leaders drawn from the ranks of plain citizens. From the beginning the republic has been driven largely from behind the scenes by nonpoliticians (mostly business and financial magnates) who had friends in high places. It helps explain (though not entirely) why key economic matters like trade — both continental and global — have always been within the government’s domain and why the United States has spent so much time at war.

Fiorina sees a world full of enemies — Russia and Iran head the list — and shows no understanding that the U.S. government has gratuitously created enemies for the American people. (She’s been on the CIA External Advisory Board.) At this late date she still does not know — or more likely, mind — that free markets don’t coexist with an interventionist foreign policy, and she thinks the world is in turmoil because the U.S. government is not interventionist enough under Obama: “American leadership matters in the world. American strength matters in the world.”

Fiorina favors “border security,” indicating her belief that people must have government permission to relocate. She calls for less regulation, but unless government privileges are also eliminated, reducing regulation can bolster corporatism. Some advocate of small government!

If we must have a president, let it be a woman — but let it be a woman who understands the destructiveness of the state. Carly Fiorina is not the one.

Relatório da coordenação de mídias: Abril de 2015

Em abril publicamos oito artigos traduzidos no C4SS em português, que foram republicados 48 vezes por diversos veículos. Como destaque, o Partido Pirata republicou o artigo de Kevin Carson “Por que a propriedade intelectual mata” e o artigo de Chad Nelson “O que acontece com os animais durante as guerras” foi republicado pelo site de ativismo pelos direitos dos animais Olhar Animal.

Nossa página do Facebook ganhou 19 curtidas (4017 no total), nosso Twitter perdeu 3 seguidores (103 no total) e nosso blog no Tumblr ganhou 4 seguidores (21 no total).

Para maio, além de produzir mais artigos originais e traduzidos, esperamos dar a opção para nossos apoiadores no Brasil de fazer doações pelo PagSeguro e pelo PayPal em reais. Afinal, são as suas doações que mantém este centro em funcionamento. Então, ajude-nos!

Erick Vasconcelos
Coordenador de mídia
Centro por uma Sociedade Sem Estado

Portuguese Media Coordinator Update: April 2015

In April, we translated eight articles into Portuguese, and they were picked up 48 times by various outlets. The highlights were the Brazilian Pirate Party website picking up Kevin Carson’s “Why Intellectual Property Kills” and animal rights website Olhar Animal republishing Chad Nelson’s “How Animals Fare in War”.

Our Facebook fanpage recovered and gained 19 likes (4017 in total), our Twitter page lost 3 followers (103 in total), and our Tumblr blog got 4 new followers (21 in total).

In May, besides producing more original and translated content, we hope to provide the option of PagSeguro and PayPal donations in local currency for our Brazilian followers. After all, it’s your donation that keeps our gears spinning! Donate!

Erick Vasconcelos
Media Coordinator
Center for a Stateless Society

English Language Media Coordinator Update, April 2015

Dear C4SS supporters,

Welcome to my first media coordinator report. April was a month of experimentation (also known as a month of me falling flat on my face 99 times before figuring out how to ride this bike on the last try) with regard to our email submissions system; as such, the number of submitted articles is not up to the Center’s usual standards. In April, C4SS submitted 20,177 articles to 2,320 newspapers around the world. That number is not one I’m especially proud of, but it’s the one we have and all I can say is that you won’t see that number that low again. I only gathered a handful of pickups, but among them are Grant Mincy’s Earth Day on the River of Grass in the Ecologist, Kevin Carson’s “Libertarians” for Ethnic Cleansing hitting CounterPunch (and the response it got from Walter Block) and Chad Nelson’s piece on the Boston Marathon bombing two years later in the Providence, RI Journal.

I’ll be up front: I did not realize how demanding this job was until I was knee-deep in it. I tip my hat to Tom, not only for doing this job day in and day out for five years with a email list held together by duct tape and his sheer force of will, but for creating it all from the ground up. I fully expect that by this time next month, we’ll be right back on track and ready to grow past Tom’s previous projections of 40,000 submissions per month.

Some things to expect from this space in the coming weeks:

  • A media handbook with op-ed writing tips and resources
  • Weekly updates starting this week and every Monday
  • A regular digest podcast
  • Media criticism (I remember when I used to do that…)

Before I retreat to my pile of yet-to-be-sent emails, I’d just like to say this: everything you see here at C4SS, and everything we do, is made possible by you. C4SS has, within the last month or so, become a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization, which means that your donations are now tax deductible! Your support keeps the ship afloat, and for that I think I speak for everyone here when I say we appreciate it immensely.

Yours in solidarity,
Trevor HultnerMedia Coordinator
Center for a Stateless Society

The Weekly Libertarian Leftist Review 80

Viet Thanh Nguyen discusses how his Vietnam War never ended.

Steve Coll discusses Obama and the long drone war.

Robert Parry discusses the U.S. embrace of the Saudi war on Yemen.

Brett S. Morris discusses Nixon and the Cambodian genocide.

Ronald Bailey discusses libertarian thinking styles and psychology.

Sheldon Richman discusses why a freed society would not be problem free.

Michael S. Rozeff discusses U.S. instigated and supported slaughters.

Robert Fantina discusses Hilary Clinton as the savior that wasn’t.

Andrew Levine discusses the new Hilary.

Laurence M. Vance discusses how sick of militarism he is.

Andrew Cockburn discusses the failure of U.S. assassination policy.

Rory Fanning discusses the 1965 U.S. invasion and occupation of the Dominican Republic.

Jacob G. Hornberger discusses judicial immunity for assassinations.

Jonathan Cook discusses an Israeli city keeping out Arabs.

Bruce Fein discusses the case against predator drones.

Sandy Tolan discusses the one state conundrum.

David S. D’Amato discusses agorism and black market economics.

David S. D’Amato discusses the benevolent state fantasy.

Sheldon Richman discusses power to the individual rather than the the state.

Lucy Steigerwald discusses whether we can ever make anti-war fashionable.

Marjorie Cohn discusses challenging American exceptionalism.

Conor Friedersdorf discusses how some drone victims are more equal than others.

Sharon Presley discusses a new book on Joan Kennedy Taylor.

Jacob G. Hornberger discusses how Vietnam was no business of the U.S. government.

Justin Raimondo discusses lessons of the Vietnam War.

Dave Lindorff discusses 40 years after Vietnam.

Jean Bricmont discusses the fall of Saigon.

Jonathan Chait discusses 61 times Kristol was reminded of Hitler and Churchill.

Dan Glazebrook discusses Britain, Libya, and the Mediterranean.

Conor Friedersdorf discusses how few conservatives take police abuse seriously.

Avoiding Vietnam Without Regrets

Hard to believe that 40 years ago the U.S. war in Vietnam ended. Actually, the war was against Indochina: remember Cambodia and Laos. (With previously unexploded ordnance from American cluster bombs killing people in those countries to this day, did the U.S. war really end?)

It’s hard to believe because I can remember when I and the people around me thought the war would never end. It seemed like a permanent part of life. Night after night we’d turn on the network news and watch the reports of body counts — always more of “theirs” than of “ours” — yet we had no sense it would ever really end, despite talk of “victory.”

When the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” occurred in August 1964 I was getting ready to start high school. I was only beginning to become politically aware. Being from a moderately conservative Republican family and hearing little or no dissent to that point, I assumed “our” involvement in Vietnam was necessary and proper. (I cringe now at what Barry Goldwater, whose pro-freedom rhetoric moved me, was saying about war, Vietnam, and the Soviet Union.)

Proper or not, however, I knew I didn’t want “our” involvement to become my involvement. Members of my extended family who were military age looked without shame for ways to avoid what was obscenely called “service,” that is, the draft. Flunking one’s physical or finding refuge in the National Guard was an occasion for copious sighs of relief. Patriotism was a virtue, sure, but let’s not take it too far — that was the attitude. The members of the older generation around me thought the war was a good thing — the communists had to be stopped — as long as no one they knew had to go over there, especially their kids. Dying in a jungle? If it had to be done, that was for other people’s kids.

I didn’t have Vietnam on my mind constantly while in high school, though I was surely aware that if you didn’t get into college, you’d be gone and quite possibly a goner. I just can’t recall obsessing about it, or even discussing it with my friends. I guess any effect the war might have on me seemed too far in the future to think about in the present. Maybe we told ourselves that somehow it would be over before we came of age — even as we thought it would remain a fixture of life forever. It was weird; that’s all I can say.

Late in high school I bumped into libertarians for the first time, and that’s when I started hearing antiwar talk. Back then most libertarians were still entangled with conservatives through Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). So I heard lots of prowar talk also. I remember that when YAF prepared for its national conventions, two committees considered updates to its policy statement, one for domestic policy and one for foreign policy. Each time, as I recall, the domestic-policy committee called for abolition of the draft, while the foreign-policy committee strongly endorsed the draft and the Vietnam War. To jump ahead for a moment, at the 1969 national convention in St. Louis — the great showdown between the majority conservatives and minority libertarians — a guy got attacked for (legally) burning a copy of a draft card. (Brian Doherty reports on the incident in Radicals for Capitalism: A Free-Wheeling History of the Modern Libertarian Movement.) Thank goodness that was the end of the libertarian participation in the conservative movement.

The draft. That was the big, fat looming factor in our lives. You’d better get into college, or you’ll find yourself on the way to an induction center with the next stop Vietnam. Once I entered college, in September 1967 (Temple University in my hometown, Philadelphia), I had Vietnam on my mind more often. The protests were in full swing. The Cold War propaganda I’d absorbed in earlier years was being erased by my encounters, both in person and in writing, with the likes of Murray Rothbard, Leonard Liggio, Karl Hess, Roy Childs, and others. They helped me make sense of the traditional leftist critique of the war. I now had an ideological reason to refuse to be part of that criminal operation, aside from simply not wanting to die over there. (Like Dick Cheney, who got multiple grad-school deferments from the Vietnam draft, I had “other priorities.”)

At one point I sought counseling about conscientious-objector status from the American Friends Service Committee. I always enjoyed sitting down with the bearded guy in an army jacket who explained the application process to me. The antiwar culture was comforting; I felt at home. I remember filling out the paperwork, though I was pessimistic I’d ever be granted CO status. Back then your antiwar convictions had to be part of the tradition of a recognized religion. By that time I had no religion, no god. (The rules have since changed. In theory, members of the armed forces can apply for discharge as COs on nonreligious moral grounds.)

In my senior year I had a job interview with a newspaper in Ohio; I wanted to be a reporter. The interview went well, but the editor told me that until I was clear of the draft he could not offer me the job. That drove the point home. My future was shrouded in uncertainty because the state claimed the authority to seize me and send me thousands of miles away, where I would be ordered to kill perfect strangers who never even threatened to do me, my family, or my friends any harm.

One day I got a letter from the local draft board ordering me to report for a physical exam. Now this was getting a little too close for comfort. The abstract was becoming concrete. I duly reported for what would be the most depressing and humiliating day of my life. But I went in with a strategy. First, I had my doctor write a note explaining that I had severe hay fever, a condition that would make me a “liability” to the armed forces. (I had hay fever but it was not exactly severe.) Second, my parents knew a civilian doctor who helped administer physicals for the draft board, so I planned to position myself in order to present my doctor’s note to him. I guess I was supposed to mention who my parents were, and that would prompt him to give me a medical deferment.

hings did not work out as planned. After I-don’t-know-how-many hours of being poked and probed while in my skivvies by authoritarian army medical personnel, I looked at the several doctors in white coats who were ready to hear our excuses for why we should not be classified 1-A. Unfortunately, none of them looked like the doctor my parents knew, and I saw no name plates. Now what? I picked the oldest one, thinking that must be him. (It wasn’t. He apparently wasn’t on duty that day.) I sat down at his desk and gave him my note. He looked it over, showing no recognition of my last name.

