Listen to the Episode — 84 min
Clara: The Ex-Worker;
Alanis: An audio strike against a monotone world;
Clara: A twice-monthly podcast of anarchist ideas and action;
Alanis: For everyone who dreams of a life off the clock.
Clara: Hello and welcome back to the Ex-worker! We’ve spent most of our episodes clarifying and unraveling different aspects of anarchism. Today, we’re going to start off a mini-series about what anarchism is not, starting with anarcho-capitalism and libertarianism.
Alanis: We’ve also got an extra-special interview with recently released anarchist grand jury resister Jerry Koch about his experience in prison and the importance of solidarity, as well as a discussion with one of his lawyers about Jerry’s case and the use of grand juries as a tool of political repression. And as always, there’s listener feedback, tons of news from all over the world, event announcements, and more. I’m Alanis…
Clara: …and I’m Clara, and we’ll be your hostesses with the mostesses. Visit our website at crimethinc.com/podcast for the show transcript and more info about the news and ideas we’ll cover in this episode.
Alanis: And if you’d like to give us feedback or suggestions for upcoming episodes, hit us up at email@example.com, or leave us a message at 202–59-NOWORK, that’s 202–596–6975.
Clara: Let’s get free.
THE HOT WIRE
Clara: We’ll begin with the Hot Wire, our look at resistance and revolt happening around the world. Alanis?
Alanis: Great news! Jerry Koch is out of police custody! Jerry was released from Metropolitan Correctional Facility in New York on Tuesday January 28th, marking the end of his second stint in jail for refusing to cooperate with a Grand Jury investigating a 2008 bombing at an Army recruitment center in Times Square. Welcome home, Jerry!
Clara: The NATO 3 trial continues this week; thus far, the state’s witnesses have been called to testify, including undercover officers known to protesters as “Mo” and “Gloves,” revealing some wild inconsistencies and mostly making the state look foolish. Even the mainstream media is balking:
Alanis: From ABC news: “NATO trial openings ask: Terrorists or Goofs?” And the Huffington Post: “NATO 3 Trial Underway; Protesters ‘not even close’ to terrorists.”
Clara: Well, that seems promising. The NATO 3’s amazing support crew, one of whom we interviewed last week on the show, have been keeping up with incredibly detailed notes for every day of the trial. Keep up at freethenato3.wordpress.com.
Alanis: And another development since our last episode: animal rights activist Kevin Olliff accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to 2.5 years in Illinois prison. The only allegation against him was possessing tools the prosecution claimed were intended to be used to “burglarize” a fox farm. With credit for time served, and Illinois’ “half time” credit, Kevin is expected to be released in 10 months.
Clara: And in other state repression news: former Earth Liberation Front fugitive Rebecca Rubin was sentenced to five years in prison for her role in an Earth Liberation Front cell that committed over $40 million dollars of damage in environmentally motivated arsons between 1996 and 2001, including the dramatic destruction of a Vail, Colorado ski lodge. The judge also ordered Rebecca to read a Malcolm Gladwell book to understand how to make change happen peacefully.
Alanis: While a prison sentence is obviously nothing to celebrate, we’re happy to hear that she received the minimum possible sentence, in contrast to the 90 months requested by the prosecution. And she refused to name any other names, signing a non-cooperating plea deal – thank you, Rebecca! We’ll post her mailing address when she’s transferred.
Clara: Prisoners in Indiana’s Westville Correctional Facility had hot lunch trays reinstated after weeks of struggle in the control units, including collective refusal of the crummy and non-nutritious cold sack lunches. However, since then, the heat has “mysteriously” broken in those exact same units.
Alanis: Huh. That’s weird.
Clara: The guys are experiencing freezing cold as outside temperatures drop below zero: Midwestern winters are no joke. Phone calls to prison officials and active solidarity are being requested: links with info are on our website, crimethinc.com/podcast.
Alanis: New documents released by Anonymous reveal that the FBI sent out a terrorism warning that a news program, which featured video footage of a vivisection lab cited for animal welfare violations, may “incite criminal activity.”
Clara: Ooooh, that’s encouraging! Looking south, anarchist Tamara Sol Farías Vergara was arrested on January 21st in Santiago, Chile, accused of having carried out an armed attack against a security guard of BancoEstado. Tamara is facing between 10 years and life in prison. Supporters have called for acts of solidarity.
Alanis: In Moscow, four anti-fascists whose case we reported on in previous episodes have had all their charges dropped. They had been accused of “hooliganism,” which is actually really serious legally, in a state effort to crack down on so-called extremism, for their supposed role in a 2011 scuffle at a fascist concert.
