Nameless: An Egoist Critique of Identity

Only when nothing is said about you and you are merely named, are you recognized as you. As soon as something is said about you, you are only recognized as that thing…  – Max Stirner

It’s amusing how often people confuse identity with individuality. Identity traces back to a Latin word meaning “sameness.” And sameness implies the existence of something with which I can be the same.

It is certainly possible to conceive of individuals as identical atoms bashing into each other—marxists like to assume that this is what individualists are talking about—but even atoms only become identical when you or I conceive of them as atoms, giving them an identity. Atomization is a process that has its basis in the denial of my unique individuality, and identification plays a part in this process.

Stirner referred to you and I, i.e., to any individual in the flesh at this moment, as “the unique” (der Einzige). In Stirner’s Critics, he explains that this is merely a name, nothing more. To speak, to write, he had to use a name. But, he wrote, “The unique … has no content; it is indeterminacy in itself…” To give it content before I live it out in my world, before you  live it out in your world, is to give it an identity, a sameness, to destroy it as unique. To give a conceptual content to the unique is to make it an absurdity.

But even as unique, I am forced to contend with identity. There are the banalities of having to identify myself,  for example, when entering a tavern, or when cashing a check, or when stopped by the cops. In every one of these instances, someone has been delegated a certain legal authority to make sure that I am  the   same  as  something  required  by their rules. Am I the same as someone old enough to drink? Am I the same as the one authorized to cash the check? Am I the same as a person with no outstanding warrants? Each of these identities are concepts that I am supposed to live up to. And if I fail, I suffer the consequences. But, in fact, no one is ever the same as any of these things. Even if I can meet each of these challenges to get what I want (some drinks, some needed cash, some distance from the pigs), I am not any of those things. And those who impose these tests on me are my enemies in that they impose abstractions onto my unique self, forcing a conformity to their rules and to a social requirement for personal consistency. They seek to undermine my ownness and with it my uniqueness.

    In addition, every ruling social order is set up only to process individuals in terms of categorical identities: race, gender, nationality, sexuality, etc. Though these are all fictions, they affect people physically and mentally. These categories have served as justifications for enslaving individuals, excluding individuals, placing restrictions on individuals, beating and killing individuals, etc, ad nauseum. It makes sense that those who have experienced abuse based on such categorical identities would unite to fight against this abuse and those who carried it out. What doesn’t make sense to me is that most of those who unite for this purpose don’t base their unity on their shared desire to eradicate the abuse, but rather on the categorical identity that has served to justify this abuse. In other words, they choose to unite not as enemies of an order they aim to destroy, but as victims of an order from which they want recognition and justice. A social order can only recognize categories, not unique individuals. Justice can only deal with what can be measured and weighed, i.e., what can be compared and equated. Identity, sameness, belonging to a group, different ways of expressing the requirement for social recognition and justice. I, as an egoist aware of my uniqueness, respond differently, as an enemy, aiming to destroy categorical identity and those who benefit from it immediately as I experience them here and now. If I unite with others, they will be those whose aims and powers enhance my own. Not identity politics, but the destruction of identity and politics, in favor of myself and my associations.

But I am not a moralist. I may well find uses for identity in some sense, even while recognizing that it is always a lie. In fact, I use identity whenever I say “I.” In this word, I identify myself here and now, my immediate concrete self, with my concept of myself in the past. As unique (i.e., as I exist concretely here and now), I am not the same as that, but I choose to unite myself with that, even to the extent of identifying with it, because it gives me a significant power in relating to my world and in interacting with others, just as identifying others with the past forms of these others that I have encountered enhances that power. So here, identity can become my tool. However, here as well, I am not talking about categorical identity, but about personal identity, equations that I make for myself, knowing full well that they are nothing more than conceptual tools for my use, for enhancing my self-enjoyment. If I take them to be myself, I am deluding myself.

Recently, I have come across communiqués from individuals (apparently acting in small groups) who describe themselves as individualist-nihilists and egoist-nihilists, laying claim to various attacks against the ruling order. Anyone who rebels and attacks the ruler order for themselves is certainly my comrade. I feel a kinship with her even if I don’t agree with all of his decisions about how he goes about her action. But I wonder why someone who’s acting for himself, from his own life, feels the need to lay claim to her action at all, let alone by using a group name, creating a group identity. If I choose to attack the ruling order or to act against the law in any other way, this choice springs from the immediacy of my life here and now, and I owe no one an explanation. Nor do I need the inspiration of other actions to move me. It is my own life and my own opportunities that move me. It’s true that a rebellious act may move the rebel with passion so she wants to express her rage and joy. Then he might write to claim his act, but there is no need to do so and a great deal of wisdom in not doing so. But what I question most in this is that individuals who claim an act in this way are taking on an identity. This is why they have to name themselves (and as beautiful and poetic as some of these names are, they remain labels for an identity). The signed communiqué replaces the immediate fleeting meaning of the action for the unique individuals who carried it out with a permanent meaning intended to explain the action to an audience. With permanent meanings come permanent identities    and    the   unique   individuals disappear into this crystallized form. A unique individual, acting for herself, is nameless. She is nameless, because her existence is too immediate and fleeting for any name that is not completely empty of meaning or thought to express him. If he chooses to act, it makes sense for him to act anonymously, without an identity. If she chooses to talk about her act, to make it a matter for conversation or debate, or to let others know that they are not alone in their rebellion, it makes sense for her to do this anonymously as well. It isn’t difficult to figure out how. The individual, acting from his uniqueness, has no need to identify with his action, she was completely in that action at the moment that she did it. In any case, the full implications of claiming one’s acts should be a matter for ongoing debate without taking away from the solidarity and kinship one feels with those who in their rebellion make different choices.