“Well,” he said, “I’m going to need more information from your doctor, such as the date of your last allergy attack and what medication you took.”

My heart sank. I’ll have to come back to this place?

But then he interrupted himself, stood up, and left the room. When he came back a few minutes later he said, “We get contradictory instructions every day. This [note] is fine.”

Then he added, “This morning your blood pressure was high. We’re supposed to take it again now, but I’ll leave it as high.”

He classified me 1-Y (not the more preferred 4-F: “Registrant not acceptable for military service”). 1-Y meant:

Registrant available for military service, but qualified only in case of war or national emergency. Usually given to registrants with medical conditions that were limiting but not disabling (examples: high blood pressure, mild muscular or skeletal injuries or disorders, skin disorders, severe allergies, etc.).

He could have entered an expiration date, requiring me to have another physical, but he left that space blank.

I was free! What had been the bleakest day of my life ended as one of the most joyous. I don’t know who that doctor was or why he did what he did. But I will always be grateful.

So, yes, I dodged the draft and avoided Vietnam. Do I regret it? You’ve got to be kidding! Amazingly, some members of my generation say they do regret it. I recall that a couple of journalists associated with Charles Peters’s neoliberal Washington Monthly wrote articles lamenting that they had ducked out of their generation’s greatest challenge and confessing that this shirking of responsibility haunted them. After all, they wrote, their fathers rose to their challenge, World War II. How could their fathers’ sons hold their heads high knowing that when the heat was on they found shelter in the safety of a college campus?

I don’t understand that view at all. Vietnam doesn’t deserve to be called a generation’s great challenge. It was a criminal war of aggression waged against innocent people by American politicians and bureaucrats without a trace of honor or decency. Millions of Indochinese people were murdered. Nearly 60,000 Americans died. The blood stains on America will never be washed off.

If anything, avoiding that war was a moral duty. Thank goodness I was able to avoid it.

May Day: Festival of Labor

Just a quick blog post on May Day. Today is not about state communism, big government or a nationalist takeover of the “democratic” system. Today is a day to celebrate worker solidarity movements that have brought justice and democracy to the shop floor. Today is every bit as much about labor as “Labor Day.” The big government correlation is  (ironically) the result of anti-union, anti-worker propaganda put forth by the big government corporatists of the Gilded Age. Indeed, today is not at all about government, it is about the struggles of individuals. As independent scholar Kevin Carson notes, it is also as American as apple pie:

Most Americans think of May Day, if they think of it at all, as some sort of communist holiday. Their awareness of it is based mainly on a vague memory of parades of military hardware on Red Square and Soviet leaders’ “fraternal greetings” to leaders of the state communist regimes of their Warsaw Pact satellites. If you’re unfamiliar with the history of May Day, you might be surprised to learn not only that it originated in the United States, but that it was strongly supported by American free market anarchists. May Day — the international holiday of the workers’ and socialist movements — was created by American workers, right here in the good old U.S. of A…

So this May Day, spread your best checkered tablecloth and picnic on hot dogs, potato salad and apple pie, and give a thought or two to the fight for economic justice to working people. That’s a struggle we market anarchists at Center for a Stateless Society fight every day.

Today is also a day of historic celebration, so grab a (locally crafted, worker owned & operated) cold one!

Power to the Individual, Not to the State

How can you tell an American progressive from an American radical? A progressive laments the condition of working people and proposes to further empower the government. A radical laments the condition of working people and proposes to empower individuals by diminishing the power of government.

Of course government power and individual power differ in kind: government power is the legal authority to compel peaceable people through threats of violence. Individual power is the freedom to cooperate with others, say, through exchange in the marketplace.

The movement to raise the minimum wage to $15 shows the difference between progressives and radicals. Despite good intentions, calling on government to set a minimum wage merely affirms the power of politicians, bureaucrats, and the ruling elite generally while leaving low-skilled people dependent on their legendary benevolence.

In contrast, the radical understands that if low wages are a persistent intergenerational phenomenon, the problem is likely institutional and can’t be solved by hiking the minimum wage. Common sense ought to tell us that. Wages are the prices employers pay for labor services. We usually understand that if the price of a product or service goes up, people demand a smaller quantity (other things equal). We even recognize this in the public-policy arena. When the anti-tobacco folks want to discourage people from smoking, they demand higher taxes on tobacco. (Not that this is good public policy.)

Why do people forget the Law of Demand when low-skilled labor services are under discussion? Doesn’t it stand to reason that if the government mandates a higher price (wage) for low-skilled labor, buyers (employers) will demand smaller quantities of it (hire fewer workers)? Why would this particular law of human action be different in just this one area? That makes no sense. It at least requires an explanation.

Opponents of the minimum wage often challenge its advocates by arguing that if $15 an hour is good, wouldn’t $150 an hour be better? This argument is intended to demonstrate that raising the minimum wage would cause low-skilled workers to lose their jobs or not be hired at all because they cannot produce $150 worth of product in an hour. (If they did, they wouldn’t be called low-skilled.) But this argument doesn’t address more sophisticated minimum-wage advocates, who would readily concede that a $150 minimum wage would harm working people, and not just those with low skills. These advocates simply want to nudge the minimum up from $7.25 to $15 because something unjustifiably keeps the wage from rising. What harm could that do?

Unfortunately, they never explain what keeps the wage at $7.25 if the appropriate wage — how do they know this? — is $15. Even though the U.S. economy can’t be described as a free market (more below), fast-food franchisees seem competitive enough among themselves (and against other employers) to push the wage up. Why haven’t they done so? I see no sign that McDonald’s and Burger King franchisees conspire to keep the wage low. And if they do, why wouldn’t Wendy’s swoop in and cut its worker-turnover costs by moving its wage toward $15? Someone needs to explain that. Instead, economist Arindrajit Dube lamely argues that if the minimum wage were raised, McDonald’s employees wouldn’t take other jobs, leaving those jobs for the unemployed. But if the wage does not rise and McDonald’s employees do take better jobs, couldn’t the unemployed take their old jobs? This guy’s got a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago!

Apparently $7.25 is the market rate for much low-skilled labor. But the market is not free. By that I mean the U.S. economy is riddled with deep institutional barriers to advancement for many people, beginning with the government’s own schools, which for low-income people are notoriously bad; they handicap kids for life. Then there are the myriad barriers to self-employment and neighborhood enterprises: occupational licensing; land-use rules like zoning; regulations and taxes, which increase the cost of starting and running a business; intellectual property, which threatens imitators with lawsuits; and more.

To raise wages for low-skilled people we must eliminate these barriers, forcing bosses to face tougher competition for workers.

Power to the individual, not to the state!

The Weekly Libertarian Leftist Review 79

David Sirota discusses the parade of phony GOP “libertarians”.

Charles Burris on why Ayn Rand got Robin Hood wrong.

Eric Margolis discusses a WW1 Churchill crime.

Steven Horowitz discusses how capitalism contributed to feminism and gay marriage.

Justin Raimondo discusses the Saudi state as our enemy.

Doug Bandow discusses why America should say no to war against Iran.

Conor Friedersdorf discusses the extrajudicial killing that didn’t happen.

Jon Schwarz discusses how the U.S. media can’t get the Iraqi WMD story right.

Dan Sanchez discusses plunder and the state.

Laurence M. Vance discusses assisted suicide and libertarianism.

Charles Davis and Medea Benjmain discusses Hilary the hawk.

Jacob G. Hornberger discusses the omnipotent power to assassinate claimed by the U.S. government.

Ramzy Baroud discusses how we were duped into disowning the Palestinians.

Sheldon Richman discusses why Obama helps the Saudi state murder Yemenis.

Richard M. Ebeling discusses defending the ethical enterpriser in an anti-business climate.

David Cole discusses new questions about targeted killing.

Radley Balko discusses the drug war marching on.

Marjorie Cohn discusses seeking justice for human rights crimes in Egypt.

Jacob G. Hornberger discusses the tyranny of drug laws.

Doug Bandow discusses the rental of the U.S. military to the Saudi state.

Ron Jacobs discusses a new Noam Chomsky book on Palestine.

Glenn Greenwald discusses how only Western victims in the War on Terror are mentioned.

Justin Raimondo discusses crony capitalism, the Clintons, and American foreign policy.

Terrell Jermaine Starr discusses 5 ways the poor are criminalized in America.

Eric Margolis discusses mass murder committed by human beings.

W. James Antle the Third discusses whether Rand Paul is a hawk or a dove.

Trevor Timm discusses the hostages killed by U.S. drones as casualties of an inhumane policy.

Stephen Zunes discusses how the U.S. government contributed to Yemen’s crisis.

Christian Appy discusses from the fall of Saigon to our present day fallen empire.

Peter Lee discusses the difference between an “unabashed nationalist” and a “fascist”.

A Freed Society Would Not Be Problem-Free

In 1970 country singer Lynn Anderson had a hit recording of a Joe South song that opened with the line:

I beg your pardon. I never promised you a rose garden.

I often think of that song in connection with the libertarian philosophy. You may be asking: for heaven’s sake, why?

Because it’s what I want to say to people who seem annoyed that freedom would neither cure all existing social ills immediately nor prevent new ones from arising. It’s a strange demand to make on a political philosophy — that it instantly fix everything that the opposing philosophy has broken. Moreover, I’m concerned that some libertarians, in their justifiable enthusiasm for “the market,” inadvertently lead nonlibertarians to think that this unrealistic expectation is part of their philosophy. Of course, that is not good because nonlibertarians won’t believe that the market would make all things right overnight, and so they’ll write off all libertarians as dogmatists.

Libertarians of all people should understand that decades — indeed, centuries — of government intervention have distorted society and the economy considerably. It’s safe to say that both would look different had that intervention not occurred. To pick one American example, the creation of an integrated continent-wide national market in the United States was in large part consciously planned by government officials (most prominently Abraham Lincoln, who embraced Henry Clay’s corporatist American System) and their corporate cronies, especially but hardly exclusively through transportation subsidies. (This is not to say they were able to dictate developments in detail; moreover, zones of entrepreneurial freedom existed, constrained though they were.) This system is American capitalism, which is to be distinguished from the spontaneous, decentralized free market.

Wouldn’t the market have tended toward greater integration if left free? I believe so, but the differences would have been substantial. In a freed market, costs are internalized. Expanding trade across a continent would require private risky investment in the means of transportation — canals, roads, railroads, etc. No government land grants or other subsidies would be available. If a firm wanted to ship its products cross-country, it initially would have to bear the shipping costs, which would be reflected in consumer prices. Consumers, choosing in a competitive marketplace, would then be free to decide if the products were worth the price asked compared to those of more-locally produced products, whose manufacturers did not have high transportation costs to recoup. (They may have disadvantages due to their small size, but diseconomies of scale, as well as economies of scale, exist.) Consumers might be happy to pay the higher prices, but it’s up to them. “National” firms would not have the advantage that government intervention has afforded them historically. (Today, repairs to the taxpayer-financed interstate highways is disproportionately paid for by private automobile operators. Owners of big rigs don’t pay their share of the upkeep.)

The whole point of a government-led effort to create a national market was to impose costs on taxpayers, who had no choice in the matter, rather than have businesses charge consumers, who would have had a choice, at the checkout counter. Since national firms’ retail prices don’t have to reflect the full cost of production, consumption is distorted and smaller firms are harmed. We cannot say exactly how things would look had the government not instituted this corporatist policy, but we can say that things would be different. To claim otherwise is to suggest that government interference with economic activity is inert. Libertarians should know better.

