Smarter Red-Baiters, Please!

When I saw A. Barton Hinkle’s hit job on the Wobblies (“Meet the Left-Wing Extremist Running for U.S. Senate,” Reason, September 3), I had to double-check to make sure I was on the right website. Was it FrontPage Magazine? Breitbart? Nope — it was Reason!

Reason prints some fairly right-leaning stuff, but seldom anything like this that’s just Republican talking points from beginning to end, with virtually no actual libertarianism at any point in between. Hinkle spends roughly the first half of his article on by-the-numbers victimology about “liberal media bias,” whining that the media would have been all over a Republican as far to the Right as his subject — Montana Democratic Senate Candidate Susan Curtis — is to the Left. When some Tea Party troglodyte pipes up about rape or “illegal aliens,” Hinkle says, the press is all over it, howling about the “takeover of the GOP by right-wing extremists.” But the librul meejia ignores Curtis’s ties to the I.W.W. because she’s a Democrat and a woman.

Um, well. Yeah, the establishment media still tends to be “liberal,” if by that you mean upper-middle class managerial-professional types half an inch to the left of center, who are slightly friendlier than Republicans to abortion rights and welfare but agree with them on about 90% of the basic structural issues of corporate capitalism. But when it comes to most stuff they’re just pro-power — which means the same center-left talking head show types asked the same softball questions about drones, torture and NSA surveillance under both Bush and Obama, and would like to see Edward Snowden stand trial for treason. Not to mention all the #UniteBlue types geared up to support Hillary Clinton, who’s far more of a hawk and a police statist than Obama.

But if there’s an asymmetry in media coverage of the Democratic and Republican Parties’ respective extremists, it might be because there’s an asymmetry in how the two parties treat those extremists. The press pays lots of attention to “the wingnuts who’ve taken over the GOP” because, well, they’ve taken over the GOP. When the Koch Brothers fund a candidate who speaks in tongues and bites the heads off bats, GOP establishment politicians respond by grabbing a bat and chomping down. Their biggest fear is being unseated by Tea Party primary challengers. On the other hand if the center-left media ignores the Democratic Party’s left-wing fringe, that’s because the Democratic Party’s center-left establishment also ignores them. Principled left-leaning critics of the Iraq War, drones and the NSC get their funding cut off by the DNC. The Democrats remain a corporate center-left party and circle the wagons against anyone further to the left, while the Republicans shift as far right as necessary to prevent the Tea Party from undermining the loyalty of their base.

As for Hinkle’s historically illiterate nonsense about the Industrial Workers of the World, where do I even start? He denounces the Wobbly Preamble’s famous statement that “the working class and employing class have nothing in common,” and its call for the working class to “take possession of the means of production” and “abolish the wage system” as “warmed-over Lenin.” And he calls them “communists.”

Notwithstanding that Lenin took a very dim view of those in Soviet Russia who, like the Wobblies, preferred worker self-management to government-appointed factory managers (and by “dim view” I mean sending the “left deviationists” who supported direct workers’ control to the Gulag).

Sure there are commies — libertarian communists, the kind who quote Kropotkin and Luxemburg — in the Wobblies. Not many of the Leninist kind, though. There are also lots of syndicalists. Also a few Proudhonian mutualists. And even some market-friendly individualist anarchists like Joseph Labadie were Wobs in the early days.

Several of us here at Center for a Stateless Society, a market anarchist think tank, are current or past Wobblies. I have an expired Red Card myself (mainly because I’m lazy about paying my dues). We think state intervention in the market has promoted corporate managerial hierarchy and wage labor far beyond their free market levels, and we cheerfully echo libertarian Claire Wolfe’s call to destroy the job culture.

I’d also like to note just how ironic it is for a publication like Reason, which is so uniformly hostile to “union bosses” and NLRB-certified union shops, to run an article blasting a union that also hates these things. The Wobblies, by and large, prefer to bypass NLRB certification and union bureaucracy, instead functioning as self-organized unions on the shop floor, eschewing exclusive bargaining unit representation and automatic dues deductions, and returning to tactics like wildcat strikes and direct action on the job that the Wagner Act was passed precisely to prevent.

Hinkle actually compares the I.W.W., in sheer odiousness, to the Klan. Well, except there are no legitimate reasons to hate, terrorize and lynch black people — but plenty of legitimate reasons to believe corporate power and the present distribution of wealth and income result from injustice.

There is, however, one organization that really is as evil as the KKK, and was founded for the express purpose of terrorist attacks on Wobblies, directly analogous to anti-worker terrorism by Mussolini’s industrialist-funded black shirts: The American Legion. Maybe Hinkle could take them on.

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