Identity is about defining what you are. As I said, there are moments when playing with such definitions may make sense (or give pleasure). But these definitions, these identities can never be me. They can, however, become prisons locking me into the cell of a role or a set of roles. And if I am not to be a slave, I have to reject these roles, except as occasional masks I may don when it serves my interests. Of course, when I don’t conform to roles, I become unpredictable, I become fleeting, I become unintelligible to the institutions and to those with institutional ways of viewing their worlds. Stirner says, in Stirner’s Critics, that he “names the unique and says at the same time that ‘names don’t name it’…” Precisely as a unique individual I am nameless, precisely as such I have no identity. I am  simply myself here and now.

Anarchy, Neither Capitalist nor Communist

Jason’s article on Stirner and capitalism later in this issue serves to clarify an important point which too many anarchists fail to recognize; that opposition to collectivist economic and social arrangements does not make one a supporter of capitalism.   Stirner and most other egoists and individualists have been at least as critical of capitalist economic relations as they have been of capitalism’s socialist and communist critics.  But this very consistent and clear individualist opposition to capitalism throughout the history of the movement, from Stirner through Tucker and Warren to the Mackay Society and Bad Press seems to have been missed by some of our critics on the left of the anarchist movement.

Partly this is because at least some of us write and talk about markets, money and prices as viable devices to guide economic and social relationships in a stateless world.  We defend private property and tenure of land and living quarters based on use and occupancy.  We believe individuals do not owe anything to anyone else unless they freely entered into an agreement with other folks to cooperate in some project or exchange some goods or services.  Apparently, since we use some of the same words as do supporters of capitalism, there are those in the libertarian movement who would group us with them.

But we also condemn profit, rent, interest, and intellectual property.  And we believe that none of these methods of extorting wealth from productive people and transferring it to the rich would be possible without the existence of the band of armed thugs who defend economic inequity, ie, government in its various forms, and we therefore oppose the state and all forms of authority as well.  We support workers’ control and ownership of their workplaces and what they produce.  We support squatting of unused living spaces.  And we support any form of social interaction, whether cooperative or competitive, which is freely chosen and from which one is free to walk away when they so choose.  This sounds like no form of capitalism with which I am familiar.

What’s in a Name?

While much of the anarchist movement defines itself by its opposition to capitalism, it fails to show a similar level   of    contempt   for   socialism   and communism.  In fact, many anarchists continue to identify themselves as anarchist communists or libertarian socialists.  By doing so they demonstrate a belief that the real-world examples of socialist and communist societies with which we are all familiar, so-called “actually existing socialism,” are not the only kind of socialist societies that are possible.  And this is despite the fact that the socialist societies created since the russian revolution have been at least as tyrannical, murderous and exploitative as any capitalist society could ever hope to be.  Yet, they find it acceptable to label their movement and their ideas with the same words used by Stalin and Mao to describe the abattoirs they ruled.

There has never been a real world socialist/communist society that could be mistaken for anything approaching an anarchy.  And I am not speaking here just of the marxist-leninist states like the ussr, china, or korea.  The various flavors of african socialism, whether in Nkrumah’s ghana or Nyerere’s tanzania were all authoritarian as well, even if less brutal than those in europe and asia.

Furthermore, in the few instances where supposedly anarchist communists were in a position to help build libertarian societies, as in spain in the thirties and the ukraine around 1920, the anarchists acted like authoritarians.  While they were quick to dismantle capitalist economic structures, they were far less interested in destroying the state and other authoritarian institutions.  They had armies with command structures, conscription and even the death penalty.  There were leaders and followers.  These were not anarchist societies.

A Curse on Both Your Houses

Capitalism as we know it is loathsome.   But so is socialism as we know it.  Anarchist communists say that the socialist countries were and are examples of authoritarian socialism, while they work towards a libertarian socialism which will look entirely different.  But they are deaf to the arguments of individualists who say that the free markets, free exchange, and free trade we advocate have nothing in common with authoritarian capitalism.  Anything that resembles, in their minds, capitalism is not acceptable.

Reading the anarchist press one often finds far more criticism of capitalism than of the state.  And such antigovernment sentiment often seems an afterthought.  Such a focus on opposing capitalism, and prioritizing that over a critique of government and authority itself, is what leads so many anarchists to applaud authoritarian leftist militias like the zapatistas and the sandinistas before them, to wear (and sell) t-shirts bearing the image of Che, and to talk approvingly of Mondragón which is riddled with authority and inequity and often acts like any traditional capitalist enterprise.  I fail to see how support for authoritarian means will produce libertarian ends.

The State and Revolution

Although I favor individualist arrangements over collectivist ones, I believe that people should be free to partner with others in any sort of social or economic activity they choose, as long as no coercion is involved.  And the only way to rid the world of coercion is to eliminate the state and other authoritarian institutions.  Anarchists, whether socialist or individualist, need to be promoting this message.

We all oppose the various flavors of authoritarian government around the world, whether capitalist or (at least nominally) socialist.  But when the government of the united states is criticized by anarchists it is often as an agent of capitalists, while the soviet government would never have been attacked by libertarians as a representative of communists, despite the fact that that is what its rulers called themselves.  In both the old ussr and today’s usa, quite different authoritarian societies and economies were/are imposed on unwilling victims.  Such subjugation is not a function of any particular economic system, it is a result of a political system, of a state.

That is the message that anarchists should be sending out.  The anarchists of europe long ago separated themselves from the rest of the socialist movement because they believed that the state was at the root of the problems experienced by working people.  Their critique of government and authority—at least on paper—was what distinguished them from the authoritarians in the movement of their day.  Unfortunately, today’s anarchist left seems far more interested in being part of the anti-capitalist opposition that in offering an anarchist critique of both that movement and the state.  That does not bode well for the future of freedom.