While some people have benefited unjustly from this “nationalization” policy, others have been unjustly harmed, at least relative to what their position would have been in a freed market. There’s no way to put things as they would have been had the policy not be adopted — bygones are bygones. Radically freeing the market wouldn’t immediately remove the lingering injustice of past policy; it wouldn’t repeal what Kevin Carson calls “the subsidy of history.”

The upshot is that the cleanup, to the extent that it can take place, would take time. “I beg your pardon. I never promised you a rose garden.” Libertarians promise freedom and the prospect of improving one’s lot in life, but not instant rectification of past injustices.

As I say, some libertarians strangely seem to want to downplay the deep distorting effects of government intervention and act as though the free market would make things right almost instantaneously. So, for example, when they talk about abolishing welfare-state programs, they imply that a seamless transition to a fully voluntary “safety net” would follow. But for decades the welfare state has made people (low- and middle-income) dependent on the government for, say, retirement benefits and medical care, and it has accustomed others to believe that the government will take care of people who can’t look after themselves. While I have no doubt that some voluntary help would kick in quickly were welfare programs canceled abruptly, we can’t be confident that it would be enough or soon enough. Transitions take time because they consist in human action, and people don’t always respond to other people in trouble immediately. For one thing, the free-rider phenomenon exists; an individual can easily believe that enough others will help and that his or her contribution would be too small to make much difference anyway. (However, the response after a natural disaster is typically quick and impressive. Perhaps the dramatic nature of a natural disaster helps to override the free-rider problem. Would the abolition of the welfare state have the same attention-getting drama?)

We see a similar downplaying of distortions whenever a government shutdown looms during a budget battle. It’s one thing to applaud an impending shutdown (except that the worst parts of the state never shut down), but it’s quite another to imply that no hardship will result. Since government creates dependency, a libertarian can’t consistently claim that no one will be harmed even in the short term when government offices close. For one thing, since everyone knows those offices will reopen before long, we can’t reasonably expect a constellation of alternative voluntary organizations to fully take up the slack. Some hardship will occur.

I don’t offer this as an argument against abolishing “entitlement” programs or closing down the government. I’m simply cautioning libertarians against suggesting that should this happen, no innocent person would be at a disadvantage.

Similarly, a freed society and freed market don’t guarantee that nothing bad would ever occur. Nonlibertarians often ask libertarians what would happen with neglected and abused children or mistreated animals — the list of possible abhorrent acts is endless. Our interlocutors are unfazed by the fact that all societies have such problems, even those with the most activist governments. It’s always possible for unfortunate people to fall into the cracks, so it is no blemish on the libertarian philosophy that it can’t offer an ironclad guarantee against such things. All it can assure is that wrongdoing won’t be paid for by taxpayers (because no one will be a taxpayer). We anarchists can also assure that, for obvious reasons, no abuse will be committed by government officials.

Libertarians can be confident that voluntary organizations will exist (as they do to some extent today) to minimize such wrongdoing and to act appropriately when it occurs. Let us not underestimate the ability of free people to respond to problems when left to their own devices. Social cooperation is potent, and a freed society would contain the seeds of the solutions to problems, thanks both to the lure of entrepreneurial profit and to what Adam Smith called “fellow-feeling.”

But while we tout the virtues of freedom, let us not overestimate how quickly such an environment of mutual aid and charity would succeed the old order. Things take time.

Unlike other political philosophies, libertarianism does not promise that a New Person will emerge when society is freed. For good and ill, people will still be people. However, we can be comforted that without the state, a major encouragement to the worst in people will be gone.

Obama Wades Further into Yemen

“The U.S. Navy … has dispatched the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt toward the waters off Yemen to join other American ships prepared to intercept any Iranian vessels carrying weapons to the rebels, U.S. officials said,” the Chicago Tribune reported on Monday.

Thus does the Obama administration risk war with Iran while embracing the mischievous agendas of Wahhabi Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Iran has not been found shipping arms, but you won’t learn that from mainstream news accounts. Nor do the media ask why the United States and its allies — but not Iran — may intervene in Yemen.

The Tribune, like all mainstream news outlets, refers to “Iran-backed Shiite rebels,” that is, the autonomy-minded and long-burdened Houthis, who are portrayed without evidence as agents of the Islamic Republic. The media are mere conduits for Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab Gulf states, which have an interest in falsely portraying the turmoil in Yemen, long racked by civil war, as an instance of Iranian expansion. The Sunni Arab states don’t want Shiite Persians playing a prominent role in the region and becoming friendlier with the United States, while Israel uses Iran to take the world’s mind off the Jewish State’s brutality against the Palestinians. All this goes on while the United States negotiates curbs on a nonexistent Iranian nuclear-weapons program — to Saudi and Israeli consternation.

While the media fill American minds with almost nonstop propaganda about Iran’s ambitions, the U.S. intelligence agencies have their doubts. Why don’t the media report this, considering that Obama has facilitated the Saudis’ naval blockade against Yemen and its off-again/on-again bombing campaign? As a result of this war, Yemen suffers a humanitarian catastrophe, complete with refugees, food shortages, and the slaughter of civilians.

Fortifying doubts about Iranian backing of the Houthis, the Huffington Post, citing “American officials familiar with intelligence around the insurgent takeover,” reports that “Iranian representatives discouraged Houthi rebels from taking the Yemeni capital of Sanaa last year” (emphasis added).

This conflicts with the popular belief that the Houthis, who practice a Shiite offshoot that differs significantly from Iranian Shiism, moved on the capital under orders from Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

“The newly disclosed information casts further doubt on claims that the rebels are a proxy group fighting on behalf of Iran,” continue the authors, Ali Watkins, Ryan Grim, and Akbar Shahid Ahmed, “suggesting that the link between Iran and the Yemeni Shiite group may not be as strong as congressional hawks and foreign powers urging U.S. intervention in Yemen have asserted.”

Do congressional hawks and foreign powers, that is, Israel and Saudi Arabia, care what the facts show? Facts have nothing to do with this. Iran is the bogeyman, so all troubles must be traced to its door. Nothing — especially the truth — can be allowed to stand in the way.

The article adds that “the revelation that the Houthis directly disobeyed Iran gives credibility to the White House’s argument that Iran is not directing the rebels” (emphasis added). It quotes Bernadette Meehan, a National Security Council spokeswoman, who says, “It remains our assessment that Iran does not exert command and control over the Houthis in Yemen.”

To drive the point home, the authors quote a U.S. intelligence official: “It is wrong to think of the Houthis as a proxy force for Iran.”

So why does Obama help the Saudis murder Yemenis?

Directing the Houthis and aiding them are two different things, of course, but Iranian support in the face of long-standing Saudi and U.S. intervention hardly seems remarkable. Reuters reported in December 2014 that “exactly how much support Iran has given the Houthis … has never been clear.” Moreover, the ships “suspected” of carrying arms are probably part of Iran’s anti-piracy patrol.

And let’s face it: the U.S.-backed Saudi war creates opportunities for al-Qaeda in the Iraqi Peninsula (AQIP) and ISIS, which the Houthis oppose.

The United States risks unlimited war with Iran by interfering in a civil war on behalf of malign outsider objectives. (It’s been droning Yemen since 2001.) By seeing the conflict through the Saudi and Israeli lens, Obama magnifies the human catastrophe.

The Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand

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Support C4SS with Kevin Carson’s “The Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand

Audio version, read by Mike Gogulski

Introduction to the Portuguese Version of Iron Fist


Manorialism, commonly, is recognized to have been founded by robbery and usurpation; a ruling class established itself by force, and then compelled the peasantry to work for the profit of their lords. But no system of exploitation,including capitalism, has ever been created by the action of a free market. Capitalism was founded on an act of robbery as massive as feudalism. It has been sustained to the present by continual state intervention to protect its system of privilege, without which its survival is unimaginable.

The current structure of capital ownership and organization of production in our so-called “market” economy, reflects coercive state intervention prior to and extraneous to the market. From the outset of the industrial revolution, what is nostalgically called “laissez-faire” was in fact a system of continuing state intervention to subsidize accumulation, guarantee privilege, and maintain work discipline.

Most such intervention is tacitly assumed by mainstream right-libertarians as part of a “market” system. Although a few intellectually honest ones like Rothbard and Hess were willing to look into the role of coercion in creating capitalism, the Chicago school and Randroids take existing property relations and class power as a given. Their ideal “free market” is merely the current system minus the progressive regulatory and welfare state — i.e., nineteenth century robber baron capitalism.

But genuine markets have a value for the libertarian left, and we shouldn’t concede the term to our enemies. In fact, capitalism — a system of power in which ownership and control are divorced from labor — could not survive in a free market. As a mutualist anarchist, I believe that expropriation of surplus value — i.e., capitalism — cannot occur without state coercion to maintain the privilege of usurer, landlord, and capitalist. It was for this reason that the free market anarchist Benjamin Tucker — from whom right-libertarians selectively borrow — regarded himself as a libertarian socialist.

It is beyond my ability or purpose here to describe a world where a true market system could have developed without such state intervention. A world in which peasants had held onto their land and property was widely distributed, capital was freely available to laborers through mutual banks, productive technology was freely available in every country without patents, and every people was free to develop locally without colonial robbery, is beyond our imagination. But it would have been a world of decentralized, small-scale production for local use, owned and controlled by those who did the work — as different from our world as day from night, or freedom from slavery.

The Subsidy of History

Accordingly, the single biggest subsidy to modern corporate capitalism is the subsidy of history, by which capital was originally accumulated in a few hands, and labor was deprived of access to the means of production and forced to sell itself on the buyer’s terms. The current system of concentrated capital ownership and large-scale corporate organization is the direct beneficiary of that original structure of power and property ownership, which has perpetuated itself over the centuries.

For capitalism as we know it to come about, it was essential first of all for labor to be separated from property. Marxians and other radical economists commonly refer to the process as “primitive accumulation.” “What the capitalist system demanded was… a degraded and almost servile condition of the mass of the people, the transformation of them into mercenaries, and of their means of labor into capital.” That meant expropriating the land, “to which the [peasantry] has the same feudal rights as the lord himself.” [Marx, “Chapter 27: The Expropriation,” Capital vol. 1]

To grasp the enormity of the process, we must understand that the nobility’s rights in land under the manorial economy were entirely a feudal legal fiction deriving from conquest. The peasants who cultivated the land of England in 1650 were descendants of those who had occupied it since time immemorial. By any standard of morality, it was their property in every sense of the word. The armies of William the Conqueror, by no right other than force, had compelled these peasant proprietors to pay rent on their own land.

J. L. and Barbara Hammond treated the sixteenth century village and open field system as a survival of the free peasant society of Anglo-Saxon times, with landlordism superimposed on it. The gentry saw surviving peasant rights as a hindrance to progress and efficient farming; a revolution in their own power was a way of breaking peasant resistance. Hence the agricultural community was “taken to pieces … and reconstructed in the manner in which a dictator reconstructs a free government.” [The Village Labourer 27-28, 35-36].

When the Tudors gave expropriated monastic lands to the nobility, the latter “drove out, en masse, the hereditary sub tenants and threw their holdings into one.” [Marx, “The Expropriation“]. This stolen land, about a fifth of the arable land of England, was the first large-scale expropriation of the peasantry.

