Posts tagged Smash the State

Re: Dialectical Anarchism: Mind the Gap

Richard Garner:

I wonder, though, if your example of a world owning alien gains its intuitively objectionable nature, though, not from the fact that the alien hasn’t been back for millions of years, but from the objectionable problems of complete world ownership. If he had come and mixed his labour with a square mile of desert in a Nevadan desert (pretending Nevada existed then), and then went away and didn’t come back for millions of years, would your example be as objectionable?

I think you picked the wrong patch of land to consider for your example.

I don’t think that the problem in the Galaktron thought-experiment has to do with whole-world-ownership. It has to do with the fact that he left for several million years and in the meantime rival claimants have come along who re-homesteaded the land that he left. So I agree with you that there wouldn’t be much objectionable in Galaktron’s reclaiming a patch of desert land that nobody else is currently using. Where there is no rivalry, there is no question of abandonment to arise.

But the isolating case is not a patch of currently desert land; it’s a patch of land currently occupied and used by new-comers while Galaktron was away. So, for example, suppose that Galaktron weren’t claiming ownership of the whole world. Suppose that he did some homesteading on an island, went away for a few million years, and came back, only to find that his old garden plot now happened to be Manhattan. Does he have the right to say, “Out, squatters!” and demand eviction or restitution? Or do those currently occupying the island get to maintain ownership, given that the land was not in use when the meddling hyoo-mons first came to it, and hadn’t been in use for millions of years?

Re: Dialectical Anarchism: Mind the Gap

Richard Garner:

If I were to leave my bike outside a shop whilst I go in to buy groceries, I would not be using or occupying it, but it is still mine. If somebody else were to use it, it would still be mine.

Well, there’s leaving and then there’s leaving. If there is some reasonable expectation that you will return to pick up your bike at a definite point in the near future, that surely does not amount to abandoning you bike. If you leave your bike sitting out there for a month, in rain and shine, never make any kind of arrangement about storage or maintenance with a third party, etc., then sooner or later I think any reasonable system of property rights would take that as constructive abandonment of the bike even without any express performative act on your part of saying “I abandon my bike forthwith.”

Mutualist views on real estate aren’t that different in this regard: the reason that occupancy-and-use mutualists don’t accept that, for example, leaving your house to pick up some milk or even for a long vacation would count as opening up the land for someone else to occupy and use, is because in those cases your lower-level action of leaving is part of a higher-level project which involves your returning at some more or less definite date in the not-too-distant future. The kind of leaving which would open up the property to other claimants is generally held to require a leaving that’s long-term and open-ended, among other things.

Re: Localism and Globalism in the Libertarian Left


Thank you for the kind notice. I agree that there’s an important distinction to be made between the likely short-run results of freeing markets and the long-term results that you could expect as we move deeper into the anarchic future. (On the other hand, I’m also much less confident predicting anything specific about what deep anarchy would look like, because the far future is hard to predict in general, and in particular because predictions about short-run results can hook into your knowledge of how coercion is pushing things in the actually-existing world, whereas predictions about deep anarchy depend on feedback loops and developments that get increasingly unpredictable because they increasingly involve innovations rather than just repairing existing damage.)

I will say that, while I expect global forms of organization to proliferate and flourish as communication gets better, and State barriers to communication and interaction are knocked down, that needn’t necessarily imply “large-scale” voluntary organizations, if “large” refers to the number of people involved rather than the geographical expanse. One of the things I expect to see is a lot more little voluntary associations with global reach. As we get deeper into anarchy, people may develop more in the way of federations and “associations of associations” out of these small pieces loosely joined; on the other hand, I also expect that a lot of coordination will fall back on massive global spontaneous orders, more than it will on massive global organizations, even if the latter are decentralized and full of caucuses and scrupulously federative in structure.


Glocalism, y’all. Glocalism.

I first heard the word “glocal” back in 2001 as part of a delegation from Auburn heading up to SURGE, a counter-globalization conference in Chapel Hill, No’ Carolina. At the time, I thought that was the pug-ugliest bit of political neologism I’d ever heard from someone whose project I was broadly sympathetic to. 8 years have passed, and I still don’t think I’ve heard anything more ill-constructed. (Although “heteronormativity” comes close.)

Re: Supreme Court Seems Poised to Okay Schools Strip-Searching 13-year-old for Ibuprofen; also, Stephen Breyer needs to stop rewatching that scene in “Porky’s”


The school has an interest in ensuring that drugs (whether OTC, prescription or illegal) are not distributed among the students outside of the control of the faculty and administration.

No it doesn’t.

