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

Letter to anchorage anarchy

Dear Joe,

I forgot to say in my last letter that the New York IWW Arts Branch was organized by Mel Most, an old-time anarchist now sadly forgotten, Judith Malina and Hannon Reznikov, and Bob Fass.  Mel suddenly died, and that took the wind out of our sails.  A movie about Bob Fass was recently released (I missed it but heard it was good).  Hannon died young…  Judith is still going strong, heading for 90!  Thanks for reprinting the article from The Storm, great individualist mag edited by Mark Sullivan, several issues co-edited by

Yours truly,

Peter Lamborn Wilson

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

Union of Egoists

Individual anarchy has often been treated as an interesting idea, but one with little bearing on practical group work.  However, during the late sixties in San Francisco, an individualist anarchist labor union (or “non-union” as it was later called) was organized with features unique in american labor history.

Initially, we were a small group of social workers who revolted against an AFL union, local 400, after repeated instances in which the AFL failed to act on issues.  These issues included firings without pretext with five minutes notice, refusal of the labor council to fund publication of the social services newsletter, DIALOG, and the dismissal of a worker for visiting North Vietnam during personal leave.  Continue reading

Letter to anchorage anarchy

Good article on unions.  I agree—and have been a member of several over the years, including a short-lived IWW Arts Branch in NYC, with members of the Living Theater and WBAI (Pacifica).  It’s no accident that Stirner spoke of a union of self-owning ones as the only possible strong (or even militant) organizational form for individualist anarchists.  Our Italian Leftwing Stirnerite guru “Brand” Arrigoni used to say the same, as did George Sorel (before he lurched to the Right).  See also Bob Black’s excellent article on the IWW in the new magazine Modern Slavery.   Unfortunately we now seem to be nearly as far removed from the possibility of a real radical labor union, as from Proudhon’s Mutualism or Landauer’s version of Kropotkin’s anarcho-federalism.  As the whole Movement of the Social appears moribund, no other organizational form seems possible for us but the “gang”—or as I once tried to put it more elegantly—the Tong.  But how to organize a “secret society” in an age without secrecy (a.k.a. privacy)?  Anarchist anthropologists like David Graeber and James C Scott talk about reversion to “earlier” economic forms such as swidden gardening—or even “the Gift”—but I sense no willingness amongst modern anarchists to embrace the luddism which would be required to “leave Civilization behind” to any real extent.  Individual revolt alone seems to remain possible—every moment lived outside the Technopathocracy is an act of propaganda by the deed.

Desperate Times,

Peter Lamborn Wilson

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

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.