Stirner and Capitalism

There is a curious statement in Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea’s novel Illuminatus!:

“Most anarchists hoped Joachim-like, to redistribute the wealth, but Rebecca had once told him about a classic of anarchist literature, Max Stirner’s The Ego and His Own, which has been called ‘the Billionaire’s Bible’ because it stressed the advantages the rugged individualist would gain in a stateless society.” (53)

For those of us who have read Stirner, this is an odd statement.  It might be assumed that this was purposeful, one of Wilson’s guerrilla ontology tactics, and that it was put forward in such a manner only to later deconstruct its underlying assumptions.  Of course, equally possible it was meant at face value, particularly considering Wilson’s soft spot for free-market libertarianism and capitalism.  This sort of view of Stirner, and egoism in general, is an all too common assumption.  Stirner is often viewed as a proponent of an extreme form of anarcho-capitalism.  This view, however, is unfounded.

There is a common misconception that Stirner was some sort of rogue capitalist.  Certainly some of his disciples have contributed to this notion.  In his writings, Stirner rarely ventured into the realm of economics.  When he did so it was to dispel the spooks of economics.  He argued that people by nature are egoists, and that ideologies to the contrary merely serve as rationalization and justification for egoism.  It would be better to be honest about motivation.  It has been common for some to equate this viewpoint with capitalism.  The underlying assumption made by many is that capitalism is individualist, thus Stirner supported capitalism.  This is not what Stirner said.

Most of Stirner’s concepts and projects were negative, that is they were intended to break down structures and ideologies.  One of the few positive projects he proposed is the “Union of Egoists”(79), which he did not really define.  By nature this union could not be strictly defined, as it is fluid, open and dynamical.  It was a proposal for individuals to come together with others, in a fashion that does not compromise the self, but rather amplifies it.  He never proposed that individuals should not work together or share.  On the contrary, friendship may be one of the most powerful egoist tools.  The egoist can give up many things for friendship, as Stirner argued:

“I can with joy sacrifice to him numberless enjoyments, I can deny myself numberless things for the enhancement of his pleasure, and I can hazard for him what without him was the dearest to me, my life, my welfare, my freedom.  Why, it constitutes my pleasure and my happiness to refresh myself with his happiness and his pleasure.  But myself, my own self, I do not sacrifice to him, but remain an egoist and – enjoy him”(290).

Some might mistake his skepticism and criticism of alternatives, such as communism, as a defense of capitalism.  I don’t think that it is.  When he said “If you know a better medium of exchange, go ahead; yet it will be a ‘money’ again”(274), it seems to be a criticism that communism is merely a new form of capitalism.  Really, the egoist wants autonomy and liberty for themselves, and the autonomy and liberty of others enhances this.  The problems of capitalism, such as division of labor, were dealt with by Stirner, such as when he argued that “if I do not trouble myself about my affair, I must be content with what pleases others to vouchsafe me.  To  have bread is my affair, my wish and desire, and yet people leave that to the bakers”(275).

The structure of capitalism is not a reflection of individualism or egoism.  It isn’t even necessary to refer to Stirner to come to this conclusion.  Capitalism relies on a massive structure of manufacturing and social control.  It has division of labor at its root.  Division of labor is not the same as specialization.  Specialization means that a person may have a particular set of skills that they are most adept at, or most enjoy.  Division of labor means that each task is broken down into repetitive blocks in order to improve efficiency.  A person cannot build a car themselves, they are reliant on a massive megamachine of manufacturing.  Even if a person has all the mechanical skills to assemble the pieces, they do not have the capability to manufacture the pieces or to forge the necessary tools or to mine the raw materials for its production.  This always relies on a collective form, and of the worst sort.  This is a form that has alienation, boredom and even slavery as its component parts.

It may be beneficial to look towards Raoul Vaneigem for some ideas as to how to get out of this position.  Vaneigem was one of the primary theorists of the Situationist International, and might have his philosophy defined as egoist communism.  He criticized masters not on moral grounds, but because “masters, and God himself, are weak because of the shortcomings of those whom they govern.  The master knows the positive role of alienation, the slave its negative one, but both are denied full mastery”(204).  Capitalism eliminates the masters, leaving “just slaves-who-consume-power, distin-guishable from one another only by reference to the relative quantity of power they consume”(207).  Vaneigem proposed a solution to this problem, the coming of “masters without slaves”(207).  In his view, the proletariat should adopt an egoist position and become “the bearer of the end of class distinctions and of hierarchy”(213).

In the end, the egoist is no friend of capitalism.  It is another spook to be destroyed.  The writing of Stirner reflects this.  Yet one doesn’t need Stirner to come to this conclusion, it is obvious when considering the nature of capitalism, the megamachine that turns individuals into components of an artificial system.  Petit bourgeois tactics, such as becoming an independent craftsman, may be useful survival strategies on a temporary basis, but make terrible ideologies.  The individual is never free under capitalism, even if they get a bigger cubicle.  I want to destroy the walls of the cubicle, escape from work and production altogether.  I don’t want to do this alone, though.  I want a union of egoists to join me.  At first a limited union may feel like enough but soon the mere possibility of having to encounter slavery in any form will feel disgusting enough that it will have to be destroyed, just out of fear that it might spread its infection.

Works cited:

Stirner, Max.  The Ego and His Own.  trans.

Stephen T Byington. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1973, 2005.

Vaneigem, Raoul.  The Revolution of Everyday Life.  trans.  Donald Nicholson-Smith.  London, Rebel Press, 1983, 2006.

Wilson, Robert Anton and Robert Shea.  The Illuminatus! Trilogy. NY: Dell, 1975, 1988.

Property

In present society property is only the privilege of a small minority, compared to the multitude of the working classes.  Whatever may be the nature of the object possessed—a field, a house, plant for production, cash, etc, its owner has acquired it either by exploiting others, or by inheritance, and in the latter case the origin of the wealth is the same as in the former.

