Posts filed under Mutualist Blog

Re: An Open Letter to Keith Preston


As I said in other threads, he’s contradicting his own position when he (I believe, facetiously) calls for a purge of the anarchist movement … Based on an email conversation I’ve had with him since yesterday, I think this is nothing more than a bad attempt at humor, not to be taken literally.

If you think that he’s contradicting his own fundamental positions, then how is that not a problem with the substance of his view rather than merely with his “tone”?

If he did intend the “purge, if not an outright pogrom” passages as a weak attempt at a joke, I have to say it’s a weak attempt at a joke he spends an awful lot of time belaboring. Of course, I don’t have access to your private e-mail correspondence, but the two paragraphs devoted to explaining in detail why he thinks “cock-ringed queers” and “pissed-off, man-hating, dykes with an excess of body hair” are supposedly hurting recruitment of “average young rebels,” and the sort of women of whom he approves, “into our ranks,” read pretty seriously to me. As does his attempt to connect what he’s doing in his post to something that he clearly does seriously endorse, vis. Rothbard’s and Rockwell’s efforts “to purge [sic] libertarianism of this kind of thing” during the paleo interlude. If I’m not supposed to read this as a serious effort to organize without, and indeed in such a way as to deliberately alienate, the targets of his bile (notably, vocal gay liberationists, ‘self-hating whites,’ and queer people whose expressions of sexuality disrupt traditional gender norms) how exactly am I supposed to read it?

As for the immigration stuff, well, I don’t think he does call for an expansion of the state. He pretty clearly calls for immigration policy to be pursued via subsidiarity in a decentralized fashion.

Jeremy, I think you’re substituting what you’d like his position on immigration to be for what he actually says in the essay. The only place in which decentralization is mentioned in the discussion of immigration politics is to suggest that criteria for naturalization — that is, extending the status as politically-enfranchised citizens to immigrants — be spun off to “local community standards.” Once that’s done, though, he has nothing to say about changing how the central state treats people who are or are not counted as naturalized. Nowhere does he suggest dismantling existing centralized definitions of “national borders.” Nowhere does he suggest dismantling or even decentralizing existing agencies of border fortification, border checkpoints, border patrol, immigration-status documentation and surveillance, imprisonment and trial of alleged undocumented immigrants, paramilitary immigration enforcement, forcible deportation, etc. etc. etc. Instead he suggests giving these existing centralized government agencies more to do. He explicitly calls for deployment of the existing centralized government immigration control system: he explicitly calls for “designated checkpoints” to be run by the government, with “an objective screening process,” which is designed to screen out “criminals, enemies of America” (?! how the fuck do you suppose you ban entry to government-defined “enemies of America” in a decentralized fashion?) and people with “certain kinds of contagious diseases”; he calls for deportation of those who don’t have permission slips for their existence from the worthless megamurdering United States government (from where to where? if it’s outside the borders of the U.S.A., we’re not talking about decentralization, are we?); he adds calls for new government prohibitions on “employers … using immigrants as scab labor” and “employer use of illegal immigrant [sic] labor”. How do you suppose you go about enacting and enforcing these government prohibitions and government bans on peaceful, consensual labor contracts, without expanding the size, power, and reach of the State?

Re: An Open Letter to Keith Preston


I don’t think the issue here is Keith’s “tone.” I think the issue is the substance of his position.

Calling for vocal gay liberationists, feminists, and anti-racists, to be run out of the movement, apparently in order to boost recruiting among those who are put off by that kind of thing, is not just a matter of tone. Do you see nothing wrong with the substance of the position? Do you think that there is a right way to call for such a quote-unquote purge of people who care about these things from the movement?

Similarly, I wonder what you think about the several paragraphs Keith spends attacking “the most extreme forms of pro-immigrationism,” by which he apparently means the plumb-line libertarian position against government border checkpoints, papers-please police state monitoring, and government prohibitions on hiring immigrant workers [?!]. When Keith claims that the anarchistic position is to enforce border checkpoints and police-state monitoring of national citizenship papers, the use of government immigration enforcement to exile from the country those that the American government declares “criminals [or] enemies of America” (?!) and suggests government prohibitions against employing undocumented immigrants, and apparently also government prohibitions against employing any immigrants at all during a strike (?!) — when, in short, he calls, over and over again for the expansion of the state and an increase in the power of government border police, in the name of nationalist politics, and attempts to justify this Stasi-statism by pointing to the majority opinion among those approved to vote in government elections by the United States government (?!) — what do you think of that? Do you really think of that as just a problem of “tone”? Or is a problem with the substance of his position?

