A Gang of Individuals Against Totality

All too often anarchism as a movement and a discourse is oriented towards collectivist ideology.  I mean this in a literal sense of an ideology.  Much of what is called anarchism seems to be more of a form of Hegelianism.  Possibly it becomes a way for Marxists to smooth out the more and more obvious contradictions of their ideology.  Continue reading

Identity Fraud

The word anarchist has long been used to label various people and movements that often are and have been quite different from each other in their approaches, ideas and goals.  People who have called themselves or been described by others as libertarians include individuals as diverse as Bakunin, Warren, Armand, Kropotkin, Michel, Stirner, Goldman, Mackay, Durruti, Arrigoni, Dolgoff, and Rothbard.  What made all of these folks anarchists was their opposition to the state, to governments of all kinds.  They all believed that the state was a pernicious force which crushed individual freedom and stood in the way of cooperation and mutual aid among equals.  But their ideas about how to destroy or circumvent the state and their actions intended to accomplish their goals varied tremendously.  Continue reading

You Always Act for Yourself

“… since expropriation is a way of getting away from slavery individually, the risks have to be borne individually, as well, and comrades who practice expropriation for themselves lose every right – if such a right even exists for anarchists, and I don’t believe it – to claim the solidarity of the movement when they fall into misfortune.”

Brand (Enrico Arrigoni)

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I took this quotation of Enrico Arrigoni (aka Frank Brand) from an article he wrote called “The Right* to Idleness and Individual Reappropriation” that appeared in his publication Eresia di oggi e di domani (Heresies of Today and Tomorrow – published in the mid to late 1920s). In the article, he didn’t only attack the doctrine of the “dignity of labor” then popular in radical circles, but also any moralistic conception of solidarity. Continue reading

The Drug War is Hell

Legalization of possession and use of marijuana is spreading gradually from state to state, but this should not be taken as a sign that the drug warriors have declared a truce in their murderous attempts to control what people smoke, ingest or inject. They have simply conceded one battle in this war, one that was becoming harder and harder to justify to the people of this country whose extorted tax payments fund this misguided adventure. Just as re-legalization of alcohol after prohibition was repealed did not lead to deregulation and free individual choice in when, where, and how people were allowed to imbibe, now-legal marijuana use is and will be regulated, controlled, limited, and taxed by those who feel it is their responsibility—no, right—to tell the rest of us how to live. Continue reading

Enemies

I am not your ally. We are not comrades. Leftism is merely another authoritarian ideology. Your very attitudes preserve the hegemony of the totality. You may try to redirect blame away from yourself, saying that we need to unite to fight the “real enemy.” Just because your leftist management and control strategy lost, & did not succeed in its attempt to dominate class society, does not mean that I am sympathetic to you. Nor do I feel pity. Merely disgust. Continue reading

Unsettling Science

“In science, theories are always hypothetical and provisional and are a convenient method of grouping and linking known facts, as well as a useful instrument for research, for the discovery and interpretation of new facts; but they are not the truth.”

“The scientist makes use of hypotheses to work on, that is to say he makes certain assumptions which serve him as a guide and as a spur in his research, but he is not a victim of his imagination, nor does he allow familiarity with his assumptions to be hardened into a demonstrated truth, raising to a law, with arbitrary induction, every individual fact which serves his thesis.”

These quotations, taken from two articles written by Errico Malatesta in the journals Umanità Nova and Pensiero e Volontà in 1922 and 1924, respectively, resonate strongly with me when I consider what passes for science today. Continue reading

ADDSMD: A Breakthrough Discovery in Psychiatry

According to the American Psychiatric Association, a new mental disorder has been discovered that is proving to be the greatest breakthrough in psychiatry in decades. According to Dr Ima Schrinquac, “ADDSMD is a recently discovered disorder, added in the latest update of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)” She went on to explain that ADDSMD stands for “Artificial Disorder Designed to Sell More Drugs.” Continue reading

To Market, To Market

In a review of anchorage anarchy in a recent edition of Anarchy, A Journal of Desire Armed, I am described by the author as a “non-anti-capitalist anarchist.” Around the same time I read this article, I also received a letter from a contributor to aa in which I was called to task for my use of the word market to describe the sort of economic relations I think would best serve free people.   While the Anarchy writer did not elaborate on why he chose the description he did, my correspondent did go on to say that he thinks “free people would determine the means of exchange/sharing/distribution that is most suitable for them & it would tend to be disorganized and fluid, where market implies a more structured approach.”