Another major theft of peasant land was the “reform” of land law by the seventeenth century Restoration Parliament. The aristocracy abolished feudal tenures and converted their own estate in the land, until then “only a feudal title,” into “rights of modern private property.” In the process, they abolished the tenure rights of copyholders. Copyholders were de jure tenants under feudal law, but once they paid a negligible quit-rent fixed by custom, the land was theirs to sell or bequeath. In substance copyhold tenure was a manorial equivalent of freehold; but since it derived from custom it was enforceable only in the manor courts. Under the “reform,” tenants in copyhold became tenants at-will, who could be evicted or charged whatever rent their lord saw fit [Marx, “The Expropriation…”].

Another form of expropriation, which began in late medieval times and increased drastically in the eighteenth century, was the enclosure of commons–in which, again, the peasants communally had as absolute a right of property as any defended by today’s “property rights” advocates. Not counting enclosures before 1700, the Hammonds estimated total enclosures in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries at a sixth or a fifth of the arable land in England [Village Labourer 42]. E. J. Hobsbawm and George Rude estimated enclosures between 1750 and 1850 alone as transforming “something like one quarter of the cultivated acreage from open field, common land, meadow or waste into private fields….” [Captain Swing 27].

The ruling classes saw the peasants’ right in commons as a source of economic independence from capitalist and landlord, and thus a threat to be destroyed. Enclosure eliminated “a dangerous centre of indiscipline” and compelled workers to sell their labor on the masters’ terms. Arthur Young, a Lincolnshire gentleman, described the commons as “a breeding-ground for ‘barbarians,’ ‘nursing up a mischievous race of people’.” “[E]very one but an idiot knows,” he wrote, “that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.” The Commercial and Agricultural Magazine warned in 1800 that leaving the laborer “possessed of more land than his family can cultivate in the evenings” meant that “the farmer can no longer depend on him for constant work.” [Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, 219-220, 358]. Sir Richard Price commented on the conversion of self-sufficient proprietors into “a body of men who earn their subsistence by working for others.” There would, “perhaps, be more labour, because there will be more compulsion to it.” [Marx, “The Expropriation….”].

Marx cited parliamentary “acts of enclosure” as evidence that the commons, far from being the “private property of the great landlords who have taken the place of the feudal lords,” actually required “a parliamentary coup detat… for its transformation into private property.” [“The Expropriation….”]. The process of primitive accumulation, in all its brutality, was summed up by the same author:

These new freedmen [i.e. former serfs] became sellers of themselves only after they had been robbed of all their own means of production, and of all the guarantees of existence afforded by the old feudal arrangements. And the history of this, their expropriation, is written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire [“Chapter 26: The Secret of Primitive Accumulation,” Capital Vol. 1].

Even then, the working class was not sufficiently powerless. The state had to regulate the movement of labor, serve as a labor exchange on behalf of capitalists, and maintain order. The system of parish regulation of the movement of people, under the poor laws and vagrancy laws, resembled the internal passport system of South Africa, or the reconstruction era Black Codes. It “had the same effect on the English agricultural labourer,” Marx wrote, “as the edict of the Tartar Boris Godunov on the Russian peasantry.” [“The Expropriation…”] Adam Smith ventured that there was “scarce a poor man in England of forty years of age… who has not in some part of his life felt himself most cruelly oppressed by this ill-contrived law of settlements.” [Wealth of Nations 61].

The state maintained work discipline by keeping laborers from voting with their feet. It was hard to persuade parish authorities to grant a man a certificate entitling him to move to another parish to seek work. Workers were forced to stay put and bargain for work in a buyer’s market [Smith 60-61].

At first glance this would seem to be inconvenient for parishes with a labor shortage [Smith 60]. Factories were built at sources of water power, generally removed from centers of population. Thousands of workers were needed to be imported from far away. But the state saved the day by setting itself up as a middleman in providing labor-poor parishes with cheap surplus labor from elsewhere, depriving workers of the ability to bargain for better terms. A considerable trade arose in child laborers who were in no position to bargain in any case [the Hammonds, The Town Labourer 1:146].

Relief “was seldom bestowed without the parish claiming the exclusive right of disposing, at their pleasure, of all the children of the person receiving relief,” in the words of the Committee on Parish Apprentices, 1815 [the Hammonds, Town Labourer 1:44, 147]. Even when Poor Law commissioners encouraged migration to labor-poor parishes, they discouraged adult men and “Preference was given to ‘widows with large families of children or handi-craftsmen… with large families.'” In addition, the availability of cheap labor from the poor-law commissioners was deliberately used to drive down wages; farmers would discharge their own day-laborers and instead apply to the overseer for help [Thompson 223-224].

Although the Combination Laws theoretically applied to masters as well as workmen, in practice they were not enforced against the latter [Smith 61; the Hammonds, Town Labourer 1:74]. “A Journeyman Cotton Spinner” — a pamphleteer quoted by E. P. Thompson [pp. 199-202] — described “an abominable combination existing amongst the masters,” in which workers who had left their masters because of disagreement over wages were effectively black-listed. The Combination Laws required suspects to answer interrogations on oath, empowered magistrates to give summary judgment, and allowed summary forfeiture of funds accumulated to aid the families of strikers [Town Labourer 123-127]. And the laws setting maximum rates of pay amounted to a state enforced system of combination for the masters. As Adam Smith put it, “[w]henever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between the masters and their workmen, its counsellors are always the masters.” [p. 61].

The working class lifestyle under the factory system, with its new forms of social control, was a radical break with the past. It involved drastic loss of control over their own work. The seventeenth century work calendar was still heavily influenced by medieval custom. Although there were long days in spurts between planting and harvest, intermittent periods of light work and the proliferation of saints days combined to reduce average work-time well below our own. And the pace of work was generally determined by the sun or the biological rhythms of the laborer, who got up after a decent night’s sleep, and sat down to rest when he felt like it. The cottager who had access to common land, even when he wanted extra income from wage labor, could take work on a casual basis and then return to working for himself. This was an unacceptable degree of independence from a capitalist standpoint.

In the modern world most people have to adapt themselves to some kind of discipline, and to observe other’ people’s timetables, …or work under other people’s orders, but we have to remember that the population that was flung into the brutal rhythm of the factory had earned its living in relative freedom, and that the discipline of the early factory was particularly savage…. No economist of the day, in estimating the gains or losses of factory employment, ever allowed for the strain and violence that a man suffered in his feelings when he passed from a life in which he could smoke or eat, or dig or sleep as he pleased, to one in which somebody turned the key on him, and for fourteen hours he had not even the right to whistle. It was like entering the airless and laughterless life of a prison [the Hammonds, Town Labourer 1:33-34].

The factory system could not have been imposed on workers without first depriving them of alternatives, and forcibly denying access to any source of economic independence. No unbroken human being, with a sense of freedom or dignity, would have submitted to factory discipline. Stephen Marglin compared the nineteenth century textile factory, staffed by pauper children bought at the workhouse slave market, to Roman brick and pottery factories which were manned by slaves. In Rome, factory production was exceptional in manufactures dominated by freemen. The factory system, throughout history, has been possible only with a work force deprived of any viable alternative.

The surviving facts… strongly suggest that whether work was organized along factory lines was in Roman times determined, not by technological considerations, but by the relative power of the two producing classes. Freedmen and citizens had sufficient power to maintain a guild organization. Slaves had no power — and ended up in factories [“What Do Bosses Do?“].

The problem with the old “putting out” system, in which cottage workers produced textiles on a contractual basis, was that it only eliminated worker control of the product. The factory system, by eliminating worker control of the production process, had the advantage of discipline and supervision, with workers organized under an overseer.

The origin and success of the factory lay not in technological superiority, but in the substitution of the capitalist’s for the worker’s control of the work process and the quantity of output, in the change in the workman’s choice from one of how much to work and produce, based on his preferences for leisure and goods, to one of whether or not to work at all, which of course is hardly much of a choice.

Marglin took Adam Smith’s classic example of the division of labor in pin-making, and stood it on its head. The increased efficiency resulted, not from the division of labor as such, but from dividing and sequencing the process into separate tasks in order to reduce set-up time. This could have been accomplished by a single cottage workman separating the various tasks and then performing them sequentially (i.e., drawing out the wire for an entire run of production, then straightening it, then cutting it, etc.).

Without specialization, the capitalist had no essential role to play in the production process. If each producer could himself integrate the component tasks of pin manufacture into a marketable product, he would soon discover that he had no need to deal with the market for pins through the intermediation of the putter-outer. He could sell directly and appropriate to himself the profit that the capitalist derived from mediating between the producer and the market.

This principle is at the center of the history of industrial technology for the last two hundred years. Even given the necessity of factories for some forms of large-scale, capital-intensive manufacturing, there is usually a choice between alternate productive technologies within the factory. Industry has consistently chosen technologies which de-skill workers and shift decision-making upward into the managerial hierarchy. As long ago as 1835, Dr. Andrew Ure (the ideological grandfather of Taylorism and Fordism), argued that the more skilled the workman, “the more self-willed and… the less fit a component of a mechanical system” he became. The solution was to eliminate processes which required “peculiar dexterity and steadiness of hand… from the cunning workman” and replace them by a “mechanism, so self-regulating, that a child may superintend it.” [Philosophy of Manufactures, in Thompson 360]. And the principle has been followed throughout the twentieth century. William Lazonick, David Montgomery, David Noble, and Katherine Stone have produced an excellent body of work on this theme. Even though corporate experiments in worker self-management increase morale and productivity, and reduce injuries and absenteeism, beyond the hopes of management, they are usually abandoned out of fear of loss of control.

Christopher Lasch, in his foreword to Noble’s America by Design, characterized the process of de-skilling in this way:

The capitalist, having expropriated the worker’s property, gradually expropriated his technical knowledge as well, asserting his own mastery over production….

The expropriation of the worker’s technical knowledge had as a logical consequence the growth of modern management, in which technical knowledge came to be concentrated. As the scientific management movement split up production into its component procedures, reducing the worker to an appendage of the machine, a great expansion of technical and supervisory personnel took place in order to oversee the productive process as a whole [pp. xi-xii].

The expropriation of the peasantry and imposition of the factory labor system was not accomplished without resistance; the workers knew exactly what was being done to them and what they had lost. During the 1790s, when rhetoric from the Jacobins and Tom Paine were widespread among the radicalized working class, the rulers of “the cradle of liberty” lived in terror that the country would be swept by revolution. The system of police state controls over the population resembled an alien occupation regime. The Hammonds referred to correspondence between north-country magistrates and the Home Office, in which the law was frankly treated “as an instrument not of justice but of repression,” and the working classes “appear[ed]… conspicuously as a helot population.” [Town Labourer 72]

… in the light of the Home Office papers, …none of the personal rights attaching to Englishmen possessed any reality for the working classes. The magistrates and their clerks recognized no limit to their powers over the freedom and the movements of working men. The Vagrancy Laws seemed to supercede the entire charter of an Englishman’s liberties. They were used to put into prison any man or woman of the working class who seemed to the magistrate an inconvenient or disturbing character. They offered the easiest and most expeditious way of proceeding against any one who tried to collect money for the families of locked-out workmen, or to disseminate literature that the magistrates thought undesirable [Ibid. 80].

Peel’s “bobbies” — professional law enforcement — replaced the posse comitatus system because the latter was inadequate to control a population of increasingly disaffected workmen. In the time of the Luddite and other disturbances, crown officials warned that “to apply the Watch and Ward Act would be to put arms into the hands of the most powerfully disaffected.” At the outset of the wars with France, Pitt ended the practice of quartering the army in alehouses, mixed with the general population. Instead, the manufacturing districts were covered with barracks, as “purely a matter of police.” The manufacturing areas “came to resemble a country under military occupation.” [Ibid. 91-92].