No school in the United States spent a minute of its time worrying about anything of the sort until about 15 or 20 years ago, and there’s no real reason why they should, any more than they worry about whether or not students are distributing snack-packs or mechanical pencil refills outside of the control of the faculty and administration. Children can and do administer over-the-counter and prescription drugs to themselves in homes, libraries, stores, museums, parks, and just about every single other institution that they encounter in their daily lives, with the sole exception of schools. The current fixation of schools on trying to tend to every conceivable need that students might have and control every conceivable action that students might take, while on school grounds, is foolish and destructive.

It’s quite reasonable to presume that a kid might stash illicit drugs in their underwear if they don’t want to get caught holding them.

There needs to be some way of searching a kid to see if they’ve done that.

No, there absolutely does not.

If I were to grant, solely for the sake of argument, that schools ought to be concerning themselves with whether or not kids are carrying around Motrin outside of the control of the school nurse, then it would certainly not follow from that that the school has to be able to use strip searches in order to detect violations of the policies they set. Just because something is Against The Rules doesn’t mean that you’re entitled to do anything and everything in order to find out whether or not people are doing it.

Sometimes the only way to catch someone at breaking The Rules is to use procedures that would be too costly, that would interfere too much with other more important goals that the school is trying to accomplish, or that would unacceptably violate the student’s liberty, privacy, or dignity. If so, then what you have to do is just come to terms with the fact that you can’t always enforce all of your school policies all the times, and sometimes clever kids are going to manage to get away with something that the rules say they shouldn’t do — and, well, Christ, what else is new?

Re: Cato Institute Publishes Leftist Screed!, Pars Decima

I can certainly think of some that are vastly better than the AFL-CIO establishmentarian unions. What about the IWW? The Coalition of Immokalee Workers?

For the record, some IWW locals make use of post-Wagner labor laws (most commonly in efforts to combat retaliatory firing of organizers for unionizing activities). I think that sucks, but the union as a whole is pretty minimally involved, and — importantly, unlike the AFL-CIO and Change to Win [sic] unions — they are largely opposed to State-mediated collective bargaining, and to the whole State regulatory apparatus, and they do have an organizing model which doesn’t depend on the use of federal labor bureaucracy.

The CIW is another can of worms. As far as I know they have never made any use whatsoever of any federal union law at all. If for no other reason than the fact that they couldn’t use it even if they wanted to. The Wagner Act explicitly excluded farmworkers’ unions (also domestic workers’ unions — the point was originally for St. Franklin to be able to count on the support of white-supremacy-forever Southern Democrats, so jobs black people took under Jim Crow weren’t included), and none of the post-Wagner amendments have changed that. Block and Huebert’s blanket assertion that all actually-existing unions either practice vigilante violence or solicit state violence or both is either breathtakingly ignorant or else dishonest. They seem to have no idea at all that several large unions have no access at all to the NLRB under existing federal labor laws, whether they want it or not.

(To be fair, I must note that the largest farmworkers’ union, the UFW, has no access to the federal NLRB, but does have access to a state government agency — the California ALRB, created in the 1970s through their lobbying efforts — in California, their main base of operations. I think this helps explains, actually, why the UFW, which was one of the most dynamic organizations in the labor movement for many years, has accomplished relatively little since the 1970s: they were bought off by the political patronage, and meanwhile the board was captured within a couple years by the big produce bosses, just like every other regulatory board in the history of the world. But as far as I know the CIW has access to nothing of the kind in Florida. Neither does FLOC in most of the states where it operates — mainly in the Southeast U.S., if I recall correctly. What they get done, they get done in spite of, or because of, the fact that they receive neither the legal benefits nor the regulatory burdens of the NLRB regime. And I think that’s a lot of the reason why farmworkers’ unions have accomplished so goddamned much in the past 40 years, while the establishmentarian labor movement has largely stagnated or collapsed.)

Re: Labor Unions And Freedom Don’t Mix

You are aware, aren’t you,

  1. … that those same labor laws which provide privileges to NLRB-recognized unions by forcing employers into collective-bargaining also heavily regulate the methods that NLRB-recognized unions can adopt, and the goals that they can achieve? That, for example, under Taft-Hartley, legally-recognized unions are forbidden from striking except under a limited range of government-approved conditions, that they are legally prohibited from establishing union hiring halls or freely negotiating a closed shop contract with employers, that in many states (under so-called “right to work” laws) they are legally prohibited from freely negotiating a union shop contract with employers, that they are legally prohibited from promoting secondary boycotts or engaging in secondary strikes (i.e. boycotts or strikes against a company for doing business with a second company workers have a grievance with; this prohibition effectively bans general strikes and mandates union scabbing), that strikes can be (and have been) broken by the arbitrary fiat of the President of the United States, etc., etc., etc.? In fact, while some factions of the labor movement (especially the AFL and the nascent CIO) actively lobbied for the Wagner Act and the system of state patronage that it created, other, more radical factions of the labor movement were stridently opposed to it, arguing (correctly) that Roosevelt’s plan was an effort to subsidize bureaucratic conservative unionism, and thus to capture and domesticate the labor movement. And predicting (accurately) that the practical consequences of the NLRB system would be to substantially hamstring the labor movement, and to benefit only a few fatcat union bosses, at the expense of rank-and-file workers.