Both the reviewer and the letter-writer are people who have read a lot of what I have written about social and economic matters, yet one believes that I do not oppose capitalism despite my frequent statements to the contrary over the years, while the other thinks I use the wrong word to describe my vision of free economic exchange even though I have taken great pains on numerous occasions to clarify what I mean by the word market. Which leads me to believe that there must be others out there less familiar with my ideas who are also misinterpreting what I write. This leaves me in somewhat of a bind. If I continue to express my ideas using the words I customarily do, I apparently run the risk of not communicating my ideas clearly. But I am not convinced that if I simply start using other terms to talk about social and economic interactions between free individuals that I will be understood any better. What’s an anarchist to do?

 Word Games

All of us use words that can be interpreted in more than one way. Sometimes this is just in the nature of the word itself. If one looks up the word nature, for instance, you will find that it has two quite different meanings: “the phenomena of the physical world collectively” and “the basic or inherent features of something.” Despite this, most of the time people are able to figure out the meaning intended by the speaker or writer from the context in which the word is used and confusion seldom ensues.

This is not unreasonable. Although new words and new meanings for old words are added to languages all the time, this generally happens gradually and unpredictably. Which means there are only so many words out there to use in any language to describe interactions and relationships between people. Since it is very convenient in both writing and speaking to have a word or two one can use to describe a set of ideas or a type of social arrangement, people tend to use old words which may have multiple meanings, but have a least one definition that encompasses the ideas which they are attempting to communicate about.      When we discuss social and economic ideas and institutions, however, things become more complicated. People of very different viewpoints commonly use the same word to describe quite different interactions and arrangements, even thought the word itself really has only one meaning. The word socialism is a perfect example. Stalin and Hitler both called the political systems they ruled forms of socialism, mildly left members of the american democratic party call themselves socialists, social democratic parties in europe are part of the socialist international, and some anarchists use the word socialist to describe their outlook. In discussing these various forms of socialism, different descriptors are often tacked on to clarify the differences between these institutions and/or schools of thought: state socialism, democratic socialism, libertarian socialism, etc. So even though the word socialism was used by nazis to describe themselves, libertarian socialists continue to use the word because they believe both that it accurately describes the type of world they strive for and that they are able to adequately explain to others that the society they envision has nothing in common with national socialism.

This may breed confusion and misinterpretation, but the only alternatives are to either make up new words, or reuse words from other languages or eras to symbolize a specific school of thought. Marx was very successful using the latter approach when he gave life to the latin word proletarius in the form of the terms proletarian and proletariat. Sam Konkin, a capitalist anarchist tried something similar with the word agorist, from the greek word for market, agora. In neither case, however, did these new-fangled terms for workers and markets add any clarity to the arguments of the writers. Proletarian was all the rage in marxist circles for quite a while but has largely been replaced by the word worker, for which it was designed as a substitute, except when the writer or speaker is trying to emphasize their leftist credentials. Agorist and agorism never took off the way Marx’s terms did in the first place and remain only as a form of insider-speak among some market anarchists.

As for making up words de novo to solve the problem of how to communicate when words have more than one meaning, the best example of this fool’s errand is bolo’bolo. This book came out in 1983 and was a description of or recipe for a new type of society based on autonomous communities that would set their own rules. Similar to the theories of the panarchists, the writer envisioned a world where people could choose from all sorts of different communities with their own social and  economic  setups  and could move from bolo to bolo as their needs and wants changed over time. But in describing the features of this society he used a bunch of made-up words to label objects and groupings of people which could be more than adequately described using conventional words and phrases. Whatever the merits of the ideas contained in this book, the writer’s neologisms created more confusion than clarity for readers.

 Plain Words

So I have generally chosen to use ordinary words to describe my ideas and my vision of the free society. I use the term market when I talk about how people could fairly and freely exchange goods and services because the word can mean just such equitable commerce. I am careful to differentiate between a true free market, where the state would play no role and monopolies would not exist, and the mainstream concept of a free market which includes the new york stock exchange and general motors. When I have written about economic exchanges between people in different regions and criticized what passes for “free trade” in today’s world, I make my best effort to explain that there can be trade that is both free and fair, but it would look nothing like NAFTA or the european union. And when I speak of privatization I make it clear that I mean eliminating the role of government in the affairs of individuals and allowing people to provide goods and services to each other without intervention in and oversight of their interactions by the state—I do not mean handing over firefighting and health care to capitalist corporations.