Pitt’s police state was supplemented by quasi-private vigilantism, in the time-honored tradition of blackshirts and death squads ever since. For example the “Association for the Protection of Property against Republicans and Levellers” — an anti-Jacobin association of gentry and mill-owners — conducted house-to-house searches and organized Guy Fawkes-style effigy burnings against Paine; “Church and King” mobs terrorised suspected radicals [Chapter Five, “Planting the Liberty Tree,” in Thompson].

Thompson characterized this system of control as “political and social apartheid,” and argued that “the revolution which did not happen in England was fully as devastating” as the one that did happen in France [pp. 197-198].

Finally, the state aided the growth of manufactures through mercantilism. Modern exponents of the “free market” generally treat mercantilism as a “misguided” attempt to promote some unified national interest, adopted out of sincere ignorance of economic principles. In fact, the architects of mercantilism knew exactly what they were doing. Mercantilism was extremely efficient for its real purpose: making wealthy manufacturing interests rich at the expense of everyone else. Adam Smith consistently attacked mercantilism, not as a product of economic error, but as a quite intelligent attempt by powerful interests to enrich themselves through the coercive power of the state.

British manufacturing was created by state intervention to shut out foreign goods, give British shipping a monopoly of foreign commerce, and stamp out foreign competition by force. As an example of the latter, British authorities in India destroyed the Bengalese textile industry, makers of the highest quality fabric in the world. Although they had not adopted steam-driven methods of production, there is a real possibility that they would have done so, had India remained politically and economically independent. The once prosperous territory of Bengal is today occupied by Bangladesh and the Calcutta area [Chomsky, World Orders Old and New].

The American, German and Japanese industrial systems were created by the same mercantilist policies, with massive tariffs on industrial goods. “Free trade” was adopted by safely established industrial powers, who used “laissez-faire” as an ideological weapon to prevent potential rivals from following the same path of industrialization. Capitalism has never been established by means of the free market, or even by the primary action of the bourgeoisie. It has always been established by a revolution from above, imposed by a pre-capitalist ruling class. In England, it was the landed aristocracy; in France, Napoleon II’s bureaucracy; in Germany, the Junkers; in Japan, the Meiji. In America, the closest approach to a “natural” bourgeois evolution, industrialization was carried out by a mercantilist aristocracy of Federalist shipping magnates and landlords [Harrington, Twilight of Capitalism].

Romantic medievalists like Chesterton and Belloc described the process in the high middle ages by which serfdom had gradually withered away, and the peasants had transformed themselves into de facto freeholders who paid a nominal quit-rent. The feudal class system was disintegrating and being replaced by a much more libertarian and less exploitative one. Immanuel Wallerstein argued that the likely outcome would have been “a system of relatively equal small-scale producers, further flattening out the aristocracies and decentralizing the political structures.” By 1650 the trend had been reversed, and there was “a reasonably high level of continuity between the families that had been high strata” in 1450 and 1650. Capitalism, far from being “the overthrow of a backward aristocracy by a progressive bourgeoisie,” “was brought into existence by a landed aristocracy which transformed itself into a bourgeoisie because the old system was disintegrating.” [Historical Capitalism 41-42, 105-106]. This is echoed in part by Arno Mayer [The Persistence of the Old Regime], who argued for continuity between the landed aristocracy and the capitalist ruling class.

The process by which the high medieval civilization of peasant proprietors, craft guilds and free cities was overthrown, was vividly described by Kropotkin [Mutual Aid 225]. Before the invention of gunpowder, the free cities repelled royal armies more often than not, and won their independence from feudal dues. And these cities often made common cause with peasants in their struggles to control the land. The absolutist state and the capitalist revolution it imposed became possible only when artillery could reduce fortified cities with a high degree of efficiency, and the king could make war on his own people. And in the aftermath of this conquest, the Europe of William Morris was left devastated, depopulated, and miserable.

Peter Tosh had a song called “Four Hundred Years.” Although the white working class has suffered nothing like the brutality of black slavery, there has nevertheless been a “four hundred years” of oppression for all of us under the system of state capitalism established in the seventeenth century. Ever since the birth of the first states six thousand years ago, political coercion has allowed one ruling class or another to live off other people’s labor. But since the seventeenth century the system of power has become increasingly conscious, unified, and global in scale. The current system of transnational state capitalism, without rival since the collapse of the soviet bureaucratic class system, is a direct outgrowth of the seizure of power “four hundred years” ago. Orwell had it backwards. The past is a “boot smashing a human face.” Whether the future is more of the same depends on what we do now.

Ideological Hegemony

Ideological hegemony is the process by which the exploited come to view the world through a conceptual framework provided to them by their exploiters. It acts first of all to conceal class conflict and exploitation behind a smokescreen of “national unity” or “general welfare.” Those who point to the role of the state as guarantor of class privilege are denounced, in theatrical tones of moral outrage, for “class warfare.” If anyone is so unpardonably “extremist” as to describe the massive foundation of state intervention and subsidy upon which corporate capitalism rests, he is sure to be rebuked for “Marxist class war rhetoric” (Bob Novak), or “robber baron rhetoric” (Treasury Secretary O’Neill).

The ideological framework of “national unity” is taken to the point that “this country,” “society,” or “our system of government” is set up as an object of gratitude for “the freedoms we enjoy.” Only the most unpatriotic notice that our liberties, far from being granted to us by a generous and benevolent government, were won by past resistance against the state. Charters and bills of rights were not grants from the state, but were forced on the state from below.

If our liberties belong to us by right of birth, as a moral fact of nature, it follows that we owe the state no debt of gratitude for not violating them, any more than we owe our thanks to another individual for refraining from robbing or killing us. Simple logic implies that, rather than being grateful to “the freest country on earth,” we should raise hell every time it infringes on our liberty. After all, that’s how we got our liberty in the first place. When another individual puts his hand in our pocket to enrich himself at our expense, our natural instinct is to resist. But thanks to patriotism, the ruling class is able to transform their hand in our pocket into “society” or “our country.”

The religion of national unity is most pathological in regard to “defense” and foreign policy. The manufacture of foreign crisis and war hysteria has been used since the beginning of history to suppress threats to class rule. The crooked politicians may work for the “special interests” domestically, but when those same politicians engineer a war it is a matter of loyalty to “our country.”

The Chairman of the JCS, in discussing the “defense” posture, will refer with a straight face to “national security threats” faced by the U. S., and describe the armed forces of some official enemy like China as far beyond “legitimate defensive requirements.” The quickest way to put oneself beyond the pale is to point out that all these “threats” involve what some country on the other side of the world is doing within a hundred miles of its own border. Another offense against fatherland worship is to judge the actions of the United States, in its global operations to keep the Third World safe for ITT and United Fruit Company, by the same standard of “legitimate defensive requirements” applied to China.

In the official ideology, America’s wars by definition are always fought “for our liberties,” to “defend our country,” or in the smarmy world of Maudlin Albright, a selfless desire to promote “peace and freedom” in the world. To suggest that the real defenders of our liberties took up arms against the government, or that the national security state is a greater threat to our liberties than any foreign enemy we have ever faced, is unforgivable. Above all, good Americans don’t notice all those military advisers teaching death squads how to hack off the faces of union organizers and leave them in ditches, or to properly use pliers on a dissident’s testicles. War crimes are only committed by defeated powers. (But as the Nazis learned in 1945, unemployed war criminals can usually find work with the new hegemonic power.)

After a century and a half of patriotic indoctrination by the statist education system, Americans have thoroughly internalized the “little red schoolhouse” version of American history. This authoritarian piety is so diametrically opposed to the beliefs of those who took up arms in the Revolution that the citizenry has largely forgotten what it means to be American. In fact, the authentic principles of Americanism have been stood on their head. Two hundred years ago, standing armies were feared as a threat to liberty and a breeding ground for authoritarian personalities; conscription was associated with the tyranny of Cromwell; wage labor was thought to be inconsistent with the independent spirit of a free citizen. Today, two hundred years later, Americans have been so Prussianized by sixty years of a garrison state and “wars” against one internal enemy or another, that they are conditioned to genuflect at the sight of a uniform. Draft dodgers are equivalent to child molesters. Most people work for some centralized corporate or state bureaucracy, where as a matter of course they are expected to obey orders from superiors, work under constant surveillance, and even piss in a cup on command.

During wartime, it becomes unpatriotic to criticize or question the government and dissent is identified with disloyalty. Absolute faith and obedience to authority is a litmus test of “Americanism.” Foreign war is a very useful tool for manipulating the popular mind and keeping the domestic population under control. War is the easiest way to shift vast, unaccountable new powers to the State. People are most uncritically obedient at the very time they need to be most vigilant.

The greatest irony is that, in a country founded by revolution, “Americanism” is defined as respecting authority and resisting “subversion.” The Revolution was a revolution indeed, in which the domestic political institutions of the colonies were forcibly overthrown. It was, in many times and places, a civil war between classes. But as Voltairine de Cleyre wrote a century ago in “Anarchism and American Traditions,” the version in the history books is a patriotic conflict between our “Founding Fathers” and a foreign enemy. Those who can still quote Jefferson on the right of revolution are relegated to the “extremist” fringe, to be rounded up in the next war hysteria or red scare.

This ideological construct of a unified “national interest” includes the fiction of a “neutral” set of laws, which conceals the exploitative nature of the system of power we live under. Under corporate capitalism the relationships of exploitation are mediated by the political system to an extent unknown under previous class systems. Under chattel slavery and feudalism, exploitation was concrete and personalized in the producer’s relationship with his master. The slave and peasant knew exactly who was screwing them. The modern worker, on the other hand, feels a painful pounding sensation, but has only a vague idea where it is coming from.

Besides its function of masking the ruling class interests behind a facade of “general welfare,” ideological hegemony also manufactures divisions between the ruled. Through campaigns against “welfare cheats” and “deadbeats,” and demands to “get tough on crime,” the ruling class is able to channel the hostility of the middle and working classes against the underclass.

Especially nauseating is the phenomenon of “billionaire populism.” Calls for bankruptcy and welfare “reform,” and for wars on crime, are dressed up in pseudo-populist rhetoric, identifying the underclass as the chief parasites who feed off the producers’ labor. In their “aw, shucks” symbolic universe, you’d think America was a Readers Digest/Norman Rockwell world with nothing but hard-working small businessmen and family farmers, on the one hand, and welfare cheats, deadbeats, union bosses and bureaucrats on the other. From listening to them, you’d never suspect that multi-billionaires or global corporations even exist, let alone that they might stand to benefit from such “populism.”

In the real world, corporations are the biggest clients of the welfare state, the biggest bankruptcies are corporate chapter eleven filings, and the worst crimes are committed in corporate suites rather than on the streets. The real robbery of the average producer consists of profit and usury, extorted only with the help of the state — the real “big government” on our backs. But as long as the working class and the underclass are busy fighting each other, they won’t notice who is really robbing them.

As Stephen Biko said, “The oppressors most powerful weapon is the mind of the oppressed.”

The Money Monopoly

In every system of class exploitation, a ruling class controls access to the means of production in order to extract tribute from labor. Under capitalism, access to capital is restricted by the money monopoly, by which the state or banking system is given a monopoly on the medium of exchange, and alternative media of exchange are prohibited. The money monopoly also includes entry barriers against cooperative banks and prohibitions against private issuance of banknotes, by which access to finance capital is restricted and interest rates are kept artificially high.

