John Robb, who writes about asymmetric warfare and networked organization, is one of my favorite writers. A central theme of his work is what he calls “systems disruption.” To disrupt centralized, hierarchical systems, it’s not necessary to take over or destroy even a significant portion of their infrastructures. It’s simply necessary to destroy the most vulnerable of their key nodes and render the overall system non-functional.
These vulnerable, high-value nodes are what Robb calls the “systempunkt.” It’s a concept borrowed from German blitzkrieg doctrine. The “schwerpunkt” was the most vulnerable point in an enemy’s defenses, on which an offensive should concentrate most of its force in order to achieve a breakthrough. Once this small portion of the enemy’s forces was destroyed, the rest could be bypassed and encircled without direct engagement. Likewise, a few thousand dollars spent incapacitating several nodes in a gas or oil pipeline system can result in disruption that costs billions in economic damage from fuel shortages and spikes in prices.
Actually capturing the bulk of the system’s infrastructure would be enormously costly — quite possibly costing the attacker more than it cost the enemy in economic damage.
We can apply these lessons to our own movement to supplant the state. Conventional politics aims at taking over the state’s policy apparatus and using it to implement one’s own goals. But taking over the state through conventional politics is enormously costly.
To a certain extent, from the perspective of the plutocrats and crony capitalists who run the system, the state itself is a systempunkt — if, that is, you start out with enough money to make seizing the key node a realistic possibility. A large corporation may donate a few hundred thousands to campaign funds or spend a similar amount hiring lobbyists, and in return secure billions in corporate welfare or regulatory benefits from the state.
But from our standpoint, that’s out of the question. Victory in conventional politics means we have to outcompete billionaires in a bidding war to control the state, and outdo them in navigating the rules of a policy-making process that their money already controls. The odds of carrying that off are about the same as the odds of beating the house in Vegas. You have to outcompete the RIAA in influencing “intellectual property” law, ADM and Cargill in setting USDA policy, the insurance industry in setting healthcare policy — and so on, ad nauseam.
And that’s not even counting the people higher up, the real government that persists untouched from one election to the next, that they never mentioned in your civics text: The drug cartels, the banks that launder drug money, the U.S.-backed death squads funded by such money, the Pentagon and CIA “black budgets,” and mercenaries like Halliburton and Blackwater. It’s a good thing the political system’s so heavily rigged in their favor, in a way. The reason those people don’t bring out the death squads is precisely that they don’t see conventional politics as a threat. Anyone presenting a credible threat of beating them in civics books politics would either be bought off or wind up like Jimmy Hoffa (or Paul Wellstone).
So how do anarchists deal with the state? How do we respond to state interventions, which protect its privileged corporate clients from competition by suppressing low-overhead, self-organized alternatives? How do we get the freedom to organize our lives the way we want, in the face of a government dedicated to keeping us on the corporate reservation in order to meet all our needs?
We must find some weak point besides gaining control of the state. For us, the state’s systempunkt is its enforcement capability. By attacking the state at its weak point, its ability to enforce its laws, we can neutralize its ability to interfere with our building the kind of society we want here and now — and we can do so at a tiny fraction of the cost of gaining power through conventional politics.
For example, conducting torrent downloads under cover of darknets, with the help of encryption and proxies, is a lot cheaper than trying to out-compete the money and lobbyists of the RIAA in influencing “intellectual property” law. The same is true of local zoning and licensing laws, which protect incumbent businesses from competition by low-overhead household microenterprises, and of attempts to enforce industrial patents against neighborhood micromanufacturers. To a large extent, similar measures — encrypted local currencies and barter systems, secure trust networks, etc. — can neutalize government’s power to tax and regulate the counter-economy out of existence.
Trying to capture the state is a loser’s game. But we don’t have to control the state or change the laws in order to end the special privileges of big business and the rentier classes. We just have to make the law unenforceable, so we can ignore it.