Re: On Dissolving the State, and What to Replace It With

Kevin: I think the net effect in this case, as in many hypothetical scenarios of dismantling the state in the wrong order, would be–as counterintuitive as it may seem–to increase the net level of exploitation carried out with the help of the state.

Well, I’m not sure that that’s especially counterintuitive. I’m perfectly willing to grant that there are plenty of cases where it’s true. What I’m trying to stress is that, as far as I can tell, we don’t disagree very much about the net consequences of different sequences of repeal. I agree that in the hypothetical case I gave, there might very well be a net increase in the predominance of class exploitation in the markets for labor, land, etc.

But, while I agree with you on that, I also think you have to keep in mind that when you make political choices you’re not just making choices about which God’s-eye-view net outcome you would prefer. You’re acting within the world, as one mortal creature among many fellow creatures, and when you deliberate about what to do you have to deliberate about what sort of person you, personally, are going to be, and what you, personally, are or aren’t willing to do to another human being. I know that I, personally, couldn’t live with deliberately choosing to shove around or rob another human being, or letting another human being go on being shoved around or robbed, for even a second longer, if all I needed to do to stop the latter would be to push a button, no matter how much I might prefer the results that I might be able to get from it. Because I’m not a thief or a bully, and I don’t want to let myself become an accomplice of thieves or bullies, either, even if it would otherwise improve my quality of life. Hence why I’d push the button, immediately and without reservation, even though I do in fact think that the net consequences of doing so would be substantially worse, in terms of things that I care about and which affect me personally, than the net consequences of repeal in the opposite order.

So I’m anti-gradualism not because I’m anti-dialectics, but rather because I think that there are personal obligations of justice involved in the political choices you make, and that dialectically-grounded praxis has to integrate those personal obligations into your course of action just as much as it has to integrate the general, big-picture view of class dynamics, socio-political structure, et cetera. In fact, if a process of deliberation abstracts away from the ground-level personal obligations of justice, fair treatment, etc. that we all have to each other, and only reckons what to do based on some very high-level structural-functional considerations about society as a whole and global-level net consequences, then I’d say that process of deliberation has become dangerously one-sided and acontextual. A praxis that doesn’t take into account what I could or couldn’t live with as a conscientious human being is an anti-dialectical and indeed an inhuman praxis.

But I fear that I’m beginning to throw a lot of jargon at the problem. Does that clarify or muddify?

Kevin: I’d probably even quibble as to whether it amounted to a reduction in statism even as such, since a high marginal tax rate on Bill Gates arguably amounts to the state ameliorating or moderating its primary act of statism in guaranteeing the income to Gates in the first place through IP.

Sure; this is a legitimate concern, to the degree that the exploitation in question is based not only on profiteering from the ripple effects of other, directly coercive acts, but where the exploitation is itself directly coercive (as is the case in government-enforced monopolies and captive markets). I would agree that there is some non-zero proportion of Bill Gates’s annual income, for example, which he actually has no legitimate property right to at all, and so no moral right to complain about taxation, any more than a slave-ship captain has a moral right to complain about a pirate making off with “his” gold, rum, and slaves. In such cases, my basic attitude is Tucker’s good old “No pity, no praise.”

But there are a couple problems in trying to translate this into any conclusion about income tax policy. Income tax policy has no way of distinguishing the legitimate portion of Bill Gates’s income (which I presume is also non-zero) from the extorted portion of it. In fact, in most cases, I think it would be impossible even in principle to calculate what the right proportions would be; in the absence of an actual free market process, there’s just no way to know how much of an intellectual monopolist’s income is legitimate and how much of it is an extorted monopoly rent.