Just in passing, we might mention the monumental hypocrisy of the regulation of credit unions in the United States, which require that their membership must share some common bond, like working for the same employer. Imagine the outrage if IGA and Safeway lobbied for a national law to prohibit grocery co-ops unless the members all worked for the same company! One of the most notable supporters of these laws is Phil Gramm, that renowned “free marketeer” and economics professor — and foremost among the banking industry’s whores in Congress.

Individualist and mutualist anarchists like William Greene [Mutual Banking], Benjamin Tucker [Instead of a Book], and J. B. Robertson [The Economics of Liberty] viewed the money monopoly as central to the capitalist system of privilege. In a genuinely free banking market, any group of individuals could form a mutual bank and issue monetized credit in the form of bank notes against any form of collateral they chose, with acceptance of these notes as tender being a condition of membership. Greene speculated that a mutual bank might choose to honor not only marketable property as collateral, but the “pledging … [of] future production.” [p. 73]. The result would be a reduction in interest rates, through competition, to the cost of administrative overhead — less than one percent.

Abundant cheap credit would drastically alter the balance of power between capital and labor, and returns on labor would replace returns on capital as the dominant form of economic activity. According to Robinson,

Upon the monopoly rate of interest for money that is… forced upon us by law, is based the whole system of interest upon capital, that permeates all modern business.

With free banking, interest upon bonds of all kinds and dividends upon stock would fall to the minimum bank interest charge. The so-called rent of houses… would fall to the cost of maintenance and replacement.

All that part of the product which is now taken by interest would belong to the producer. Capital, however… defined, would practically cease to exist as an income producing fund, for the simple reason that if money, wherewith to buy capital, could be obtained for one-half of one per cent, capital itself could command no higher price [pp. 80-81].

And the result would be a drastically improved bargaining position for tenants and workers against the owners of land and capital. According to Gary Elkin, Tucker’s free market anarchism carried certain inherent libertarian socialist implications:

It’s important to note that because of Tucker’s proposal to increase the bargaining power of workers through access to mutual credit, his so-called Individualist anarchism is not only compatible with workers’ control but would in fact promote it. For if access to mutual credit were to increase the bargaining power of workers to the extent that Tucker claimed it would, they would then be able to (1) demand and get workplace democracy, and (2) pool their credit buy and own companies collectively.

The banking monopoly was not only the “lynchpin of capitalism,” but also the seed from which the landlord’s monopoly grew. Without a money monopoly, the price of land would be much lower, and promote “the process of reducing rents toward zero.” [Gary Elkin, “Benjamin Tucker — Anarchist or Capitalist“].

Given the worker’s improved bargaining position, “capitalists’ ability to extract surplus value from the labor of employees would be eliminated or at least greatly reduced.” [Gary Elkin, Mutual Banking]. As compensation for labor approached value-added, returns on capital were driven down by market competition, and the value of corporate stock consequently plummeted, the worker would become a de facto co-owner of his workplace, even if the company remained nominally stockholder-owned.

Near-zero interest rates would increase the independence of labor in all sorts of interesting ways. For one thing, anyone with a twenty-year mortgage at 8% now could, in the absence of usury, pay it off in ten years. Most people in their 30S would have their houses paid off. Between this and the nonexistence of high-interest credit card debt, two of the greatest sources of anxiety to keep one’s job at any cost would disappear. In addition, many workers would have large savings (“go to hell money”). Significant numbers would retire in their forties or fifties, cut back to part-time, or start businesses; with jobs competing for workers, the effect on bargaining power would be revolutionary.

Our hypothetical world of free credit in many ways resembles the situation in colonial societies. E. G. Wakefield, in View of the Art of Colonization, wrote of the unacceptably weak position of the employing class when self-employment with one’s own property was readily available. In colonies, there was a tight labor market and poor labor discipline because of the abundance of cheap land. “Not only does the degree of exploitation of the wage-labourer remain indecently low. The wage-labourer loses into the bargain, along with the relation of dependence, also the sentiment of dependence on the abstemious capitalist.”

Where land is cheap and all men are free, where every one who so pleases can obtain a piece of land for himself, not only is labour very dear, as respects the labourers’ share of the product, but the difficulty is to obtain combined labour at any price.

This environment also prevented the concentration of wealth, as Wakefield commented: “Few, even of those whose lives are unusually long, can accumulate great masses of wealth”. As a result, colonial elites petitioned the mother country for imported labor and for restrictions on land for settlement. According to Wakefield’s disciple Herman Merivale, there was an “urgent desire for cheaper and more subservient labourers — for a class to whom the capitalist might dictate terms, instead of being dictated to by them.” [Maurice Dobb, Studies in the Development of Capitalism; Marx, Chapter 33: “The New Theory of Colonialism,” in Capital Vol. 1].

In addition to all this, central banking systems perform additional service to the interests of capital. First of all, the chief requirement of finance capitalists is to avoid inflation, in order to allow predictable returns on investment. This is ostensibly the primary purpose of the Federal Reserve and other central banks. But at least as important is the role of the central banks in promoting what they consider a “natural” level of unemployment — until the 1990s around six per cent. The reason is that when unemployment goes much below this figure, labor becomes increasingly uppity and presses for better pay and working conditions and more autonomy. Workers are willing to take a lot less crap off the boss when they know they can find a job at least as good the next day. On the other hand, nothing is so effective in “getting your mind right” as the knowledge that people are lined up to take your job.

The Clinton “prosperity” is a seeming exception to this principle. As unemployment threatened to drop below the four per cent mark, some members of the Federal Reserve agitated to raise interest rates and take off the “inflationary” pressure by throwing a few million workers on the street. But as Greenspan [Testimony of Chairman Alan Greenspan] testified before the Senate Banking Committee, the situation was unique. Given the degree of job insecurity in the high-tech economy, there was “[a]typical restraint on compensation increases.” In 1996, even with a tight labor market, 46% of workers at large firms were fearful of layoffs — compared to only 25% in 1991, when unemployment was much higher.

The reluctance of workers to leave their jobs to seek other employment as the labor market tightened has provided further evidence of such concern, as has the tendency toward longer labor union contracts. For many decades, contracts rarely exceeded three years. Today, one can point to five- and six-year contracts — contracts that are commonly characterized by an emphasis on job security and that involve only modest wage increases. The low level of work stoppages of recent years also attests to concern about job security.

Thus the willingness of workers in recent years to trade off smaller increases in wages for greater job security seems to be reasonably well documented. For the bosses, the high-tech economy is the next best thing to high unemployment for keeping our minds right. “Fighting inflation” translates operationally to increasing job insecurity and making workers less likely to strike or to look for new jobs.


The patent privilege has been used on a massive scale to promote concentration of capital, erect entry barriers, and maintain a monopoly of advanced technology in the hands of western corporations. It is hard even to imagine how much more decentralized the economy would be without it. Right-libertarian Murray Rothbard considered patents a fundamental violation of free market principles.

The man who has not bought a machine and who arrives at the same invention independently, will, on the free market, be perfectly able to use and sell his invention. Patents prevent a man from using his invention even though all the property is his and he has not stolen the invention, either explicitly or implicitly, from the first inventor. Patents, therefore, are grants of exclusive monopoly privilege by the State and are invasions of property rights on the market. [Man, Economy, and State vol. 2 p. 655]

Patents make an astronomical price difference. Until the early 1970s, for example, Italy did not recognize drug patents. As a result, Roche Products charged the British national health a price over 40 times greater for patented components of Librium and Valium than charged by competitors in Italy [Raghavan, Recolonization p. 124].

Patents suppress innovation as much as they encourage it. Chakravarthi Raghavan pointed out that research scientists who actually do the work of inventing are required to sign over patent rights as a condition of employment, while patents and industrial security programs prevent sharing of information, and suppress competition in further improvement of patented inventions. [op. cit. p. 118] Rothbard likewise argued that patents eliminate “the competitive spur for further research” because incremental innovation based on others’ patents is prohibited, and because the holder can “rest on his laurels for the entire period of the patent,” with no fear of a competitor improving his invention. And they hamper technical progress because “mechanical inventions are discoveries of natural law rather than individual creations, and hence similar independent inventions occur all the time. The simultaneity of inventions is a familiar historical fact.” [op. cit. pp. 655, 658-659].

The intellectual property regime under the Uruguay Round of GATT goes far beyond traditional patent law in suppressing innovation. One benefit of traditional patent law, at least, was that it required an invention under patent to be published. Under U.S. pressure, however, “trade secrets” were included in GATT. As a result, governments will be required to help suppress information not formally protected by patents [Raghavan, op. cit. p. 122].

And patents are not necessary as an incentive to innovate. According to Rothbard, invention is rewarded by the competitive advantage accruing to the first developer of an idea. This is borne out by F. M. Scherer’s testimony before the FTC in 1995 [Hearings on Global and Innovation-Based Competition]. Scherer spoke of a survey of 91 companies in which only seven “accorded high significance to patent protection as a factor in their R & D investments.” Most of them described patents as “the least important of considerations.” Most companies considered their chief motivation in R & D decisions to be “the necessity of remaining competitive, the desire for efficient production, and the desire to expand and diversify their sales.” In another study, Scherer found no negative effect on R & D spending as a result of compulsory licensing of patents. A survey of U.S. firms found that 86% of inventions would have been developed without patents. In the case of automobiles, office equipment, rubber products, and textiles, the figure was 100%.

The one exception was drugs, in which 60% supposedly would not have been invented. I suspect disingenuousness on the part of the respondents, however. For one thing, drug companies get an unusually high portion of their R & D funding from the government, and many of their most lucrative products were developed entirely at government expense. And Scherer himself cited evidence to the contrary. The reputation advantage for being the first into a market is considerable. For example in the late 1970s, the structure of the industry and pricing behavior was found to be very similar between drugs with and those without patents. Being the first mover with a non-patented drug allowed a company to maintain a 30% market share and to charge premium prices.

The injustice of patent monopolies is exacerbated by government funding of research and innovation, with private industry reaping monopoly profits from technology it didn’t spend a penny to develop. In 1999, extending the research and experimentation tax credit was, along with extensions of a number of other corporate tax preferences, considered the most urgent business of the Congressional leadership. Hastert, when asked if any elements of the tax bill were essential, said: “I think the [tax preference] extenders are something we’re going to have to work on.” Ways and Means Chair Bill Archer added, “before the year is out… we will do the extenders in a very stripped down bill that doesn’t include anything else.” A five-year extension of the research and experimentation credit (retroactive to 1 July 1999) was expected to cost $13.1 billion. (That credit makes the effective tax rate on R & D spending less than zero.) [Citizens for Tax Justice, GOP Leaders Distill Essence of Tax Plan].

The Government Patent Policy Act of 1980, with 1984 and 1986 amendments, allowed private industry to keep patents on products developed with government R & D money — and then to charge ten, twenty, or forty times the cost of production. For example, AZT was developed with government money and in the public domain since 1964. The patent was given away to Burroughs Wellcome Corp. [Chris Lewis, “Public Assets, Private Profits“].

As if the deck were not sufficiently stacked already, the pharmaceutical companies in 1999 actually lobbied Congress to extend certain patents by two years by a special act of private law [Benjamin Grove, “Gibbons backs drug-monopoly bill“].

Patents have been used throughout the twentieth century “to circumvent antitrutst laws,” according to David Noble. They were “bought up in large numbers to suppress competition,” which also resulted in “the suppression of invention itself.” [America by Design, pp. 84-109]. Edwin Prindle, a corporate patent lawyer, wrote in 1906:

Patents are the best and most effective means of controlling competition. They occasionally give absolute command of the market, enabling their owner to name the price without regard to the cost of production…. Patents are the only legal form of absolute monopoly [America by Design p. 90].

