Is there anything we as agorists, anarchists, and others of the left can do to build a revolution? What does agorism tell us about our ends, the society we wish to create, based on its means?
Agorism is an anarchist philosophy of revolutionary counter-economics, but it is not the first. Agorism’s use of black and gray markets to empower the disenfranchised is only one way to undermine white and red markets- those deemed legal by the state in support of capitalism. Another philosophy, illegalism, also undermines the capitalist and political class for individual empowerment. It is my view that these two philosophies, separated by generations, are complementary. Both are necessary for survival, liberation, and building the alternatives of the future.
Looking to the Past
“By refusing us the right to free labor society gives us the right to steal. In taking possession of the wealth of the world, the bourgeois give us the right to take back, however we can, what we need to satisfy our needs.”
In 1909, illegalist anarchist Victor Serge penned these words in Le Revolte. Illegalism repudiates laws, especially those defending capitalist property claims. Some examples include bank robbery, theft from bosses or businesses, and violent acts including killing police, even bank tellers and a company accountant. Illegalists took direct action to the next level, calling it “propaganda of the deed.” The above quote also seems to support the idea that if illegitimate property claims leave nothing to be homesteaded, the right to homestead illegitimately claimed property remains.
Serge ultimately changed his mind about illegalism. If I may speculate, his change of thought seemed to be both a mix of despair from seeing a lack of lasting success as well as being sentenced to 5 years in prison for his aid to the Bonnot Gang. The Bonnot Gang were a group of illegalist anarchists who famously escaped and overpowered French and Belgian authorities by using repeating rifles and cars. The French authorities did not yet possess this technology and were unable to apprehend them from 1911-1912.
While the state now has these capabilities and more, I would like to highlight a theme throughout history. Technology evens the playing field in unexpected ways when it comes to large organizations fighting smaller ones. One recent example is the US government requesting Apple to unlock a terrorist’s cell phone. In some cases I’d like to argue that technology actually favors those resisting a larger invading force. Improvised Explosive devices plague the military daily, and even drones can be disabled by new weapons technology which fires no projectile, allowing the user to remain hidden. The cost of building tanks, transporting troops, and building infrastructure to move military equipment is so much greater than the cost of the IED’s being used to stop it all. Destruction is usually cheaper than construction, thus favoring a low-budget resistance. The amount of time it takes is also considerably less when comparing building a vehicle to constructing the $416 bomb that blows it up.
Looking at the Present
“In order to transform society- if this is possible- we know that something else is needed besides reformist collective movements or acts of banditry. But in order to do these other things one must live; and in order to live one must be a wage earner or a bandit…Wage labor and banditry are for us nothing but deplorable expedients we are forced to resort to in order to survive and fulfill our task in an abominable world.”
Acknowledging that simple acts of theft or political reform are only a means of survival while working towards a different future, we are left to build the alternatives ourselves. As agorism teaches, means and ends must be consistent. Arriving at the society we wish will require actions which contribute to its creation- literally building the future. Our actions must necessarily be outside of the sphere of what is currently allowed. For example, a little north of where I live, anarchists in Denver, Colorado set out to house the homeless last year. They constructed mini-houses in a vacant public lot, and Denver Housing Authority took them down. Where I previously lived, in Trenton, New Jersey, homeless people set up what is called “Tent-City”, a practice repeated in numerous other places. Communities of free people seeking to meet each other’s needs have been established, more or less under the radar, and some have been able to remain despite the state’s public disapproval, and sometimes without their knowledge. In building the foundation to change society we must make sure to take care of each others’ basic needs.
Housing and feeding the homeless as well as assisting each other with direct mutual aid will allow the working class to unite. A revolution cannot be expected if all those who would stand to gain are starving or incapable of resisting the powerful state. Capitalism divides us; Mutual aid brings us together. Black and gray markets require trust, and trust is built through acts of compassion. In addition to mutual aid, solidarity is another way to represent shared values across great distances. Local communities need to show support for each other when striking or simply struggling against the challenges of capitalism. Ride-sharing and day-care are simple, comparatively less restricted ways to support each other that truly make a difference in each person’s daily life. Minimizing the cost of living and maximizing the benefits of liberty are the way forward, whether by illegal farming or trading in goods and services.
Speaking of the incapability’s of the current economic structure, anarcho-communist Murray Bookchin argued “Attempts to ‘green’ capitalism, to make it ecological, are doomed by the very nature of the system as a system of endless growth.” The only way to reverse it is to first stop, and the only way to stop it is to replace it with a new system. Luckily, agorism points us in the direction of new alternatives. Under such political and economic pressures, counter-economic entrepreneurs have no choice but to innovate to compete in markets. In addition to innovation, what is needed is agitation to attack the system where it is most vulnerable.
Looking to the Future
In France today we see a nationwide workers’ strike affecting the petroleum and nuclear energy industries, impacting the economy at the source- its power. Train drivers also went on strike, with many workers blocking railways as well- all of this accomplished by a united front of many different national unions. The existing system has an advantage of being implemented on a large scale, but that advantage is also its downfall. It has a number of weak points, all of which are difficult to defend simultaneously, and all of which depend on the submission of the working class. This is only one example of effective disruption of the capitalist system. All successes and failures should be considered to develop a strategy that encompasses every known weakness of that which we resist, so we might be able to affect a change in an opportune moment. The state often makes political decisions based on cost-benefit ratios and foreseeable changes, whether via embargo or other diplomatic maneuvering. Radicals should think in similar terms to achieve results on a large scale.
There will always be those who seek power, but by destroying the overarching system in place as well as the legitimacy of the oppressor, the economically liberated will be able to reassert their control over resources. What will be left will be a more self-sustaining society. It matters not which branch of anarchism becomes most popular or whether or not all people agree as to which specific kind of society they desire – the lack of institutionally-enforced obstacles and self-destructive tendencies will allow people the time and freedom to discover their preferences.
Now, at the height of ecological and economic self-destruction, the time has never been as ripe for revolution. Illegalism and agorism go hand-in-hand providing free people what they need to survive. Sabotage of industry, theft, trade in goods in manners prohibited, and all other manner of anti-capitalist activity are simply the means to achieving a society where centralized, oppressive entities are made obsolete and driven out.
 “Afghan IEDS: warfare on the cheap”, Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY. June 24, 2013
 ‘Expedients’, Victor Serge, Le Revolte. January 18, 1912