And, beyond that, the tax also imposed alike on everyone in that income tax bracket, whether or not their income derives from direct violations of individual rights in the way that copyright and patent monopolists’ income does. Many if not most of the top 10% derive a lot of their income from direct coercion, but many of them do not (rather, they get fatter-than-free-market profits by profiteering of the ripple effects of other people’s coercion; but, while that’s also ethically objectionable, it’s a very different case from the standpoint of whether those profits can justly be expropriated). And if there’s even one single person who is robbed of even one cent of legitimately earned wealth by the general tax policy — and I think it’s next to impossible that nobody would be unjustly victimized by the tax — then, again, I think that’s reason enough to push the button. I couldn’t leave that one guy to go on getting robbed, even though all the rest of the people affected by the tax be a gang of pirates, swindlers, and extortionists. There are cases where expropriating the expropriators is legitimate and just; but government taxation is far too blunt a weapon to ever achieve it without inflicting a lot of collateral damage on innocent people.

Re: On Dissolving the State, and What to Replace It With


I’m not actually sure that we disagree about that. Or, if we do disagree, then what we disagree about may be a bit different from what it might initially seem that we disagree about.

I actually agree with you that a dialectical understanding of the role of particular government programs in the statist social order is important. And I also agree with you that some sequences of repeal would lead to better overall results than other sequences of repeal, and I suspect that we largely agree with each other about what sequences would be preferable; for example, because of my understanding of the class dynamics of statist power, I think that abolishing the Wagner-Taft-Hartley first and then the antitrust laws later would have better overall results than abolishing the antitrust laws first and then the Wager-Taft-Hartley system later, in that the one first opens up space and time for de-regimenting organized labor and opening up space for workers to organize against exploitation by bosses, while the other opens up space and time for bosses to further consolidate and fortify their command-posts in the labor market.

Similarly, suppose you had a Sedition law, and a Hate Speech law, the first of which which banned anarchist speeches, and the second of which banned fascist speeches. Ideally, the best thing to happen would be for both laws to be struck down immediately and completely in favor of complete free speech. But if the political debate was such that it’s more or less unavoidable that one will be struck down before the other, then I suppose that the sequence of decriminalizing anarchist speeches, then decriminalizing fascist speeches would have better overall results than the sequence of decriminalizing fascist speeches, then decriminalizing anarchist speeches.

However, I don’t think that accepting either that method of social theory or those conclusions about likely results settles the question as to whether you should be a gradualist or an immediatist. I’m an immediatist, not because I deny that there’s ever an importance difference in the likely results of repealing A-before-B as versus repealing B-before-A, but rather because I think that there are things that nobody ever has the moral right to do to another human being, no matter what results you can get from it, and one of those things is coercing her in her use of her own person and property. If both A and B are genuinely coercive, then I’d argue that there’s never any justification or excuse for continuing to do either of them. Even if it would be better for A to go first and then B, rather than B to go first and then A, if the opportunity to repeal B arises before the opportunity to repeal A does, then I’d say that it’s morally obligatory to repeal B anyway, because neither you nor I nor anybody else has the right to go on coercing anybody for even a second longer, whatever our considered judgment about the likely results of their freedom may be.

Of course, if there isn’t any opportunity to repeal either A or B at the moment, then the question is what sort of strategy you ought to adopt in the effort to make the opportunity arise. And in that case, it’s perfectly reasonable for your considered judgment about likely results to determine your strategic priorities, in terms of which forms of coercion you will first and most intensely focus on making repeal-able, given your limited time and resources. And I think that we largely agree about

So I reckon that the question is this: suppose you had a rather limited version of Rothbard’s Magic Button, which would allow you to magically repeal (say) personal income tax on the top 10% of taxpayers, while leaving all other personal income tax and FICA payroll tax in place. And let’s take it for granted that we all dialectically understand the role of the State, and its different functions, within the social order of power and its relationship with the dynamics of class exploitation. Still. There’s the button. Would you push it, or would you refuse to push it, on the grounds that you need to cut taxes either from the bottom-up or else not at all?

Personally, I would push it. I would prefer the bottom-up-first sequence, if it were available (after all, that’d benefit me more personally, let alone the rest of the working class), but I don’t believe that I have the right to let other people go on being robbed, if I could stop it with nothing more than a button-push, just so that I can, or some other people that I care about can, enjoy a higher quality of life.

What about you?

Re: On Dissolving the State, and What to Replace It With


Thanks for the reply. Here’s mine, on the minimum wage: GT 2008-03-06: On crutches and crowbars.