Patents played a key role in the formation of the electrical appliance, communications, and chemical industries. G. E. and Westinghouse expanded to dominate the electrical manufacturing market at the turn of the century largely through patent control. In 1906 they curtailed the patent litigation between them by pooling their patents. AT&T also expanded “primarily through strategies of patent monopoly.” The American chemical industry was marginal until 1917, when Attorney-General Mitchell Palmer seized German patents and distributed them among the major American chemical companies. DuPont got licenses on 300 of the 735 patents [America by Design pp. 10, 16].

Patents are also being used on a global scale to lock the transnational corporations into a permanent monopoly of productive technology. The single most totalitarian provision of the Uruguay Round is probably its “intellectual property” provisions. GATT has extended both the scope and duration of patents far beyond anything ever envisioned in original patent law. In England, patents were originally for fourteen years — the time needed to train two journeymen in succession (and by analogy, the time necessary to go into production and reap the initial profit for originality). By that standard, given the shorter training times required today, and the shorter lifespan of technology, the period of monopoly should be shorter. Instead, the U.S. seeks to extend them to fifty years [Raghavan, Recolonization pp. 119-120]. According to Martin Khor Kok Peng, the U.S. is by far the most absolutist of the participants in the Uruguay Round. Unlike the European Community, and for biological processes for animal and plant protection [The Uruguay Round and Third World Sovereigntyp. 28].

The provisions for biotech are really a way of increasing trade barriers, and forcing consumers to subsidize the TNCs engaged in agribusiness. The U.S. seeks to apply patents to genetically-modified organisms, effectively pirating the work of generations of Third World breeders by isolating beneficial genes in traditional varieties and incorporating them in new GMOs — and maybe even enforcing patent rights against the traditional variety which was the source of the genetic material. For example Monsanto has attempted to use the presence of their DNA in a crop as prima facie evidence of pirating — when it is much more likely that their variety cross-pollinated and contaminated the farmer’s crop against his will. The Pinkerton agency, by the way, plays a leading role in investigating such charges — that’s right, the same folks who have been breaking strikes and kicking organizers down stairs for the past century. Even jack-booted thugs have to diversify to make it in the global economy.

The developed world has pushed particularly hard to protect industries relying on or producing “generic technologies,” and to restrict diffusion of “dual use” technologies. The U. S.-Japanese trade agreement on semi-conductors, for example, is a “cartel-like, ‘managed trade’ agreement.” So much for “free trade.” [Dieter Ernst, “Technology, Economic Security and Latecomer Idustrialization,” in Raghavan Pp. 39-40].

Patent law traditionally required a holder to work the invention in a country in order to receive patent protection. U.K. law allowed compulsory licensing after three years if an invention was not being worked, or being worked fully, and demand was being met “to a substantial extent” by importation; or where the export market was not being supplied because of the patentee’s refusal to grant licenses on reasonable terms [Raghavan pp. 120, 138].

The central motivation in the GATT intellectual property regime, however, is to permanently lock in the collective monopoly of advanced technology by TNCs, and prevent independent competition from ever arising in the Third World. It would, as Martin Khor Kok Peng writes, “effectively prevent the diffusion of technology to the Third World, and would tremendously increase monopoly royalties of the TNCs whilst curbing the potential devel- opment of Third World technology.” Only one percent of patents worldwide are owned in the Third World. Of patents granted in the 1970s by Third World countries, 84% were foreign-owned. But fewer than 5% of foreign-owned patents were actually used in production. As we saw before, the purpose of owning a patent is not necessarily to use it, but to prevent anyone else from using it [op. cit. pp. 29-30].

Raghavan summed up nicely the effect on the Third World:

Given the vast outlays in R and D and investments, as well as the short life cycle of some of these products, the leading Industrial Nations are trying to prevent emergence of competition by controlling… the flows of technology to others. The Uruguay round is being sought to be used to create export monopolies for the products of Industrial Nations, and block or slow down the rise of competitive rivals, particularly in the newly industrializing Third World countries. At the same time the technologies of senescent industries of the north are sought to be exported to the South under conditions of assured rentier income [op. cit. p. 96].

Corporate propagandists piously denounce anti-globalists as enemies of the Third World, seeking to use trade barriers to maintain an affluent Western lifestyle at the expense of the poor nations. The above measures — trade barriers — to permanently suppress Third World technology and keep the South as a big sweatshop, give the lie to this “humanitarian” concern. This is not a case of differing opinions, or of sincerely mistaken understanding of the facts. Setting aside false subtleties, what we see here is pure evil at work — Orwell’s “boot stamping on a human face forever.” If any architects of this policy believe it to be for general human well-being, it only shows the capacity of ideology to justify the oppressor to himself and enable him to sleep at night.


Spending on transportation and communications networks from general revenues, rather than from taxes and user fees, allows big business to “externalize its costs” on the public, and conceal its true operating expenses. Chomsky described this state capitalist underwriting of shipping costs quite accurately:

One well-known fact about trade is that it’s highly subsidized with huge market-distorting factors…. The most obvious is that every form of transport is highly subsidized…. Since trade naturally requires transport, the costs of transport enter into the calculation of the efficiency of trade. But there are huge subsidies to reduce the costs of transport, through manipulation of energy costs and all sorts of market-distorting functions [“How Free is the Free Market?”].

Every wave of concentration of capital has followed a publicly subsidized infrastructure system of some sort. The national railroad system, built largely on free or below-cost land donated by the government, was followed by concentration in heavy industry, petrochemicals, and finance. The next major infrastructure projects were the national highway system, starting with the system of designated national highways in the 1920s and culminating with Eisenhower’s interstate system; and the civil aviation system, built almost entirely with federal money. The result was massive concentration in retail, agriculture, and food processing.

The third such project was the infrastructure of the worldwide web, originally built by the Pentagon. It permits, for the first time, direction of global operations in real time from a single corporate headquarters, and is accelerating the concentration of capital on a global scale. To quote Chomsky again,

The telecommunications revolution… is… another state component of the international economy that didn’t develop through private capital, but through the public paying to destroy themselves… [Class Warfare p. 40].

The centralized corporate economy depends for its existence on a shipping price system which is artificially distorted by government intervention. To fully grasp how dependent the corporate economy is on socializing transportation and communications costs, imagine what would happen if truck and aircraft fuel were taxed enough to pay the full cost of maintenance and new building costs on highways and airports; and if fossil fuels depletion allowances were removed. The result would be a massive increase in shipping costs. Does anyone seriously believe that Wal-Mart could continue to undersell local retailers, or corporate agribusiness could destroy the family farm?

Intellectually honest right-libertarians freely admit as much. For example, Tiber Machan wrote in The Freeman that

Some people will say that stringent protection of rights [against eminent domain] would lead to small airports, at best, and many constraints on construction. Of course — but what’s so wrong with that?

Perhaps the worst thing about modern industrial life has been the power of political authorities to grant special privileges to some enterprises to violate the rights of third parties whose permission would be too expensive to obtain. The need to obtain that permission would indeed seriously impede what most environmentalists see as rampant — indeed reckless — industrialization.

The system of private property rights — in which… all… kinds of… human activity must be conducted within one’s own realm except where cooperation from others has been gained voluntarily — is the greatest moderator of human aspirations…. In short, people may reach goals they aren’t able to reach with their own resources only by convincing others, through arguments and fair exchanges, to cooperate [“On Airports and Individual Rights“].

The logjams and bottlenecks in the transportation system are an inevitable result of subsidies. Those who debate the reason for planes stacked up at O’Hare airport, or decry the fact that highways and bridges are deteriorating several times faster than repairs are being budgeted, need only read an economics 101 text. Market prices are signals that relate supply to demand. When subsidies distort these signals, the consumer does not perceive the real cost of producing the goods he consumes. The “feedback loop” is broken, and demands on the system overwhelm it beyond its ability to respond. When people don’t have to pay the real cost of something they consume, they aren’t very careful about only using what they need.

It is interesting that every major antitrust action in this century has involved either some basic energy resource, or some form of infrastructure, on which the overall economy depends. Standard Oil, AT&T, and Microsoft were all cases in which monopoly price gouging was a danger to the economy as a whole. This brings to mind Engels’ observation that advanced capitalism would reach a stage where the state — “the official representative of capitalist society” — would have to convert “the great institutions for intercourse and communication” into state property. Engels did not foresee the use of antitrust actions to achieve the same end [Anti-Duhring].

“Military Keynesianism”

The leading sectors of the economy, including cybernetics, communications, and military industry, have their sales and profits virtually guaranteed by the state. The entire manufacturing sector, as a whole, was permanently expanded beyond recognition by an infusion of federal money during World War II. In 1939 the entire manufacturing plant of the U.S. was valued at $40 billion. By 1945, another $26 billion worth of plant and equipment had been built, “two thirds of it paid for directly from government funds.” The top 250 corporations in 1939 owned 65% of plant and equipment, but during the war operated 79% of all new facilities built with government funds [Mills,The Power Elite p. 101].

Machine tools were vastly expanded by the war. In 1940, 23% of machine tools in use were less than 10 years old. By 1945, the figure had grown to 62%. The industry contracted rapidly after 1945, and would probably have gone into a depression, had it not returned to wartime levels of output during Korea and remained that way throughout the Cold War. The R & D complex, likewise, was a creation of the war. Between 1939 and 1945, the share of AT&T research expenditures made up of government contracts expanded from 1% to 83%. Over 90% of the patents resulting from government-funded wartime research were given away to industry. The modern electronics industry was largely a product of World War II and Cold War spending (e.g., miniaturization of circuits for bomb proximity fuses, high capacity computers for command and control, etc.) [Noble,Forces of Production pp. 8-16].

The jumbo jet industry would never have come about without continuous Cold War levels of military spending. The machine tools needed for producing large aircraft were so complex and expensive that no “small peacetime orders” would have provided a sufficient production run to pay for them. Without large military orders, they would simply not have existed. The aircraft industry quickly spiraled into red ink after 1945, and was near bankruptcy at the beginning of the 1948 war scare, after which Truman restored it to life with massive spending. By 1964, 90% of aerospace R & D was funded by the government, with massive spillover into the electronics, machine tool, and other industries [Noble, Forces of Production pp. 6-7; Kofsky, Harry S. Truman and the War Scare of 1948].

Other Subsidies

Infrastructure and military spending are not the only examples of the process by which cost and risk are socialized, and profit is privatized — or, as Rothbard put it, by which “our corporate state uses the coercive taxing power either to accumulate corporate capital or to lower corporate costs.” [“Confessions of a Right-Wing Liberal“]. Some of these government assumptions of risk and cost are ad hoc and targeted toward specific industries.

Among the greatest beneficiaries of such underwriting are electrical utilities. Close to 100% of all research and development for nuclear power is either performed by the government itself, in its military reactor program, or by lump-sum R & D grants; the government waives use-charges for nuclear fuels, subsidizes uranium production, provides access to government land below market price (and builds hundreds of miles of access roads at taxpayer expense), enriches uranium, and disposes of waste at sweetheart prices. The Price-Anderson Act of 1957 limited the liability of the nuclear power industry, and assumed government liability above that level [Adams and Brock pp. 279-281]. A Westinghouse official admitted in 1953,

If you were to inquire whether Westinghouse might consider putting up its own money.., we would have to say “No.” The cost of the plant would be a question mark until after we built it and, by that sole means, found out the answer. We would not be sure of successful plant operation until after we had done all the work and operated successfully…. This is still a situation of pyramiding uncertainties…. There is a distinction between risk-taking and recklessness [Ibid. pp. 278-279].