Moreover, what do the owners of this wealth do with it?  Some use it to obtain, in exchange, a life of leisure, to taste all sorts of pleasures to which money gives sole access.  These are the idlers, the parasites who excuse themselves from all personal effort and merely rely on that of others.  Continue reading

Our Demands as Individualist Anarchists

Note by John Zube

The following is merely the translation of a translation.  It was written in French by E Armand, published 1945 in l’Unique, and reprinted in LA FEUILLE, published by the Association Max Stirner du Quebec, CP 95, Stn Place D’Armes, Montreal.  The translation into German for publication in Lernziel Anarchie, No. 4, was done by CR. 
This German version is here roughly translated into English by John Zube, 30.12.1985.
  In the comment it is mentioned that Armand’s book (L’Initiation individualiste anarchiste 1923, 344 pp, ed de L’En Dehors) is out of print.  An improved and enlarged edition came out in Italian.

The individualist anarchists in the meaning of the UNIQUE (of Stirner’s The Ego and His Own) do advocate a “society without coercion.”  This implies the following demands, which are unqualified and without reservations.  It is self-evident that these demands are to be realized, completely or partly, as far as is possible.

Individualists of our kind recognize every society as a “Society without Coercion” in which the State and any other aggressive power is eliminated, in which there is no longer any domination of man over man or over a sphere of society (and vice versa) and in which an exploitation of man by man or of man through social institutions (and vice versa ) is impossible.

Thereupon the following demands arise:

1) FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT to decide for oneself in all respects.
  This means that every unit in society moves according to its own discretion, develops itself, gathers experiences in accordance with its own preferences, corresponding to its talents, reasoning and personal resolutions.
  In short, the individual is responsible only to himself (or to those to whom he has obliged himself) for all his actions.
  This freedom finds its limits where the equal freedom of others begins and the danger arises that others are harmed.

2) FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT to chose and practise one’s profession and to utter one’s opinion orally and in writing, publicly and privately.

3) FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT to join any association that has definite and predetermined purposes or any other association of any kind.

4) FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT to decide for oneself either for or against any expression of solidarity, for and against any contractual obligation of whatever kind and in whatever sphere of human activity and without regard to its aims and its duration.  Likewise, the right to freely decide upon withdrawal from a contractual situation, within the framework of clearly predetermined contractual conditions.  One precondition is that, in case a contract offer is declined or a contract is dissolved, the dissenters are not penalized or maligned.  But when a contract is dissolved then neither disadvantages nor any harm must arise for the partner that would be contrary to the form and contents of the contract.

5) FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT for producers and consumers and other partners to negotiate, whether alone or in groups.  Full and unrestricted right, regardless of the sphere of activities and their purpose, to select the persons and societies of one’s confidence and to authorize them, especially teachers, instructors, physicians, lawyers and arbitrators.

6) FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT to determine and change the value or price of any goods, their own products or consumer goods, of whatever kind, according to one’s own discretion.  Likewise untouchable is the right to negotiate in this respect, to use an arbitrator or to do without any determination of values.

7) FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT for every individual and every association or group to use any money that applies as a means of exchange to themselves, for their goods and service exchanges, to issue it themselves or to accept that issued by others, provided that this is always done by agreement and not under any monopolistic coercion.  The same applies to the so-called labour bonds and goods warrants and similar certificates, to bills, letters of credit etc, whether they are negotiable or not.  Consequently, there is a definite right to utilize any voluntarily recognized means of payment for all economic transactions, as long as it is not subjected to any legal tender.  With this is meant the unrestricted right to utilize any other kind of means of exchange, provided that an acceptor is found who decides for it without any coercion.

8) FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT for individuals and groups, to compete for any job or contract, provided that the applicants are not prevented from fully informing and improving themselves.
  Likewise untouchable are the rights to act creatively in accordance with one’s desires, to move and settle freely and to advertise one’s own cause or services.

9) FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT to exhibit and realize in any sphere of culture and economics one’s opinions or services. There is no other limitation upon this than the condition that nothing may be forced upon others.  They may freely decline whatever does not appeal to them.  Under this condition the unrestricted right to freedom of expression applies and the right to propagate and teach a theory and to undertake experiments and gather experiences, even when this applies to economic, philosophic, scientific, religious, educational, artistic or any other spheres of activity.

10) FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT to live from the returns of one’s own services or production, even alone, outside of any group or community or society itself, at one’s own risk.
  Likewise unrestricted is the right to seek to live together with a partner, in a family, in a patriarchal or matriarchal society, in free associations and communes, in close ideological association of whatever kind.

11) FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT to decide for oneself to join any association or league whose libertarian aims embrace any kind of human activity or search for knowledge.  This applies to associations for any economic, intellectual, ethical, emotional recreational or other purpose and, especially for all spheres of production, consumption, trade, communication, insurance against all possible risks, educational methods and systems, to the utilization of scientific discoveries and of naturally or artificially produced energies.

12) FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT to secede from any kind of association, but in accordance with the principles and clauses agreed upon when it was established.

13) FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT for any association, league, cooperative etc. to organize itself in a way that suits its members best.  This includes the right to order internal affairs at one’s own discretion, in accordance with an internal constitution that applies only to the voluntary members.

14) FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT to settle upon and utilize for oneself any non-inhabited and not claimed locality or real estate, provided that thereby the equal right of others is not infringed and no one else is exploited thereby.  
Under this condition the individual has an incontestable right to possess his means of production (tradesman’s tools, instruments, machines, land, minerals, etc).
  This requires also the freedom to dispose oneself over the returns from or product of one’s own labour—to the  extent that no domination over or exploitation of others is involved.
  Moreover, the individual shall be guaranteed the unrestricted right to exchange or dispose of his products upon the market or in any other way, regardless whether he does so for payment or under any other condition.
  Any association or community has the equal right to apply within their own organization the principles here explained or similar ones.

15) FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT for each individual and, likewise, for any member of an organized  society, to dispose freely over his personal property, ie, over the utilization rights and the returns that he receives in exchange for his personal labour services and which assure him his support, his accommodation  (and, especially for the individual, the means of production).

16) FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT to express affection for others and preference for anything, according to one’s own discretion, provided that neither any deception or any fraud is associated with this and, most importantly, no one is harmed, restricted or in any way reduced thereby.

17) DEMANDS THAT APPLY ESPECIAL-LY TO WOMEN AND MOTHERS: 
FULL AND UNRESTRICTED RIGHT for every woman, whether alone or in partnership, to determine for herself her readiness to become a mother.
  A child shall remain only as long under supervision or custody until it has reached an age in which it can self-responsibly engage in contracts and associations.  This applies also to the guardianship for a child.  The mother possesses priority in this–which she may completely or partly transfer to another person or institution.

18) DEMANDS APPLYING ESPECIALLY TO CHILDREN:
 FULL AND UNRE-STRICTED RIGHT for the child, boy or girl, to demand an alteration or complete change in its wardship condition.  The child may ask for an early declaration that it is of full legal age or for the clarification of any other problem.  In this case the child has the right to arbitration and the right to chose the arbitrator or at least one of the arbitrators.

57 Varieties of Anarchist Thought

The aim of anchorage anarchy has always been to provide an anarchist  perspective that emphasizes the importance of individual freedom.  Without absolute liberty for people to act as they choose, as long as they do not initiate force against others or otherwise limit the equal freedom of others to live as they please, there can be no anarchist society worthy of the name.  Continue reading

An excerpt from Anarchist Individualism as Life and Activity

To say that the anarchist movement embraces several tendencies is not to put forward anything new; it would be surprising if it were otherwise.  Non-political, outside of parties, this movement owes its existence solely to the individual personalities of which it is composed.  Since there is no a priori anarchist programme, since there are only anarchists, it follows that each one of those who call themselves anarchists has his own conception of anarchism…To ask that all anarchists should have similar views on anarchism is to ask the impossible.  Continue reading

Manifesto [A Rare And Interesting Document]

Introductory Note

 Josiah Warren was undoubtedly the first American anarchist; as such he devoted most of his life towards the betterment of mankind.  In spite of his individualistic tendencies which are so characteristic of the spirit of our old American pioneers, he was heart & soul for ALL, and for a society where peace and tranquility would be the dominant factors.

It is also true that Josiah Warren was by nature and tradition a born rebel against all injustices & human hardships.  His writings have shown the way toward liberation & annihilation of all archaic forms of slavery, and above all, he stood fast on his conviction of the SOVEREIGNTY OF THE INDIVIDUAL.

The entire world is today, as never before, under a total eclipse of confusion and disillusionment, due mostly to the manifestation of a perverted “ism”, which has darkened almost the entire horizon of the universe and which seeks to destroy ruthlessly all democratic principles based on truth & justice.  This too, we hope, shall pass into oblivion.

By bringing to light again this important document, we thought it might fill a gap long missed by students interested in libertarian subjects! And I am certain that a scholar like Dr.  Paul Eltzbacher, who wrote his interesting work, Anarchism, would have made good use of any of Josiah Warren’s material, but unfortunately none was available in Europe or elsewhere, with the exception of U.S., where little, if any, can still be traced at some historical shrine.  Apropos of this neglect by our librarians everywhere, I should like to quote a few lines from the Introduction to his great work on Anarchism: “At present there is the greatest lack of clear ideas about Anarchism and, that not only among the masses, but among scholars and statesmen…” and a little further in the same Introduction he says: “Anarchistic writings are very scantily represented in our public libraries.  They are in part so rare that it is extremely difficult for an individual to acquire even the most prominent of them.”

This was written about half a century ago; it is still considered by ardent followers of this philosophy as the most authentic and reliable study on this subject.  There is an American edition of this work, published by Benjamin R.  Tucker (1908), but it is long out of print.

As to Josiah Warren’s own publications I like to quote here from another great scholar and bibliophile, Dr.  Max Nettlau.  The following is extracted from an unpublished letter addressed by him to Ewing C.  Baskette, dated May 26, 1936, in which he mentions one of Warren’s early publications: The Peaceful Revolutionist (1833):

“I should like to know who has ever seen it? If there is a copy anywhere, it should be mostly treasured and removed to one of the most important libraries in New York or Washington.”

Unfortunately, neither of these two libraries have it listed.  I shall do my utmost to reprint other items by this author, as time and effort will permit.

Joseph Ishill

September, 1952

An impression has gone abroad that I am engaged in forming societies.  This is a very great mistake, which I feel bound to correct.

Those who have heard or read anything from me on the subject, know that one of the principal points insisted on is, the forming of societies or any other artificial combinations IS the first, greatest, and most fatal mistake ever committed by legislators and by reformers.  That all these combinations require the surrender of the natural sovereignty of the INDIVIDUAL over her or his person, time, property and responsibilities, to the government of the combination.  That this tends to prostrate the individual—To reduce him to a mere piece of a machine; involving others in responsibility for his acts, and being involved in responsibilities for the acts and sentiments of his associates; he lives & acts, without proper control over his own affairs, without certainty as to the results of his actions, and almost without brains that he dares to use on his own account; and consequently never realizes the great objects for which society is professedly formed.

Some portion, at least, of those who have attended the public meetings, know that EQUITABLE COMMERCE is founded on a principle exactly opposite to combination; this principle may be called that of Individuality.  It leaves every one in undisturbed possession of his or her natural and proper sovereignty over its own person, time, property and responsibilities; & no one is acquired or expected to surrender any “portion” of his natural liberty by joining any society whatever; nor to become in any way responsible for the acts or sentiments of any one but himself; nor is there any arrangement by which even the whole body can exercise any government over the person, time, property or responsibility of a single individual.