But words are obviously loaded. Simply using words like market, free trade, privatization makes my viewpoint suspect to some anarchists. They cannot envision truly anarchist exchange and trade and assume that anyone who does is some sort of closet capitalist. This is remarkable to me since these same anarchists do not similarly suspect anarchist communists of harboring leninist tendencies (despite the fact that some clearly do) even though they use a word to describe themselves that was also used by some of the worst butchers ever to exercise power over other people.

I have written in multiple publications that I oppose state-sponsored monopoly capitalism because it is based on force and is by its nature coercive. I advocate an economic arrangement where people, whether as individuals or as voluntary groupings of individuals, freely exchange goods and services with each other either by barter or utilizing some form of money (another touchy term). But I oppose interest, profit, rent and absentee land ownership because they are unjust and constitute a form of theft of the wealth of others and are not the product of equitable exchange. No matter how many times I explain what I mean when I use the word market or exchange, or the expression free trade, and no matter how strongly I criticize the state and capitalism some anarchists refuse to take me at my word.

Part of this suspicion may be due to the fact that I have published articles written by anarchists who believe in a form of stateless, libertarian capitalism. But I have also published articles by anarchists from the other end of the economic spectrum, like Malatesta, and even non-anarchists like Rosa Luxemburg. I believe that all of these writers have things to say that are worth presenting and discussing. But that does not mean that I necessarily agree with all the things I have published. Just as I believe in a free market in goods and services, I favor a free market in ideas.

A Rose by Any Other Name

I realize that non-socialist, non-collective, non-syndicalist, non-feminist visions of a libertarian world are difficult for the typical anarchist to wrap their head around. And that, I believe, is the real problem here. Many socially-oriented anarchists are and have been tolerant and understanding of the individualist approach, but others are suspicious of any libertarian who doesn’t see the beauty in cooperatives and collectives and federations. Using different words to talk about what I think and believe will not change that. To me, market is shorthand for exactly what my correspondent described above: an unstructured, unsupervised method of exchange between free people. While that may not be the first thing that comes to mind when some of my readers see it in print, I know of no more appropriate one-word description of such a complex set of freely-chosen interactions. Neither capitalism nor socialism are models for a free society, so I will continue, at the risk of misinterpretation, to write about the anarchist alternative of free people, free exchange, free minds, and free markets.      Mainstream newspapers talk of anarchy in the streets in “failed states,” but that has not dissuaded libertarians from continuing to use the word to describe their goal. The fact that there were and are (authoritarian) collectives in state socialist/communist societies doesn’t keep some anarchists from using that word to describe their own projects. And though feminist can mean almost anything to anyone, anarchists still use it to describe themselves as well.

I realize that non-socialist, non-collective, non-syndicalist, non-feminist visions of a libertarian world are difficult for the typical anarchist to wrap their head around.  And that, I believe, is the real problem here. Many socially-oriented anarchists are and have been tolerant and understanding of the individualist approach, but others are suspicious of any libertarian who doesn’t see the beauty in cooperatives and collectives and federations.  Using different words to talk about what I think and believe will not change that.  To me, market is shorthand for exactly what my correspondent described above: an unstructured, unsupervised method of exchange between free people.  While that may not be the first thing that comes to mind when some of my readers see it in print, I know of no more appropriate one-word description of such a complex set of freely-chosen interactions.  Neither capitalism nor socialism are models for a free society, so I will continue, at the risk of misinterpretation, to write about the anarchist alternative of free people, free exchange, free minds, and free markets.

Heroes and Villains: A Review of Kontrrazvedka by Vyacheslav Azarov

Anarchists can’t seem to give up their heroes, no matter how badly they are shown to have behaved. When anarchists rule or kill or silence or tax others there is always some justification for these actions. Often the excuse is wartime conditions, but in other cases the misdeeds are seen as simple mistakes by well-intended class warriors. Apparently anarchists, especially anarchist leaders, are not to be held to the same standards as mere mortals or the “class enemy.”

The root of this willingness to justify unlibertarian actions by anarchists lies in the need for examples of supposedly successful anarchist experiments, for movements to look back at for inspiration, for larger-than-life leaders to admire and emulate. One sees this in the anarchist proclivity for naming their projects after anarchist icons like Emma Goldman, Lucy Parsons, Lysander Spooner, or Errico Malatesta. Other anarchists reanimate once-dead (one had hoped) anarchist tendencies like platformism or syndicalism. And anarchist authors continue to lionize and make excuses for hopelessly flawed historical anarchists and movements, whether it is Bakunin, the spanish revolution, or the ukrainian makhnovshchina. This tradition of apologizing for authoritarian anarchists continues in the 2008 book Kontrrazvedka by anarchist Vyacheslav Azarov.

The Libertarian KGB

When I ordered this book, subtitled The Story of the Makhnovist Secret Service, I was laboring under the illusion that this would be a critique of the authoritarianism of Makhno and his associates, of which the existence of an “anarchist” spy service serves as a perfect example. Imagine my surprise when this book turned out to be a glorification of the secretive, military style organization of the makhnovist apparatus which ruled over a large area of ukraine for a number of years early in the 20th century. Just as the details provided about the conduct of Makhno and his associates were either not new or not unexpected, the largely uncritical acceptance of their statist and hierarchical behavior was, sadly, quite predictable.

Throughout this book, as the author describes the structure of both the makhnovist army and its secret police he talks of officers, subordinates, directors. He describes alliances made by Makhno and the other leaders with both red and white armies, noting that Makhno actually served as an officer in the red army at times. He documents that the supposedly libertarian military stole (expropriated or requisitioned in the words of the author) food, clothing and other supplies from the people in areas they controlled.

And he goes on. Summary executions (liquidations according to Azarov) with or without the pretense of a trial appear to have been not uncommon when someone was identified as an enemy, but in other cases officers from the red army were absorbed by the makhnovist military and were allowed to retain their positions of authority. They sometimes allowed oppositional press and agitation, but other times suppressed it, dismissing officers for spreading bolshevik propaganda. The leaders appear to have based their decisions on some calculation of which approach best promoted their ends in the different situations, not on any ethical principles.

Makhno was referred to as batko or ataman, both of which are ukrainian names for authoritarian military leaders. And he happily lived up to this description. He gave orders, expected obedience, and had his own personal security service. The army had a representative, not participatory, structure where leaders were elected by some larger group but once in power acted like any other authoritarian leaders, expecting discipline, requiring obedience, and meting out punishment for those who would not comply.   That the differences between the various military organizations at-large were largely lost on rank-and-file soldiers is demonstrated by Azarov’s stories of the periodic realignment of some army units from red to white to anarchist. The military was the core institution of the makhnovshchina and constituted a government in all but name.

Both inside and outside the army, this supposed anarchist experiment was riddled with spies. In the non-military sphere there were networks of loyalists not unlike the committees for the defense of the revolution in cuba, always seeking to uncover hidden “anti-makhnovist elements” and ready to narc on their neighbors. In addition to the kontrrazvedka there was a military police force that was responsible for the maintenance of order and discipline in places where troops were stationed, as well as a commission for anti-makhnovist activities. While Azarov claims that Makhno allowed freedom of the press, he tells us of an episode where Makhno wanted to arrest and shoot the authors of articles that criticized him but was “talked…out of this with difficulty.”

The Road to Unfreedom

Azarov clearly demonstrates that the makhnovshchina was run by a military hierarchy which had more in common with the red army than it had differences from it. And this oxymoronic anarchist military was dominated by one person—Makhno. In a society supposedly striving for freedom and equality the batko was clearly more equal than others. There were commanders and those who obeyed, there were police, there were neighborhood spies, there were executions. The army took what it wanted from those it ruled and killed those it considered enemies. And all this time the makhnovists and their supporters spouted libertarian-sounding slogans, while behaving like authoritarians.

There were critics at the time all this was happening, including among the Nabat federation anarchists in ukraine. However, they tended to mute their criticism or offer “critical support,” under the misguided assumption that these quasi-anarchists following the batko might somehow evolve into real libertarians when they had won the war. Since that never happened, there is no way to know if, in fact, there would have been an epiphany in the makhnovshchina and Makhno would either have relinquished his authority or would have been forced from power by his former acolytes. His later advocacy of the platformist approach to anarchist organizing argues against that. As does the sad example of so many others, from bolsheviks to sandinistas, who justified their wartime authoritarianism as a requirement for victory, but continued to embrace the same statist approach even after the fighting was over and they had consolidated their power.

But Azarov, as others have done before him, continues to give Makhno a pass. While acknowledging the brutality of some of Makhno’s actions, the writer defends them on the basis that they weren’t as bad as those of Makhno’s opponents. He cites the numbers killed by the anarchists, reds, and whites in various situations to demonstrate that the libertarians killed far fewer people than did their enemies, as if there is some magic number at which murder morphs from justifiable to indefensible. A quote form the book illustrates Azarov’s view: “Nevertheless, any active organization of anarchists was compelled to make use of weapons and mechanisms of ‘the old society’ in order to pave the way towards an anarchical future. Compelled for the simple reason that there were no other effective mechanisms. The main question here is whether the anarchists could control these mechanisms or would there be yet another State generated under their, albeit black, banners.” The answer to that question is that Makhno’s army did constitute a state.

The author goes even further, though. He not only makes excuses, but in fact goes on to endorse the makhnovist approach. He writes: “[W]ithout the kontrrazvedka … the makhnovshchina would generally not have been able to develop its full strength and show the world the heights of the human spirit liberated from authority…The makhnovist kontrrazvedka…shows better than any other structure how competent, sensible, composed, and resourceful people can be who are true to the anarchist ideal.” Really? A top-down, thoroughly authoritarian army run by one person better demonstrates how libertarians could live freely together than do the numerous examples of anarchists engaging in workaday mutual aid, libertarian labor organizations, intentional communities like Modern Times, etc? The word doublespeak springs to mind.

Other Voices, Other Rooms

 The core problem with the makhnovshchina was that the participants never challenged the conventional model of statist societies and economies. They continued to have leaders and followers, officers and recruits, those who gave orders and those who obeyed them at risk of punishment including death. The most common excuse for this is that there was a war going on against the red and white authoritarians. The argument goes that if the libertarians didn’t win the war they would not have had any chance of setting up their anarchist society. In other words, the ends justify the means. This flies in the face of the anarchist insight that the means are just as important as the ends—that if you have to treat people like shit to get to a place where you believe they will be treated well, there is something wrong with your project. The free society will never be achieved by adopting the methods of the enemies of liberty.

This point is too often lost on libertarians who seem drawn to guerrilla movements and people’s militias which use anarchist (or even socialist)–sounding rhetoric while simultaneously maintaining a command structure within their organizations, universally pushing charismatic leaders up to the top to direct the struggle of the “masses.” Anarchists, like everyone else seem to need heroes, and like others are all too willing to look the other way when these idols do not live up to their principles or promises. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.      I am not a pacifist. I believe in armed self-defense as needed. But individuals and voluntary groupings fighting back against the attacks of others who wish to coerce them has nothing in common with an army or other military institution. Looking back on the events that took place in the makhnovshchina, Voline/Eichenbaum, one of the anarchists involved in this project, made exactly this point when he wrote at the end of The Unknown Revolution: “Any army, of whatever kind, is an evil, and even a free and popular army, composed of volunteers and dedicated to the defense of a noble cause, is by its very nature a danger…it becomes a collection of idlers who acquire antisocial, authoritarian and even dictatorial leanings, acquire also a taste for violence as a thing in itself, for the use of brute force even in cases where recourse to such means is contrary to the very cause it purports to defend.”

This point is too often lost on libertarians who seem drawn to guerrilla movements and people’s militias which use anarchist (or even socialist)–sounding rhetoric while simultaneously maintaining a command structure within their organizations, universally pushing charismatic leaders up to the top to direct the struggle of the “masses.”  Anarchists, like everyone else seem to need heroes, and like others are all too willing to look the other way when these idols do not live up to their principles or promises.  Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

On The Platform

I am not doubting the sincerity of the anarchist proposals of those Russian comrades.  They want to bring about anarchist communism and are seeking the means of doing so as quickly as possible.  But it is not enough to want something; one also has to adopt suitable means; to get to a certain place one must take the right path or end up somewhere else.  Their organization, being typically authoritarian, far from helping to bring about the victory of anarchist communism, to which they aspire, could only falsify the anarchist spirit and lead to consequences that go against their intentions.

In fact, their General Union appears to consist of so many partial organizations with secretariats which ideologically direct the political and technical work; and to coordinate the activities of all the member organizations there is a Union Executive Committee whose task is to carry out the decisions of the Union and to oversee the ‘ideological and organizational conduct of the organizations in conformity with the ideology and general strategy of the Union.’

Is this anarchist?  This, in my view, is a government and a church…The spirit, the tendency remains authoritarian and the educational effect would remain anti-anarchist.