On dual strategies and the medallion cartel, I agree with you that there are some potential payoffs for the legal reform approach, including some payoffs that might accrue to making the counter-economic approach easier to pursue. But it does seem to me that there are already a lot of smaller-government reform types (IJ, etc.) who are already working that angle. As I see it, it’s usually better for anarchists to specialize in what we really want, and the most direct routes to it, particularly when (as I think is the case here) there’s lots of self-consciously libertarian effort already being put into the less radical solution, while relatively little self-consciously libertarian effort is going into the more radical solution, even though the more radical solution seems to be producing more in the way of concrete results. I figure that it may be a good idea not only to mention, but really to emphasize the ultra-radical position, which doesn’t have a lot of advocates right now, and let the reformists, which there are already more than enough of, do their thing in our wake.

Re: On Dissolving the State, and What to Replace It With

Kevin: Frankly, eliminating the minimum wage and food stamps is at the very bottom of my list of priorities.

I agree with you on food stamps, but not on the minimum wage. In fact it’s laws like the minimum wage which I especially had in mind when I mentioned crowbars being passed off as crutches. While I agree that a free market would almost certainly result in substantial increases in real income and substantial decreases in cost of living for virtually all workers — to the point where they would either be making well above the current minimum wage, or at least where fixed costs of living would have dropped enough that it amounts to the same — there’s also the question of what we should be pushing for in the meantime in-betweentime, when there aren’t fully free markets in labor, capital, ideas, and land. In that context, the minimum wage law is, I think, actively destructive. Conditional give-aways, like foodstamps, are one thing; the program itself doesn’t violate anyone’s rights (it’s the tax funding that’s the problem), and people can always choose not to go on foodstamps if they decide (for whatever reason) that it’s doing them more harm than good. Not so with minimum wage; the only way to shake off this so-called protection is to seek out someone who’ll let you work under the table, and hope the government doesn’t catch on. The result is forcing one class of workers out of work in favor of another, more privileged class of workers. Hence, I’d argue we should treat abolition of the minimum wage a lot differently, in terms of strategic priorities, from how we treat government welfare, food stamps, etc.

Kevin: One of the best ideas I’ve heard, as an intermediate stage in scaling back the state, was a proposal on the Freedom Democrats’ list: to scale back the licensing system, at the very least, to prohibit any restriction on the number of licenses granted based on an estimate of what the market would support, or any licensing fees higher than the bare minimum cost of administering the system. That, in itself, would utterly demolish the effect of the taxi medallion system, among many other things.

Well, sure, I guess. On the other hand, in terms of practical success, it does seem to me that, as of right now, gypsy cab drivers are doing a lot more to effectually undermine the taxi medallion system in New York City than political activists and legal reformers are. I suspect that in a lot of these cases the best thing to do is really to work on ways to route around the damage, rather than trying to push right through it.

Re: On Dissolving the State, and What to Replace It With


If you are as convinced as you seem to be that the State is willing and able to use massive violence in order to suppress potential threats to its authority; that the infrastructure for that repressive violence is already in place, ready to be called out at need; and that they are both vigilant and tightly organized around this goal, then it seems to me the obvious implication is that you need much more, and much more urgent, attention to building up counter-institutions and alternative networks as quickly as possible, well before you make any attempts at revolutionary confrontation. There is no way to successfully fight the cops or the National Guard unless you have a lot of your own infrastructure for evasion, resistance, exposure of aggressors and collaborators, safehouses, education and counterspin, contacts, support, material aid, communication, transportation, recruitment, retention, mediation between aboveground and underground life, etc., etc., etc. As you yourself have said, they’ve already got all these things and have spent a long time thinking about how to best use them and organize them. We largely don’t and we largely haven’t. Until we do so, trying to “smash” the State is going to accomplish just about as much as the Weathervain’s street riots and symbolic-action-through-explosives.

But to build up our own infrastructure requires a lot of that “building a new society in the shell of the old” stuff. (When the Wobs put that phrase to use, they weren’t claiming that if you build up the OBU enough, state capitalism will just gradually crumble away before the awesome alternative that the OBU provides. Their idea was to create a structure that would prepare them for the worldwide General Strike and what came after.)

Counter-institutions are absolutely necessary if we want to create two, three, many Vietnams instead of two, three, many Wacos.

Re: On Dissolving the State, and What to Replace It With


Broadly speaking, I agree with your and Henley’s point about strategic priorities. It’s an odd form of libertarianism, and a damned foolish one, that operates by trying to pitch itself to the classes that control all the levers of power in both the market and the State, and to play off their fears and class resentment against those who have virtually no power, no access to legislators, are disproportionately likely not to even be able to vote, and who are trodden upon by the State at virtually every turn. It makes just about as much sense as trying to launch a feminist movement whose first campaign would be to organize a bunch of men against their “crazy ex-girlfriends.”

But I do want to sound a note of caution. Aren’t there a lot of so-called social programs out there which the government fraudulently passes off as crutches, when in fact they are crowbars? Since you mentioned it, consider the minimum wage–the primary effect of which is simply to force willing workers out of work. If it benefits any workers, then it benefits the better-off workers at the expense of marginal workers who can less afford to lose the job. Or, to take another example, consider every gradualist’s favorite program — the government schools — which in fact function as highly regimented, thoroughly stifling, and unbearably unpleasant detention-indoctrination-humiliation camps for the vast majority of children and adolescents for whose benefit these edu-prisons are supposedly being maintained.

Or for that matter, consider phony “pro-labor” legislation like the Wagner Act, the primary function of which is actually to capture unions with government patronage and bring them under greater government regulation.

Aren’t there a lot of so-called “crutches,” usually defended by corporate liberals and excoriated by conservatives, which really ought to be pressured and resisted and limited and abolished as quickly as possible, precisely because, bogus liberal and conservative arguments notwithstanding, they actually work to shackle the poor or otherwise powerless “for their own good”?

Re: The Ethics of Labor Struggle: A Free Market Perspective


As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, this is a wonderful post. Kudos. I just wish that I had more to add.

Iaian: If a government did that, you would hope the right-“libertarian” would oppose it (unlike, say, von Mises and his support for fascism in the 1920s).

This is a libel against Mises. Ludwig von Mises had plenty of problems, but “support for fascism in the 1920s” was not among them, unless you consider explicit attacks on fascism to count as “support” for it. If you are (as I suspect) referring to his remarks in Ch. 1, § 10 of Liberalism (1927), then you had better note that the chapter explicitly condemns the assault on freedom of speech and association by the fascists, as well as the policy of jailing and murdering political opponents: “The fundamental idea of these movements—which, from the name of the most grandiose and tightly disciplined among them, the Italian, may, in general, be designated as Fascist—consists in the proposal to make use of the same unscrupulous methods in the struggle against the Third International as the latter employs against its opponents. The Third International seeks to exterminate its adversaries and their ideas in the same way that the hygienist strives to exterminate a pestilential bacillus; it considers itself in no way bound by the terms of any compact that it may conclude with opponents, and it deems any crime, any lie, and any calumny permissible in carrying on its struggle. The Fascists, at least in principle, profess the same intentions. . . . . Repression by brute force is always a confession of the inability to make use of the better weapons of the intellect—better because they alone give promise of final success. This is the fundamental error from which Fascism suffers and which will ultimately cause its downfall. . . . So much for the domestic policy of Fascism. That its foreign policy, based as it is on the avowed principle of force in international relations, cannot fail to give rise to an endless series of wars that must destroy all of modern civilization requires no further discussion. To maintain and further raise our present level of economic development, peace among nations must be assured. But they cannot live together in peace if the basic tenet of the ideology by which they are governed is the belief that one’s own nation can secure its place in the community of nations by force alone.”

In the same section, Mises made a couple of embarrassing mistakes about fascism. First, he suggested that fascism would likely moderate with time and become less rapacious as it settled into power; that first error led him into the second error of supposing that fascism was a lesser evil than Stalinism. But in a chapter that directly and unequivocally condemns the Fascists’ repressive policies, states that Fascist anti-Communism (the only “merit” he can find in Fascism at all) is ultimately doomed to failure, and closes by saying that Fascist militarism “cannot fail to give rise to an endless series of wars that must destroy all of modern civilization,” the claim that Ludwig von Mises — whose apartment, library, and papers in Vienna were targeted and seized by the Gestapo ten years later while he sought refuge in Switzerland — “supported” fascism, is both unfounded and irresponsible.