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

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 Just as re-legalization of alcohol after prohibition was repealed did not lead to deregulation and free individual choice in when, where, and how people were allowed to imbibe, now-legal marijuana use is and will be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

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

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.

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.

Reflections on the Revolution in Spain

In advance of a trip to spain earlier this year, I decided to read a up a bit more on the spanish civil war and social revolution of the 30s. I had, over the years, already read some on this period, largely writings by those sympathetic to the anarchist movement, and what I had learned had left me quite skeptical of the methods and intentions of these anarchists, as well as those who wrote so glowingly of them.  Their defenders took great pains to excuse their decidedly authoritarian approach to organizing and social relations in general, citing war conditions as a justification for the surrender of basic anarchist principles.

What I found with further reading did nothing to change my outlook. Continue reading

The Fall of the House of Labor

Since the last issue of this zine, in which I critiqued labor unions, these organizations have been prominently in the news again.  The biggest stories have been about the passage of a “right-to-work” law in Michigan and the Hostess bankruptcy, which many have blamed on greedy unions.  Labor is clearly under attack from business owners and politicians, and these two events, happening so closely together, have prompted me to once again devote most of the space in the December 2012 issue of anchorage anarchy to a consideration of the labor movement. Continue reading

The Geopolitics of Dead Children and Guns

Seemingly unending coverage in the establishment news media.  Flags at half-mast.  Crocodile tears from the hypocrite-in-chief.   Millions of dollars in charitable donations to the families and friends of the victims.  It is as if the killing of a group of children and their keepers in a Connecticut school is a uniquely tragic event—one that not only is presumed to touch us all on a visceral level but also justifies a re-examination of how the government regulates guns.  The question for me, however, is: what is it about this massacre that makes it more heinous than so many other instances of the murder of innocents?

The main reason appears to be that these were americans.  When a united states soldier murdered 16 non-combatants in afghanistan earlier this year, the president shed no tears and people in this country were largely untroubled, even though nine of those victims were children.  Continue reading

For the Union Makes Us Strong?

Several times over the last few years I have participated in a Mayday pageant here in Anchorage.  This is a staged reading of a script written by a local National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) staff attorney.  The narrative traces the development of the american labor movement from the Knights of Labor in the nineteenth century through the 1930s, focusing on two key moments in the history of american labor unions: the Haymarket events in 1886 and the passage of the Wagner Act.   It is a fun occasion where participants include labor union members, folks from Occupy Anchorage, and other local troublemakers.   It is an opportunity to interact with other union members and movement activists and provides a bit of generally unknown and ignored labor history to those who attend.  And to my mind, the positive depiction of anarchists in a performance geared toward regular working folks is more than welcome.

However, despite his largely accurate retelling of the circumstances surrounding Haymarket and sympathetic portrayal of the libertarian workers and organizers involved, I disagree completely with the primary message that the author wishes to convey to the performers and audience—that the National Labor Relations, or Wagner, Act (NLRA) is the logical and appropriate culmination of the efforts of the radical labor movements of the past.  Continue reading