Combinations and all the institutions built upon them are the inventions of Man; and consequently, partake of more or less of man’s shortsightedness and other imperfections; while EQUITABLE COMMERCE is a simple development of principles, which, although new to the public, are as old as the creation, and will be as durable.

This understanding is very natural; because, all attempts at radical reformation known to have been founded on combinations; the failure of all these has destroyed confidence, and the public, not being aware of any other principle, conclude that this is another proposal of the same kind and must fail like the rest.  I respect their judgment and believe with them, that every attempt to improve their social condition by the formation of societies or any artificial combination (however ingeniously devised, however purely intended or honestly conducted,) must and will defeat their own objects and disappoint all who are engaged in them.

The failure of the experiments on the community system in New Harmony during the two years trial from 1825 to 1827, sufficiently proved this to my mind, & led to the conviction that the process of combination is not capable of working out the great objects of society; but, the opposite principle, that of Individuality and the process of DISCONNECTION,[1] after much close and severe investigation were found to possess or to lead to all the redeeming and regenerating powers necessary for the complete solution of the great social problem.—Indeed they appeared to promise too much to believe, too much hope; so much, that the discoverer (if we must so call him) dare not communicate his thoughts to his intimate acquaintances for fear of being accounted insane.  His only course, therefore, was to prove everything in PRACTICE previously to bringing it before the public.

A whole new course of investigations and experiments were then commenced; the first of which was the “Time Store” in Cincinnati which was opened in May, 1827.  This was conducted three years, when it was wound up for the purpose of carrying the principles into all the commerce of life; and the interval between that time and the present has been employed (as far as private circumstances would permit) either in further developments or in preparation for them.

The principles have been applied to the management and education of children, which go to show the radical mistake and the great cause of defeat on this important subject.

The principles have also been applied to the purchase and sale of land & almost all other kinds of property, and to the interchange of almost all kinds of labor including that of merchants, lawyers, physicians, teachers, the conductor of a boarding house, etc., through every step of which, the sovereignty of the individual was strictly preserved and invariably respected.  No legislation of any description assumed control over the individual in any case whatsoever; and such was the complete individuality of action that hundreds dealt at the Time Store without understanding much of its principles or its objects; but they perceived that it was their interest to do so, thus demonstrating that the business of the community can be brought into this condition by a natural and irresistible process; without combination, without organisation, without laws, without government, without the surrender of any “portion” of the natural liberty of the individual; demonstrating also that reformation need not wait till the world becomes learned: but the practical operation constitutes a process of re-education which no one can estimate without experience, and which the learned are most backward in acquiring.

Such, too has been the complete individuality of action throughout all the experiments that although hundreds have taken some part in them, they are in no way distinguished as a sect, a party or a society; the public in general do not and will not know them; excepting so far as each individual chooses to identify himself or herself with these principles.

Public influence is the real government of the world.  Printing makes this governing power; therefore, among the preparations for the general introduction of these subjects are a simplification of printing and printing apparatus which brings this mighty power to the fireside and within the capacities of almost any one of either sex who may choose to use it; thus is this and every other subject of real reformation rendered independent of the common press whose conductors are generally too much absorbed or too much interested in things as they are, too much under public influence or too superficial in their habits of thinking to do this subject justice in its commencement.

The experiments and preparations are now concluded, and the results are on record or in the possession of living witnesses, and are now becoming the groundwork of practical operations in this neighborhood.  Those who wish to become acquainted with the subject can obtain the particulars at the public meetings or by reading THE EQUITABLE COMMERCE GAZETTE which is to be published for this purpose; but the following are some of the most prominent features of EQUITABLE COMMERCE.

It goes to establish a just and permanent principle of trade which puts an end to all serious fluctuations in prices and consequently, to all the insecurity and ruin which these fluctuations produce; and to build up those who are already ruined.

It tends to put a stop to all kinds of speculation.

It has a sound and rational circulating medium, a real and definite representative of wealth.  It is based exclusively on labor as the only legitimate capital.  This circulating medium has a natural tendency to lessen by degrees the value and the use of money, and finally to render it powerless; and consequently to sweep away all the crushing masses of fraud, iniquity, cruelty, corruption and imposition that are built upon it.

The circulating medium being issued only by those who labor, they would suddenly become invested with all the wealth and all the power; and those who did not labor, be they ever so rich now, would as suddenly become poor and powerless.

It opens the way to employment for those who want it, by simple arrangement which has a natural tendency to keep the supply in rational proportion to the demand.

It solves the great and difficult problem of machinery against labor.  On this principle, in proportion as machinery throws workmen out of employment, it works for them; and the way is always open to a new employment, as equitable commerce abolishes profit on mystery, disregards the customary apprenticeships and brings all kinds of knowledge within the reach of those who want it.

The necessity of every one paying in his own labor for what he consumes, affords the only legitimate and effectual check to excessive luxury, which has so often ruined individuals, states and empires; and which has now brought almost universal bankruptcy upon us.

Equitable commerce furnishes no offices to be filled by the ambitious and aspiring, no possible chance for the elevation of some over the persons or property of others; there is, therefore, no temptation here for such persons; and they will not be found among the first to adopt EQUITABLE COMMERCE.  It appeals, first, to the most oppressed, the humble, the down-trodden, & will first be adopted by them and by those who have no wish to live upon others, and by those whether among the rich or poor whose superior moral or intellectual qualities enable them to appreciate some of the unspeakable blessings that would result from such a state of human existence.

