US Primaries and Government Disassembly

Lots of pundits are piecing together lessons from Tuesday’s US primary elections. But what lessons might the primaries hold for anarchists in America?

CNN summarizes the results as, “Tuesday’s races had unique storylines, but all share common thread of anti-establishment.” Senator Scott Brown told the Associated Press “The message clearly is that they’re tired of business as usual in Washington, regardless of party. … The people want new faces and new fresh ideas.”

Well the faces are different, and the ideas about how to apply state power might differ, but the primary winners aren’t offering much that is really new.

Rand Paul, son of Ron Paul, might be for limiting government, but I wouldn’t expect any spectacular libertarian performance from him.

As CNN reports, “Paul is a prominent face for the Tea Party, a decentralized group of conservative, anti-Washington, grass-roots activists…

“In his victory speech, Paul warned that ‘a day of reckoning’ had arrived for the Washington establishment.

“’I have a message from the Tea Party,’ he said. ‘A message that is loud and clear and does not mince words: ‘We’ve come to take our government back.’”

So Rand Paul represents the Tea Party – a movement full of militarists, cop apologists, and border enforcers – on a campaign to take its government back. This is a great example of why anarchists should distance themselves from statism-lite “limited government” campaigns. They are too easily co-opted by the power games of electoral politics and usually just support a different gang of statists without causing many people to move in a more libertarian direction.

But if popular dissatisfaction is strong enough to soundly defeat party boss favorites, what does that say about the political environment we operate in?

For one thing, it shows that many people are very concerned that something is very wrong with the status quo – so step one is done for us. Rather that pointing out that something is wrong, we might want to focus more on tapping into existing dissatisfaction, directing anger towards what specifically is wrong. Complete the picture and show the root causes. There are connections between types of oppression, and we need to point them out. War, taxes, rigid economic hierarchy, border enforcement, sexism, racism, and nanny-state regulations all grow from the authoritarian principle that some individuals may rule over the lives of other individuals, unjustly limiting their freedom.

But why is there so much concern now? Problems with the economy appear to be a major issue. Anarchists ought to point out that the current economic system serves those in power, and that building a counter-economy with solidarity and mutual aid is a more reliable investment than any politician.

Though party bosses and business as usual may have been upset on Tuesday, what we saw was an expression of desire for change, not an instance of substantial change. Capitals and capitalists will continue to rule, though the style might be different. What we have seen is a different wing of politicians riding populist sentiment – just like when Democrats put on the mask of Change in 2006 and 2008. If anarchists can successfully articulate our positions to the broad public, we can show that real change begins with removal of authority in daily life and helping others become independent of authority. I suggest the materials on I’m not saying this will be easy, but it is necessary.

Tuesday’s primaries (along with the divisions between politicians that Arizona’s new laws are bringing to the fore) may be a harbinger of a different statist environment coming up.

The primaries don’t just indicate dissatisfaction, but also the view that polarization is desirable. Rather than trying to be the centrist friend of everybody, victors generally took stronger, more recognizably liberal or conservative positions. This isn’t a matter of being consistent – both sides stand for statism – it’s a matter of strengthening tribal affiliation in which tough posturing is important. So anarchists should try to bring in the idea that Washington isn’t the only problem, and point out the power-serving priorities of parties and other power structures.

Two machines with roughly the same function and appearance might have completely different methods of taking them apart. Looking for the right places to loosen screws – where it will most likely cause system failure with the least amount of danger to bystanders – is the mindset to have when looking at how the machinery of government might be changing.

Articles Referenced:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory