When seeking such a radical change as the abolition of the state and the creation of a consensual society, it’s good to put some thought into how to help the transition go as smoothly as possible.
This article will bring up some ideas on the transition and try to encourage thinking about possible future scenarios. It focuses on the region claimed by the United States government, because that is where the Center For a Stateless Society works from and because the US is currently the most influential state. However the ideas presented will likely be applicable elsewhere
Abolishing the state is of critical importance, but statelessness by itself is not sufficient for anarchism. The goal is to get as close as possible to a situation in which no person rules over another. (If one applies the term “state” to any externally-imposed authority, then this paragraph should be read differently.)
Libertarian ideas can prevent the growth of new forms of subjugation or dominance by other large organizations. I focus on ideology over structure. So long as a libertarian mindset (focused on maximizing individual liberty) is prevalent, the specific structures of organizations will adapt toward satisfying this goal.
The reality of a state collapse will probably be messy and not follow party lines or plans. Anarchist ideas and the counter-establishment economy won’t be the only pressures on the state.
What factors can contribute to the collapse of the state? The public hypocrisy and excess of the political elite, and the failure of the system to provide contentment or economic stability weakens faith in the system. The gap left by each failure of the state can be taken advantage of. On the other hand, when people’s basic needs are met but they are aware of injustices being committed or the precariousness of their situation, they might spend time with revolutionary thought.
As the state declines, people’s loyalties may shift. If careerism is the dominant ideology of the day, one’s trade or industry could become a primary loyalty. However, dissatisfaction or apathy concerning impersonal organizations combined with the encouragement of do-it-yourself and entrepreneurial ideas may dissolve this loyalty. Then localism, family, religion, subculture, or some other kind of tribalism might become a primary loyalty.
These loyalty shifts would create a different political environment to work in. Depending on the degree to which anarchist ideas have been spread the environment might be more conducive to anarchist work or more restrictive. New loyalties may vary in degrees of authoritarianism (fighting for dominance and allegiance) or libertarianism (cooperative and conducive toward individual liberty).
In The Strategy of Propaganda (ALLiance Journal Issue 2), I argued that one goal of libertarian propaganda should be to disassociate people’s identity from authority. Groups and loyalties that do not demand people oppress others should be approached differently. Some might desire to peacefully undermine the power of groups that hinder individual flourishing, but building alternatives is probably the best way to do this.
A diverse array of players would be involved in a hypothetical collapse of the state in America. The following categories are generalizations, and one individual could be placed in multiple categories. The way to approach an individual of any particular group would depend on the relationship the two of you have.
1 ) Political elites (high ranking politicians, staff, and lobbyists; connected business leaders; local political machines): Hopefully mass disobedience will defuse their power. Some will be swayed by conscience and some will try to capitalize on the new political climate (or at least bargain with the mob).
2 ) Military-industrial complex (military forces and the industries connected to them): Will military personnel strike or stand for the people against states? Will arms companies sell to anyone with enough cash or re-tool for peaceful work?
3 ) Law enforcement: A peaceful dissolution of the domestic standing army might include massive police defections or displacement by local militias.
4 ) Non-government criminal organizations: Who will mafias and gangs support? Can some be persuaded that consent is the best way to do business?
5 ) Disenfranchised poor: They often distrust government, and are loyal to family, church, neighborhood, gang, or other group. Mutual aid and solidarity can turn their struggle to survive into a struggle for liberty.
6 ) Progressives and leftish managerialists: They probably need to be shown that nobody is smart enough to be in charge of other people’s lives and that bottom-up solutions empower people to take care of themselves.
7 ) Conservatives, statist right wingers (generally want the state to be small in areas that do not involve badges, medals, and guns; may include religious fundamentalists): Groups and outreach materials that appeal to the right can help them figure out how to preserve their own ways of life without unjustly interfering in others’ lives. There is stability in consent, not in subjugation, and the enemies of prosperity are the ruling class and those who enforce their will.
8 ) Constitutionalists and minarchists (those who require there be a small government, and those who are “okay with anarchy but don’t think it will work or last long”): Many of these people got to their current point of thinking by having strong libertarian tendencies. Their libertarian tendencies should be cultivated by exposure to anarchist ideas and practice.
9 ) Anti-authoritarians (may identify as socialist or libertarian, not ready to adopt anarchism): They can be allies and should be encouraged to not adopt authoritarian ideas.
10 ) Anarchists (often divided into market anarchists and social anarchists): Social anarchists are more likely to unilaterally expropriate property; market anarchists are more likely to defend current property titles. Both categories contain people who might side with authoritarians. Anarchists should figure out the best ways to reconcile their beliefs with each other. Dialogue is necessary.
11 ) Minor authoritarians (Maoists, Trotskyists, racist groups, fundamentalists unaffiliated with above groups): Guard against their influence, but don’t get too distracted by them.
Anarchists can certainly influence the character of state failure and the society that succeeds it. But with our current numbers and influence it is unlikely that establishing large anarchic areas will be feasible. Of course it is also unlikely that the state will fall this month, so there is time to build influence.
It might be beneficial to have people on the inside to publicly undermine or covertly sabotage crackdowns.
I don’t believe in the dichotomy between evolutionary and insurrectionary approaches to anarchism, and I think both have use. But I do want to emphasize that evolutionary activity is not about passively waiting for the state to decline or pretentiously “evolving” above everyone who doesn’t agree with you. Rather, it involves immediately starting to build the networks and technology of the consensual society, and spreading the ideas that will guide it. It will take time to succeed, but so would an effective insurrection.
Localism, internationalism, and networking are all important to consider in the transition to anarchy.
People exist locally, and long supply chains are easier to disrupt or use as leverage. Ask, how will a state collapse affect the area I live in or plan to live in? How could basic needs be provided if massive disruptions occur? Is it possible to build libertarian autonomous zones? When is it best to inject libertarian principles into existing local groups, and when is it best to try to make explicitly anti-authoritarian networks of individuals who support each other? Who else might be trying to influence local sources of power? The works of John Robb concerning resilient communities and tribes might be useful here. Kevin Carson’s Center For a Stateless Society work will be invaluable.
Internationalism is critical. A system that does not allow everybody to participate in liberty is just another system of oppression. Also important, solidarity across borders can keep foreign military intervention to a minimum. Powerful states will likely intervene in a large stateless zone that doesn’t pay international creditors – unless the political costs of intervention outweigh the benefits.
Organizing or networking can build a basis for the future of consensual interaction. It can also provide concrete ways for people to meet their needs outside of the state-capitalist order. See my essay “A Quick Look At Insurgent Political Influence” in ALLiance Journal Issue 3 for a description of how other groups have used parallel organizations to siphon popular support.
I sometimes like to think of the optimal organization style as “decentralized local and global networks that empower autonomous individuals, instead of groups that constrain freedom of action”. I’m not interested in fighting about that definition, but it could be a seed for good discussion.
Networks can help people safeguard their physical assets. Hoarding valuables and necessities can work better if it’s done with friends. Trust makes it easier to take care of things off-the-books. Participating in mutual aid networks provides the benefits of mutual security and fellowship.
Whether pitched in terms of preparedness or in terms of ideology, reducing people’s financial stake in the system gives them less reason to fight for the system or for some kind of reactionary movement.
We should all think about how we personally can help build a consensual future. Thanks to the rapid spread of information today we don’t have to start from scratch or insulate ourselves from feedback. Though we should try to get the best possible idea of how to succeed, maximizing freedom is a more important goal than confirming hypotheses.