These are some of the most prominent features of EQUITABLE COMMERCE; and will be perceived that they are precisely the features which a great, redeeming revolution ought to possess: but they are so extraordinary, so out of the common course and current of things that they will be denounced by some as visionary and impracticable.  I am prepared for all this, and I am also prepared to prove that all the most important applications of the principles HAVE BEEN made; and have proved themselves sound beyond all successful contradictions; and to show that upon these principles, it is perfectly practicable for almost any person to begin at once to enjoy some of the advantages herein set forth; and by degrees to emancipate himself or herself from the crushing iniquity and suffering of (what is called) civilized society; and this without joining any society or in any other way surrendering any “portion” of his or her natural and “inalienable” sovereignty over their person, time or property, and without becoming in any way responsible for the act or sentiments of others who may be transacting business on these principles.

[1] The great principle of human elevation was perceived to be the SOVEREIGNTY OF EVERY INDIVIDUAL over his or her Person and Time and Property and Responsibilities.  That this was impracticable where these were connected.  DISCONNECTION, or Individualisation of these, therefore, appeared to be the process required.  A habitual respect to this Individual Sovereignty, it was perceived, would constitute EQUITABLE moral commerce.  The question then arose, how could this complete sovereignty of the individual over its own time and property be preserved through the process of exchanging them in the pecuniary commerce of society? This great point was settled by the idea of time for time, or Labor for Labor—DISCONNECTING all natural wealth from labor each pricing his own by what it Costs him; but not overstepping the natural bounds of his individuality by setting a price on the Value of his article or labor to the receiver of it.  The DISCONNECTION of Cost from Value laid the foundation of Equitable pecuniary Commerce.  This new commerce required a circulating medium DISCONNECTED from money of all kinds, and representing Labor only; and thus the laborer becomes EMANCIPATED from money and tyranny.

JOSIAH WARREN

New Harmony, Nov. 27, 1841

 It has now become a very common sentiment, that there is some deep and radical wrong somewhere, and that legislators have proved themselves incapable of discovering, or, of remedying it.

 With all due deference to other judgments, I have undertaken to point out what seems to constitute this wrong and its natural, legitimate and efficient remedies; and shall continue to do so wherever and whenever the subject receives that attention and respect to which its unspeakable importance appears to entitle it; and it is hoped that some, who are capable of correct reasoning will undertake to investigate, and, (if, they can find a motive,) to oppose EQUITABLE COMMERCE; and thereby discover and expose the utter imbecility—the surprising weakness of any opposition that can be brought against it.  Opposition, in order to be noticed must be confined to this subject, and its natural tendencies: DISCONNECTED with all others, and all merely personal considerations.

I decline all noisy, wordy, confused, and personal controversies.  This subject is presented for calm study and honest enquiry; and, after having placed it (as I intend to do) fairly before the public, shall leave it to be estimated by each individual according to the particular measure of understanding, and shall offer no violence to his individuality by any attempt to restrain, or to urge him beyond it.

J.W.

 This Manifesto was originally written & published by Josiah Warren in 1841, and which was incidentally, printed by the author on one of his own made press.

The present reprint is from a photostat copy supplied by Mr.  Ewing C.  Baskette, for which we gratefully thank him for having discovered this rare historical document.

It was handset with the Garamond and Cloister Oldstyle both were casted by the American Type Founders.

The Oriole Press September 1952

THE PRINCIPLES OF EQUIVALENTS, LABOR FOR LABOR; THE MOST DISAGREEABLE LABOR, ENTITLED TO THE HIGHEST COMPENSATION.

The following essay was written and published as a pamphlet by Josiah Warren in Boston in 1865.  The author participated in a number of anarchist communities in the nineteenth century, and wrote and lectured extensively, advocating non-statist solutions to social problems and economic rather than political methods of social change.  He also strongly influenced writers such as Stephen Pearl Andrews and Benjamin Tucker, who perhaps did more than anyone else to disseminate the ideas of the anarchist individualists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

I have corrected apparent typos and changed some of the archaic spelling found in the original, but have left the punctuation, italicization, and capitalization as the author intended them to be.

A direct exchange of Labor for labor between the laboring or useful classes, measured by the time employed and according to the disagreeableness or Costs of the labors performed, would convert Time into capital; and all would have an abundance [of] “capital.”  Money would represent Labor or its products as bank notes now represent metals; and, instead of being the blind, stupid, unintellectual accident that it now is, the holder of Labor Notes would know what he could get for them from day to day and from year to year.  Estimates of the labor in different products once obtained  by investigation, might remain unchanged for many years, unless new and better modes of production should reduce their Costs.  Consequently, all ruinous fluctuations in prices would be at an end, and all speculations upon them would be knocked in the head; and “profits in trade” being abolished, ruinous competition and the principal cause of modern wars would cease to be.

The burthen of necessary labor would be reduced to from one to perhaps three hours a day (according to the style of living,) for each person.  All anxiety about future sustenance would be dispelled—with this security of condition, the motive for large accumulations would die away, and the degrading scramble for “money making” would come to an end.

The hardest worker would be the richest person, without reference to sex, color, or nation, and in the common, vulgar estimation, would be the most  “respectable”: then there will be as great a rush into the useful pursuits as there has been to shun them and force them upon the weak and defenseless.  We now see the origin of all forms of slavery and the legitimate remedy for them.

It is folly to expect that men will prefer starved, ragged, insulted labor, however useful it may be, rather than an easy situation with a sufficient income and the respect of their fellow men; nor is it surprising that the ranks of respected professions are crowded till they are forced to live by fraud, that we are over run with speculators, thieves, defaulters, counterfeiters, burglars, robbers, incendiaries, rapacious officials and other vagabonds, or that the bible is tortured into the defense of slavery and poverty by those who are revelling in idleness and luxury; or, that when the opportunities for speculation and office holding opened by one war are all filled, the nest step is to get up another war.  This pandemonium miscalled “society” will continue as long as men are tempted to live by profitable crimes, rather than starve in useful pursuits.