Clara: Riots popped off in Vienna, Austria against a right-wing “Academic’s Ball” taking place in an imperial palace, as thousands of demonstrators fought police and smashed windows.
Alanis: For several nights in a row, dozens of indigenous activists and supporters blockaded a convoy of pilot and flagger vehicles, police escorts, and a 804,000-pound transport of tar sands mining equipment in Missoula, Montana. After prayers, drumming and dancing, three grandmothers and others sat in the road, blocking it with their bodies, before being either cited and released or arrested.
Clara: A police crackdown cleared tents and protesters from the site of an occupation at a landfill in Beirut. Protesters have been blocking the access road to the Naameh landfill on and off since January 17, repeatedly bringing trash collection in Beirut to a standstill. Residents in the nearby areas have complained for years that the dumping ground was being filled beyond its capacity and ruining the environment as well as making residents sick. Many suspect that a slew of recent cancer deaths in the community are related to toxic waste in the landfill.
Alanis: As we discussed in our last episode, environmental activists are increasingly portrayed by the state as “terrorists” to demonize social movements - and not just in the US. In Mongolia, five activists from the “Fire Nation” movement received prison sentences of 21 years each on terrorism charges for participating in an armed protest in front of parliament last fall, after lawmakers attempted to weaken regulations protecting rivers and forests from mining pollution.
Clara: And in Indonesia, several indigenous protestors were shot and injured by police and attacked by hired thugs in protests against a mining company’s operations in North Sulawesi.
Alanis: And more protests against Google have transpired in the SF Bay area: on Tuesday January 21st, Google X developer Anthony Levandowski, whose work includes contracting with the U.S. military as well as development of surveillance technologies, found his commute interrupted by demonstrators on his doorstep, who distributed fliers around his neighborhood shining light on his nefarious projects. Activists have also continued to blockade Google buses, which shuttle tech employees from areas of San Francisco and Oakland to the company’s headquarters in Mountainview, CA, spurning conversations about gentrification and tactics.
INTERVIEWS ON GRAND JURY RESISTANCE
Clara: As we mentioned, anarchist grand jury resister Jerry Koch has been released from prison. We got in touch to send our congratulations, and got the chance to speak to him about his experiences inside and his perspectives on the importance of prisoner solidarity to anarchist struggle.
Jerry Koch: My name is Jerry Koch, and a few days ago I was released after doing eight months and seven days in federal prison. I was incarcerated for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury that I believe was investigating and trying to create names and blacklists of other anarchists and radicals.
I think that there’s huge potential for further communications and ties and lines of support going both ways with folks incarcerated, both people who call themselves anarchists and people who don’t. In just the short amount of conversations that I had with a number of folks inside, I found them to be really receptive and really interested in radical politics in general and actually in an anarchist worldview. So I think that one of the things we could be doing more would be… because we do jail support, especially for our own team, and we do it really well, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude and thanks to everyone who supported me and who did work on my behalf, or even talked to anyone about it, or wrote me letters. Thank you so much to everyone who did. And if nothing else comes out of this, I hope that anyone who participates in those things or heard about it continues to support folks on the inside, whether they are overtly political or not.
But I think that it’s absolutely crucial that we reach out to folks inside and try and strengthen those ties and strengthen those bonds. It can be immediate and it can be very practical, in the ways that we communicate with people inside. I think that a lot of times, anarchists kind of hold themselves back from those communications, because we approach other people in an overly academic or overly elitist perspective, and we’re so concerned with how we appear that we then really miss out on a lot of opportunities to actually relate to other people in a very genuine and authentic manner. And I think there’s a huge potential there that while some people and some groups have been working on, I think that if we mean what we say about being against prison, that the more that we can do against the prison industrial complex and to reach out to people who are currently incarcerated, and the communities that are so consistently marginalized and brutalized by the police and the prison industrial complex, in doing that I think we can create new ties that are much stronger and move ourselves and our community and our politics towards a place of strength, to be able to actually address some of these things and to genuinely and materially reach people inside. And I think that as we do that, I think we only benefit from it, and of course I think people inside only benefit from those kind of ties. So many people hate the police inside, and refuse to cooperate and come from really rough backgrounds and actually already have, especially emotionally, have pretty legitimate analyses about how terrible the world around them is and the things that are so blatantly wrong, you know? To a point that a lot of other, especially anarchists, we talk about, when a lot of people I think don’t understand as viscerally as emotionally as a lot of these guys do from jump. And I think that if we can pursue those kinds of conversations and pursue those kinds of connections, and reach out and genuinely help people inside, that would be one of the best things we could possibly do, both for ourselves as a movement, if such a term is even appropriate here, and for the folks inside.