So much for profit as a reward for the entrepreneur’s risk. These “entrepreneurs” make their profits in the same way as a seventeenth-century courtier, by obtaining the favor of the king. To quote Chomsky,

The sectors of the economy that remain competitive are those that feed from the public trough…. The glories of Free Enterprise provide a useful weapon against government policies that might benefit the general population…. But the rich and powerful… have long appreciated the need to protect themselves from the destructive forces of free-market capitalism, which may provide suitable themes for rousing oratory, but only so long as the public handout and the regulatory and protectionist apparatus are secure, and state power is on call when needed (Chomsky, Deterring Democracy p. 144].

Dwayne Andreas, the CEO of Archer Daniels Midland, admitted that “[t]here is not one grain of anything in the world that is sold in the free market. Not one. The only place you see a free market is in the speeches of politicians.” [Don Carney, “Dwayne’s World“].

Big business also enjoys financial support through the tax code. It is likely that most of the Fortune 500 would go bankrupt without corporate welfare. Direct federal tax breaks to business in 1996 were close to $350 billion [Based on my crunching on numbers in Zepezauer and Naiman, Take the Rich Off- Welfare]. This figure, for federal corporate welfare alone, is over two-thirds of annual corporate profits for 1996 ($460 billion) [Statistical Abstract of the United States 1996].

Estimates of state and local tax breaks is fairly impressionistic, since they vary not only with each critic’s subjective definition of “corporate welfare,” but involve the tax codes of fifty states and the public records of thousands of municipalities. Besides money pimps in the state and local governments are embarrassed by the sweet deals they give their corporate johns. In my own state of Arkansas, the incorruptible Baptist preacher who serves as governor opposed a bill to require quarterly public reports from the Department of Economic Development on its special tax breaks to businesses. “[K]eeping incentive records from public scrutiny is important in attracting business,” and releasing “proprietary information” could have a “chilling effect.” [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette 3 Feb. 2001]. But state and local corporate welfare could easily amount to a figure comparable to federal.

Taken as a whole, direct tax breaks to business at all levels of government are probably on the same order of magnitude as corporate profits. And this understates the effect of corporate welfare, since it disproportionately goes to a handful of giant firms in each industry. For example, accelerated depreciation favors expansion by existing firms. New firms find it of little benefit, since they are likely to lose money their first few years. An established firm, however, can run a loss in a new venture and charge the accelerated depreciation against its profits on old facilities [Baratz, “Corporate Giants and the Power Structure“].

The most outrageous of these tax expenditures is the subsidy to the actual financial transactions by which capital is concentrated. The interest deduction on corporate debt, most of which was run up on leveraged buyouts and acquisitions, costs the treasury over $200 billion a year [Zepezauer p. 122-123]. Without this deduction, the wave of mergers in the 1980s, or the megamergers of the 1990s, could never have taken place. On top of everything else, this acts as a massive direct subsidy to banking, increasing the power of finance capital in the corporate economy to a level greater than it has been since the Age of Morgan.

A closely related subsidy is the exemption from capital gains of securities transactions involved in corporate mergers (i.e. “stock swaps”) — even though premiums are usually paid well over the market value of the stock [Green p. 11]. The 1986 tax reform included a provision which prevented corporations from deducting fees for investment ‘banks and advisers involved in leveraged buyouts. The 1996 minimum wage increase repealed this provision, with one exception: interest deductions were removed for employee buyouts [Judis, “Bare Minimum“].

Right-libertarians like Rothbard object to classifying tax expenditures as subsidies. It presumes that tax money rightfully belongs to the government, when in fact the government is only letting them keep what is rightfully theirs. The tax code is indeed unfair, but the solution is to eliminate the taxes for everyone, not to level the code up [Rothbard, Power and Market p. 104]. This is a very shaky argument. Supporters of tax code reform in the 1980s insisted that the sole legitimate purpose of taxation was to raise revenue, not to provide carrots and sticks for social engineering purposes. And, semantic quibbling aside, the current tax system would be exactly the same if we started out with zero tax rates and then imposed a punitive tax only on those not engaged in favored activities. Either way, the uneven tax policy gives a competitive advantage to privileged industries.

Political Repression

In times of unusual popular consciousness and mobilization, when the capitalist system faces grave political threats, the state resorts to repression until the danger is past. The major such waves in this country — the Haymarket reaction, and the red scares after the world wars — are recounted by Goldstein [Political Repression in Modern America]. But the wave of repression which began in the 1970s, though less intense, has been permanently institutionalized to a unique extent.

Until the late 1960s, elite perspective was governed by the New Deal social contract. The corporate state would buy stability and popular acquiescence in imperialist exploitation abroad by guaranteeing a level of prosperity and security to the middle class. In return for higher wages, unions would enforce management control of the workplace. But starting during the Vietnam era, the elite’s thinking underwent a profound change.

They concluded from the 1960s experience that the social contract had failed. In response to the antiwar protests and race riots, LBJ and Nixon began to create an institutional framework for martial law, to make sure that any such disorder in the future could be dealt with differently. Johnson’s operation GARDEN PLOT involved domestic surveillance by the military, contingency plans for military cooperation with local police in suppressing disorder in all fifty states, plans for mass preventive detention, and joint exercises of police and the regular military [Morales, U.S. Military Civil Disturbance Planning]. Governor Reagan and his National Guard chief Louis Giuffrida were enthusiastic supporters of GARDEN PLOT exercises in California. Reagan was also a pioneer in creating quasi-military SWAT teams, which now exist in every major town.

The wave of wildcat strikes in the early 1970s showed that organized labor could no longer keep its part of the bargain, and that the social contract should be reassessed. At the same time, the business press was flooded with articles on the impending “capital shortage,” and calls for shifting resources from consumption to capital accumulation. They predicted frankly that a cap on real wages would be hard to force on the public in the existing political environment [Boyte, Backyard Revolution pp. 13-16]. This sentiment was expressed by Huntington et al. in The Crisis of Democracy (a paper for the Trilateral Institution — a good proxy for elite thinking); they argued that the system was collapsing from demand overload, because of an excess of democracy.

Corporations embraced the full range of union-busting possibilities in Taft-Hartley, risking only token fines from the NLRB. They drastically increased management resources devoted to workplace surveillance and control, a necessity because of discontent from stagnant wages and mounting workloads [Fat and Mean]. Wages as a percentage of value added have declined drastically since the 1970s; all increases in labor productivity have been channeled into profit and investment, rather than wages. A new Cold War military buildup further transferred public resources to industry.

A series of events like the fall of Saigon, the nonaligned movement, and the New International Economic Order were taken as signs that the transnational corporate empire was losing control. Reagan’s escalating intervention in Central America was a partial response to this perception. But more importantly the Uruguay Round of GATT snatched total victory from the jaws of defeat; it ended all barriers to TNCs buying up entire economies, locked the west into monopoly control of modern technology, and created a world government on behalf of global corporations.

In the meantime the U.S. was, in the words of Richard K. Moore, importing techniques of social control from the imperial periphery to the core area. With the help of the Drug War and the National Security State, the apparatus of repression continued to grow. The Drug War has turned the Fourth Amendment into toilet paper; civil forfeiture, with the aid of jailhouse snitches, gives police the power to steal property without ever filing charges — a lucrative source of funds for helicopters and kevlar vests. SWAT teams have led to the militarization of local police forces, and cross-training with the military has led many urban police departments to view the local population as an occupied enemy [Weber, Warrior Cops].

Reagan’s crony Giuffrida resurfaced as head of FEMA, where he worked with Oliver North to fine-tune GARDEN PLOT. North, as the NSC liaison with FEMA from 1982-84, developed a plan “to suspend the constitution in the event of a national crisis, such as nuclear war, violent and widespread internal dissent or national opposition to a U.S. military invasion abroad.” [Chardy, “Reagan Aides and the ‘Secret’ Government“]. GARDEN PLOT, interestingly, was implemented during the Rodney King Riots and in recent anti-globalization protests. Delta Force provided intelligence and advice in those places and at Waco [Rosenberg, The Empire Strikes Back; Cockburn, The Jackboot State].

Another innovation is to turn everyone we deal with into a police agent. Banks routinely report “suspicious” movements of cash; under “know your customer” programs, retailers report purchases of items which can conceivably be used in combination to manufacture drugs; libraries come under pressure to report on readers of “subversive” material; DARE programs turn kids into police informers.

Computer technology has increased the potential for surveillance to Orwellian levels. Pentium III processors were revealed to embed identity codes in every document written on them. Police forces are experimenting with combinations of public cameras, digital face-recognition technology, and databases of digital photos. Image Data LLC, a company in the process of buying digital drivers licence photos from all fifty states, was exposed as a front for the Secret Service.


It is almost too easy to bring back Bob Novak and Secretary O’Neill for another kick — but I can’t resist. “Marxist class warfare?” “Robber baron rhetoric?” Well, the pages above recount the “class warfare” waged by the robber barons themselves. If their kind tend to squeal like pigs when we talk about class, it’s because they’ve been stuck. But all the squealing in the world won’t change the facts.

But what are the implications of the above facts for our movement? It is commonly acknowledged that the manorial economy was founded on force. Although you will never see the issue addressed by Milton Friedman, intellectually honest right libertarians like Rothbard acknowledge the role of the state in creating European feudalism and American slavery. Rothbard, drawing the obvious conclusion from this fact, acknowledged the right of peasants or freed slaves to take over their “forty acres and a mule” without compensation to the landlord.

But we have seen that industrial capitalism, to the same extent as manorialism or slavery, was founded on force. Like its predecessors, capitalism could not have survived at any point in its history without state intervention. Coercive state measures at every step have denied workers access to capital, forced them to sell their labor in a buyer’s market, and protected the centers of economic power from the dangers of the free market. To quote Benjamin Tucker again, landlords and capitalists cannot extract surplus value from labor without the help of the state. The modern worker, like the slave or the serf, is the victim of ongoing robbery; he works in an enterprise built from past stolen labor. By the same principles that Rothbard recognized in the agrarian realm, the modern worker is justified in taking direct control of production, and keeping the entire product of his labor.

In a very real sense, every subsidy and privilege described above is a form of slavery. Slavery, simply put, is the use of coercion to live off of someone else’s labor. For example, consider the worker who pays $300 a month for a drug under patent, that would cost $30 in a free market. If he is paid $15 an hour, the eighteen hours he works every month to pay the difference are slavery. Every hour worked to pay usury on a credit card or mortgage is slavery. The hours worked to pay unnecessary distribution and marketing costs (comprising half of retail prices), because of subsidies to economic centralization, is slavery. Every additional hour someone works to meet his basic needs, because the state tilts the field in favor of the bosses and forces him to sell his labor for less than it is worth, is slavery.

All these forms of slavery together probably amount to half our working hours. If we kept the full value of our labor, we could probably maintain current levels of consumption with a work week of twenty hours. As Bill Haywood said, “for every man who gets a dollar he didn’t sweat for, someone else sweated to produce a dollar he never received.”

Our survey also casts doubt on the position of “anarchist” social democrat Noam Chomsky, who is notorious for his distinction between “visions” and “goals.” His long-term vision is a decentralized society of self-governing communities and workplaces, loosely federated together — the traditional anarchist vision. His immediate goal, however, is to strengthen the regulatory state in order to break up “private concentrations of power,” before anarchism can be achieved. But if , as we have seen, capitalism is dependent on the state to guarantee it survival, it follows that it is sufficient to eliminate the statist props to capitalism. In a letter of 4 September 1867, Engels aptly summed up the difference between anarchists and state socialists: “They say ‘abolish the state and capital will go to the devil.’ We propose the reverse.” Exactly.


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