  2. … that for about half of its history (from the founding of the Knights of Labor in 1869 up to the Wagner Act in 1935), the American labor movement operated in a political and legal environment where it had no government recognition, no government privileges, and in fact was repeatedly, violently attacked by injunction-wielding judges, by the police, the military, by the U.S. Marshalls, by President Woodrow Wilson and Attorney General Alexander Mitchell Palmer and a young J. Edgar Hoover, by state militias, private “security” companies, and mobs? That radical unions like the IWW nevertheless managed to organize hundreds of thousands of workers in spite of this unrelenting violence and to win, without any use of government privilege, substantial victories in towns like Lawrence, Massachusetts and Spokane, Washington? I conclude that labor unions can be quite effective when based on free association and without government privilege.

If the conclusion you’re trying to urge here is just that the NLRB and the AFL-CIO are statist, well, sure. Who denies that? Certainly not the NLRB or the AFL-CIO, who candidly declare their allegiance to a big, interventionist government; and certainly not pro-union anarchists, either, who generally refer to establishment unionism as “labor fakirs” deserving nothing but scorn, and advocate for radical unions organized along quite different lines, and with quite different aims.

If, on the other hand, you’re trying to establish some more general conclusion, like (say) “Labor Unions and Freedom Don’t Mix,” or that “the state is the first weapon in the labor union’s arsenal to be wielded against employers and workers alike,” or that “the ultimate dream of the labor unions is to completely replace the existing state, allowing them to force their will on 100% of the people 100% of the time,” i.e., a claim about what labor unions per se do and want, rather than what a temporarily triumphant, government-subsidized faction within the labor movement does and wants, but which other, competing factions within the labor movement have repeatedly condemned, then I can’t say you’ve offered much by way of convincing evidence for that conclusion.

As for Bakunin and his followers, I certainly have my disagreements with Bakuninist collectivism. (That’s why I’m an individualist, or a mutualist, rather than a collectivist.) But you’re distorting their position. Bakunin’s idea of federated labor unions is not a replacement state. He believed that the best arrangement for society was a federated structure of workers’ and community associations. But he also believed in an absolute right to dissociate from any union or other association that one did not want to participate in or cooperate with. Thus: “[W]ithout certain absolutely essential conditions the practical realization of freedom will be forever impossible. These conditions are: . . . The internal reorganization of each country on the basis of the absolute freedom of individuals, of the productive associations, and of the communes. Necessity of recognizing the right of secession: every individual, every association, every commune, every region, every nation has the absolute right to self-determination, to associate or not to associate, to ally themselves with whomever they wish and repudiate their alliances without regard to so-called historic rights or the convenience of their neighbors.” (Revolutionary Catechism, 1866). Etc. Bakunin’s problems, such as they are, lie elsewhere. May I gently suggest that, if you want to find out Mikhail Bakunin’s views, you might be better off reading works by Mikhail Bakunin, rather than summaries of those works by Per Bylund?

As for Joe and his workers, I certainly agree that Joe should not be forced by the government (or by any form of violence) to engage in collective bargaining with the striking workers. However, I think you’re walloping on a strawman, as far as the worker’s demands go (do you know of any strike, even under the existing statist labor bureaucracy, in which workers demanded a 400% wage increase?); and I think you’re also pretty severely overestimating the ease of replacing 25%-40% of the workers on the shop floor all at once, especially if you’re trying to accomplish this without offering substantially higher wages or improved conditions. In real-world labor struggle, being in a position where you can get 25% or more of the workforce ready to just walk off the job often puts you in a very good position for getting substantial concessions from the boss.

The union makes us strong


Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

I agree with you that worker ownership of the means of production wouldn’t instantly solve all the problems of labor, and that — for all I’ve said in the King Ludd post — there might be other reasons why it turns out not to be viable, or at least not universally practicable. My main point was just to show that one alleged problem with unionism, presented by De Coster and others as if it were intrinsic to unionism as such, was actually only a problem with the particular model of union organizing that both anti-union business types and the establishmentarian union bosses fetishize, and which the Wagner/Taft-Hartley system actively subsidizes and protects in the name of “industrial peace,” at the expense of competing organizing models — like, for example, the worker-ownership model of the IWW. Those other organizing models may have problems of their own, but they don’t have the problems that De Coster treats as intrinsic to unionism.