Let not this word Cost be misunderstood: it has no reference to the money that has been given for any thing, but it refers to the trouble it has cost; whether it be painful exertion of body or mind—anxiety, sacrifice of any kind; in short, the endurance of any thing that is disagreeable is here called Cost.

This idea or principle would probably give the highest salary to the scavenger; because he is least respected and because his labor is otherwise, perhaps, the most disagreeable; while it would give comparatively nothing to ignorant officials because they get compensated in glorification.

All will be workers or live upon benevolence.  The whole burthens being thus distributed, the share of each will be so light and so “fashionable” people will prefer to do that little, rather than take the trouble of encroaching upon their neighbors; then the great excuse for aggressive governments will not exist, and their very costly if not very valuable services can be dispensed with.

Labor for labor, is not labor for land nor for any of the metals found in it, nor for wood or coal nor for any other of nature’s spontaneous products except so far as labor has been bestowed upon them, or in transferring them; but it opens the prospect of homes and comforts to those who have been deprived of them by the want of a principle for the regulation of prices.   In short, a direct, equitable exchange of labor between the useful classes, just in proportion as it progresses, will cheapen common money and finally render it worthless, and invest Labor with all its products, and all the power and  “respectability” that material wealth can confer; and all that constitutes good or successful society will be within its reach.  None need be excluded—those who have no useful business can learn one when opportunities are opened and this principle opens the opportunities.

The greatest of all considerations is, that by making the cost of labor the limit of price, every one becomes interested in co-operating to reduce the cost and consequently, the price of every thing; and thus men will be employed in lightening each others’ burthens through mere self interest, which is now so destructive.  Thus does this simple but sublime justice out strip the sagacity of legislators and solve for humanity the greatest of all human problems—turning every man’s hand to work For, instead of against his fellow man!

Harmonizing the material interests of men will harmonize the feelings and action of individuals and nations; and the reign of permanent peace, plenty and successful society will have found their root in simple, scientific Justice to Labor!

It is this harmonization of interests that has always been aimed at by the profoundest statesmen, and it is the great central ideal of Communism; but it has been mistakenly sought in Combining or Uniting those interests!  But, where interests are United, all have a right to a voice in the management of them; but the natural and inevitable diversity of minds growing out of the Individuality of each, immediately develops itself and inaugurates conflict and confusion that have only two possible terminations—Despotism or Disintegration.  If despotism is adopted, its first act is to make war on this natural Individuality and to demand unhesitating obedience, loyalty or conformity; the governed must have neither eyes, tongues, brains nor life; they must all suddenly become of one pattern according to the master’s orders, like so many dried herrings upon a stick, and those who decline the prescription are gentiles, schismatics, heretics, outsiders, outcasts, rebels, traitors, outlaws; to be expelled, crucified, excommunicated, imprisoned, shot or hung; and whom any may plunder or murder with impunity, or perhaps “make money” by taking them alive to be murdered or tortured according to the will of the master!  Government by a “majority” is worse than that of some despotisms, because it annihilates Individual responsibility; which, is the  only reliable regulator of human intercourse.  All these evils are the natural consequences of the first blunder or “original sin” of Uniting instead of harmonizing the interests of men!

If the planets were all united or bound together by artificial means, it would result in collisions, darkness, destruction and death, corresponding to what are now seen and always have existed in all artificial organizations of men, from that of the smallest partnership to that of a nation, just in proportion to the number and magnitude of the interests at stake and the mental diversities of the persons involved.  War has been waged against this diversity from first to last, for thousands of years and every means to enforce conformity have been exhausted; and now, there is more individuality than ever, and it is more clearly seen than ever that it is the very germ of all improvement, order and peace among men–that this is the stone so long rejected by the builders that is to become the head of the corner—that it is the very “key to the age”; that to persecute it is to deny the persecutor’s right to differ from the persecuted and it is making war upon humanity’s instinctive struggle to correct its own most fatal blunder.  But personal individuality being adverse to artificial organizations, they must be abandoned before much progress can be made.  They originated in the purposes of attack or defense; but the principle of equivalents neutralizing all motives for attack, would render defense unnecessary.

What we want is Co-operation or coincident action between all the human race without “entangling” our materials interests or our responsibilities, and thereby subordinating man to the ignorance and cruelty of man.  The principle of equivalents enables us to attain these long sought and unspeakably important ends.  It lifts us up out of the chaos of political systems, into a clear, bright atmosphere that enables us to discern the direct road to true order and repose.

The subject is inexhaustible, but a very few words must suffice here.  What has been said against organizations was thought necessary as caution against the continuance of a dangerous and costly mode of defeating the ends in view.

Coincidence of thought, feeling or purpose, makes us society for each other; but there is no power on earth that can make us so beyond this limit.  The principle of Equivalents producing this coincidence in our material interests, abolishes the principal elements of repulsion and contest and gives us a reliable basis of calculation which will continue for a long time to surprise the student of human problems with solutions too beautiful and too sublime for expression here.

It is believed that this idea of labor for labor originated in England.  Its practical development in this country has been an unwavering life purpose during the last thirty eight years, in a series of noiseless experiments, as the chemist conducts his analyses in his laboratory or as the mechanic tests his machine in his own sanctum before he presents it broadly to the public.  There is scarcely any kind of business between men, to which the principle has not been successfully applied.  The conclusion from these experiments is, that as this principle, together with others necessary to its operation, require to be studied like any other exact science, in connexion with practical illustrations in the business of life, the best way to inaugurate the movement is by establishing Industrial Colleges for young and old, right among the people in any or every town and neighborhood, upon Individual responsibilties and with Individual means, with such aid as may be voluntarily offered free from all defeating conditions.  Not attempting to form or organise societies any more than we would organize or form the fruit upon a tree: but inviting all people to look into the movement and co-operate with it so far as they may find it for their moral or material internal interest to do so, but no farther: trusting to the Coincidence of these interests to change, by degrees, the character of what is now called civilization.