The Thin Black Line

In “But what kind of stateless society?” Jeremy Weiland raises — in a constructive manner — several important issues surrounding what the Center for a Stateless Society does and how we do it. I encourage you to read the entire piece. This is intended as a general response, not a fisking. I’m going to start from two premises:

Premise 1: Since its birth as a movement, anarchism has had to contend with the problem of competing visions (the example that comes immediately to mind is Fernando Tarrida del Mármol and Ricardo Mella’s “Anarchism Without Adjectives” plea).

We’re united in our opposition to the state, but divided on what we anticipate replacing it with.

That’s not going to change. Not today, not tomorrow, and not in whatever stateless future we bring about … if, indeed, we succeed in bringing about such a future at all. The society in which debate has ended is not stateless, it’s dead.

Premise 2: The fact that our disagreements are going to be perpetual and vehement does not preclude mutually beneficial alliances centered around our agreements, or support for projects which advance goals we share.

To my mind, the libertarian left constitutes such an alliance, and the Center for a Stateless Society such a project.

The Alliance of the Libertarian Left is “united by an opposition to statism and militarism, to cultural intolerance (including sexism, racism, and homophobia), and to the prevailing corporatist capitalism falsely called a free market; as well as by an emphasis on education, direct action, and building alternative institutions, rather than on electoral politics, as our chief strategy for achieving liberation.”

By that measure, the Center for a Stateless Society is undoubtedly an institution of the libertarian left.

That doesn’t mean we agree with everyone else on the libertarian left.

We’re anarchists, not minarchists.

We’re market anarchists. That term seems to be a major stumbling block with some other left anarchists who aren’t quite sure what to think of us or whether to support our work.

Cold comfort time: I can’t explain “market anarchism” to you in a soothing way, because it’s a term that’s still defining itself.

I can tell you a few things that market anarchism isn’t.

While it’s obviously retained a good deal of Rothbardian influences, market anarchism is not “anarcho-capitalism.” That’s become a pretty well-defined philosophy over time, and “market anarchists” differ in significant respects from it. For example, we reject the concept of the “corporation” as an “artificial person” with “limited liability” and other characteristics that, because they require state privilege, must perforce require a state.

While some market anarchists are unabashedly influenced by Ayn Rand, market anarchism is not Objectivism. Even setting aside the fact that Rand and “official Objectivism” reject anarchism, market anarchists hew to Ludwig von Mises’s subjective theory of value, as opposed to Rand’s “objective” elitist mutant gloss on the Labor Theory of Value. What’s a thing worth? Whatever it’s worth to you. Or to me. And if there’s a difference between the two, there’s a basis for voluntary mutual exchange.

Which brings us, I think, to property. Yes, market anarchists endorse the concept of property, but we differ among ourselves on what might rightfully be so classified. Ownership of one’s self and one’s labor is certainly a bedrock concept that enjoys unanimity among market anarchists. A consensus against the whole notion of “intellectual property” seems to be emerging in the market anarchist movement (and elsewhere). I expect we’ll be arguing among ourselves about tenure in land for the foreseeable future.

Perhaps the best way of looking at market anarchism is as a means rather than an end. As Jeremy put it (paraphrasing Hayek) in an email exchange with me, when market anarchists say “markets,” “we don’t simply mean transactional economics but the entire constellation of voluntary activities in society.”

For us, everything should be a matter of voluntary interaction and exchange. If that means that we have a worker-owned cooperative producing widgets over here, a joint-stock partnership hiring labor to produce gadgets over there, etc., that’s just fine. We’ll see how those ideas work out … once we’re rid of the state, and once the social and economic distortions produced by the state have had a little time to wash out of the fabric of human activity.

Which brings me full circle, and finally to a chance to quote and dispute Jeremy. “[W]e cannot,” he writes, “simply rally around a black flag; revolutionary consensus requires us to be honest about the change we seek, and to ally on the basis of that honesty.”

In my opinion, yes we can — si se puede! — simply rally around a black flag, at least for certain purposes.

In my opinion, the sole revolutionary consensus that figures greatly in what we ought to be doing, at this point in time, is “perish the state.”

There are many of us (although not enough, and I’ll return to that in a moment), and we have many viewpoints, but the one thing we all agree on is that the state has to go.

I’m not trying to minimize the importance of airing our disagreements. Nor am I going to try to tell you that you should support the Center for a Stateless Society if we’re saying things that you just can’t agree with or which militate against some specific change you seek.

Nor am I unmindful of the fact that the Center’s authors, myself included, do occasionally fall into the trap of, as Jeremy puts it “narrow agorist or market fundamentalist language.” Sometimes we let our bad sectarian selves run a little wilder than is appropriate to polite ecumenical anarchist society.

We’re not perfect. We’re not going to be perfect. There are several of us, with several viewpoints, and last month alone we put out more than 30 full-length op-ed pieces for submissions to newspapers. Every carpenter occasionally brings the hammer down, with full force, on his own thumb. Or, as once happened on a framing crew I worked with, runs a nail gun across someone else’s foot.

Even when we get it right from our perspective, we’re sometimes going to get it wrong from yours. There are too many of us for all of us to be happy with everything everyone else does.

Which brings me back to how many of us there are.

I can pinpoint the exact number: Not enough.

Last time I looked, there were about 6.9 billion people on this rock. I’d be surprised if as many as 100,000 of them are anarchist activists, if as many as 100 million of them are consciously ideological anarchists of any variety, or if as many as another 800 million have ever been confronted with and consciously considered the anarchist idea (THE anarchist idea: Perish the state).

But even if those — to my mind inflated — numbers proved out, that would leave six billion people to reach.

We — me, you, everyone reading this piece — are a thin black line standing between those six billion people and “a boot stamping on a human face — forever.”

The Center for a Stateless Society is one squad in that thin black line, and our mission is to get the — strike that “the,” how about “an” or even “any?” — anarchist message in front of as many of those six billion people as possible via the “mainstream media.”

That’s what we do. That’s all we do. All things considered, I think we’re doing it pretty well and getting better at it every day.

When we mess up, feel free to criticize us. When a Center writer’s vision clashes with yours, speak up (especially if you’re willing to do so in outwardly focused op-ed format and let me submit it to 2,000-plus newspapers!).

If you don’t do those things, we won’t learn new ways of doing things or get better at the things we do.

But so long as we work hard to successfully convey the single consensus message possible among anarchists — “perish the state” — I hope you’ll support us as well.

Free Markets & Capitalism?
Markets Not Capitalism
Organization Theory
Conscience of an Anarchist