After all, one of the myriad justifications for profits going to the capitalist is that the capitalist takes on the most risks, using her own money as an entrepreneur to start an uncertain business, with a high failure rate, and also extending in time when she will get recompensated, assuming the business becomes successful. Whereas a poor laborer just scratching by may not have the wherewithal to take such a large risk, nor be willing or able to withhold present consumption for the chance at a bigger future payoff – the poor laborer just wants a certain payoff now, in the form of wages.

Well, O.K., sure, but two things.

First, insofar as this argument works, it seems like it’s an argument for capitalists to take a role and get a cut in the high-risk start-up period for a firm; not necessarily much of an argument for capitalists remaining as residual profit recipients after the firm is already well established. It’s perfectly possible to have both an infusion of working capital during the start-up period and a worker co-op at the end (either because the capitalist agrees to those terms, going in, or because the workers organize after a while and use their stronger bargaining position to convince her to disentangle herself and find a new entrepreneurial opportunity). The question is why that sort of thing doesn’t happen now. Maybe it’s because there’s some other reason why it’s not viable, but I’d suggest that a lot of the reason has to do with the way in which prevalent business models and prevalent union organizing models are supported and rigidified by government economic regimentation (as well as the establishmentarian business and union culture that that regimentation promotes).

Second, it’s true that, especially for very low-paid wage workers, a lot of their economic decisions are going to be made as a reaction to the extremely precarious economic situation that they are in. This will naturally tend to make people more risk-averse and more interested in certain and quick pay-offs than they might otherwise be. But the precarity isn’t a fixed natural fact; it’s largely the product of specific government policies which ratchet up fixed costs of living while ratcheting down opportunities for homesteading and labor, with workers’ livelihoods caught in the squeeze. Eliminate those policies and you’ll begin to see workers with more of their costs of living safely covered and with more in the way of back-up options should their current arrangement fail.

But becoming an investor and a risk-taker generally presupposes some level of acquired wealth, where you have taken care of basic needs and have some money left over to risk and save. Poor laborers aren’t generally going to have access to that sort of capital, and they are the ones who seem to benefit from organizing their labor the most.

Well, organizing your labor and providing a cushion of wealth to fall back on aren’t mutually exclusive options. Unions themselves can (and, in the past, often did) provide an institutional vehicle for helping cushion workers from economic falls — by improving wages, but, more importantly by providing institutions that help workers on the bum to find new work (e.g. union hiring halls, now illegal under Taft-Hartley) or for workers to help each other provide for themselves and their families during lean times (e.g. mutual aid societies, now partly illegal, or heavily regulated — if they do anything that might be construed by the government as selling insurance — and in any case crowded out by government welfare).

If it turns out that one aspect of radical labor solidarity (worker ownership of the means of production) works out best when accompanied by another aspect of radical labor solidarity (a vibrant network of mutual aid), well, I’m happy enough with that conclusion.

Re: Socioeconomic Creationism


Lots of intelligent redistributionist socialists argue along the same lines; it’s not that they don’t understand how markets and spontaneous orders work; they simply don’t care ….

Right, which is why they don’t provide a good example of someone who falls back on government causes of poverty by explanatory default, either. Their position is wrong, but not because they (like biological creationists) fail to understand the concept of spontaneous self-organizing systems.

Serious Marxist theory, for example, actually involves quite sophisticated use of the concept of spontaneous order in explaining the emergence, sustenance, internal conflicts, and ultimate collapse of the capitalist class structure. (The idea is certainly not that all the evil capitalists got together in a big meeting and made a big plan for taking over the world and exploiting the workers. Any serious Marxist theorist would very quickly trash a theory like that as a form of “utopian socialism” and a case study in “bourgeois individualism.”) Of course, most of serious Marxist theory (as well as Cohen’s egalitarianism) is wrong, but it’s wrong for reasons other than being somehow “creationist.”

There are lots of people who do fail to get the concept, but they’re mostly concentrated among the most vulgar of vulgar Marxists, and the usual lot of nativist pseudo-populists, economic conservatives, and Social Democrats who take up most of the space in mainstream American political debate. None of whom, as far as I can recall, have ever leaned much on the government as a supposed cause of poverty or socioeconomic inequality. (Conservatives who make the typical conservative arguments against AFDC/TANF and other forms of government welfare may be an exception; but they don’t claim that urban poverty is being caused by deliberate government efforts to create it. And they rarely say that poverty as such is caused by government action. They take urban poverty as we know it more or less for granted and then claim that government welfare programs make it worse.)