So again, thank you everyone for all your support. It’s really meant the world to me. It’s been a really tough time; prison’s no cakewalk, and while I was lucky to do comparatively less time than a number of my fellows inside, I’m not going to pretend that it didn’t take a very severe toll. But I know that my friends and my community are there to help me, and I look forward to getting back in touch with my friends inside, and continuing to do everything that I can to help folks locked up. I’d specifically like to send greetings to my former cellmate, and also to Jeremy Hammond, who I got the chance to meet inside. And if anyone has time as you’re listening to this, I really encourage you to write someone inside, whether or not they’re known to be a political prisoner or not; it just means so much to have that kind of connection to the outside world for so many guys inside.
Alanis: In order to understand how Jerry came to be freed, we contacted Mo, one of his lawyers, who worked on the motion that resulted in the judge releasing Jerry from custody. She discussed the ins and outs of Jerry’s case, explaining how grand juries work, how they’re used as tools of repression, and ways we can resist them.
Alanis: Mo, thank you so much for joining us! We were delighted to hear that Jerry has been released. Can you give us an update on his case?
Mo: We’re all thrilled to death that he’s been released, but it’s of course regrettable in the extreme that he was incarcerated in the first place. He was released on what’s called a Grumbles motion. It is not an inspired insult; it’s named after the first people who successfully marshaled the argument that is central to a Grumbles motion. And what the argument says is when you have someone who’s civilly confined, the only narrow legitimate purpose for civil confinement under the law is to coerce testimony. And once it becomes apparent that the subject of that coercion is not going to be pressured or impacted in any way by their confinement, that confinement has been converted into a criminal penalty without the benefit of due process. If you can adequately convince a judge that you are absolutely not going to capitulate, they have to release you, because they have at that point exceeded the lawful bounds of their authority by continuing to confine you.
Alanis: That sounds like this gives a person facing a grand jury a pretty strong incentive not only to not snitch, but to make it very clear and public that you will never under any circumstances cooperate with a grand jury in any way.
Mo: Absolutely, absolutely. The judge issued a twenty-page opinion on the Grumbles [motion], and one of the really useful things about it is that it really demonstrated to us the power of Jerry’s having taken a public stance from the beginning. Now, this wasn’t the first grand jury to which Jerry was subpoenaed. The events that were being investigated by this grand jury took place in 2008. There was a grand jury convened to investigate these events convened in 2009, and Jerry was subpoenaed to that grand jury. At that point, his attorney, Susan Tipograph, worked with him and managed to successfully invoke his fifth amendment rights, at which point the inquiry with respect to Jerry ended.
Jerry’s never been a target of this investigation, by the way; I think that’s really important to say. So in any case, in 2009 Jerry took a very public stand that he was never going to cooperate with the grand jury. He went before the grand jury, invoked his rights, was dismissed, and that was the end of it. He was resubpoenaed in 2013 after they reconvened a new grand jury to continue the investigation. At that point he again took a very public stand. And in the mean time, in between those two events, he had been an active participant in the ongoing anarchist conversation about grand jury resistance. So one of the things that we submitted along with his Grumbles motion were articles and letters of support and affadavits from people that had known him for many years and knew that his conviction on this matter was unwavering. The fact that he had staked such a public claim, and that there were so many people who were aware of his commitment to grand jury resistance made an enormous difference in convincing the judge that Jerry was never in fact going to yield. And the judge said that in his opinion.
So you’re right, it does make a difference, not only to engage in grand jury resistance but to be extremely clear about and consistent about that.
Alanis: Can you back up a little and tell us about what grand juries are and how they’ve been used as tools for political repression?
Mo: So a grand jury is a body that was originally contrived to be a protection for innocent people against arbitrary charges brought by a monarch. The purpose of a grand jury is to determine prior to bringing charges whether the state actually has enough evidence to bring a charge. So they serve an investigative function. Because of that, the rules of evidence that would apply in a courtroom do not apply. So you do not have the protection against, for example, hearsay, that you would have if you had already been charged and were in a trial. That evidence would be excluded. And the reason that it’s admissible in this instance is because you have 16 to 24 people who are sitting to determine whether there is evidence, factually, in the world - whether or not it’s admissible at trial - that there’s enough evidence to suggest that charges ought to be brought. So grand juries can sometimes hear evidence and determine that they are not going to return what’s called a true bill, they’re going to reject the prosecutor’s contention that this person ought to be charged criminally. But because the rules of evidence don’t apply, and the standards for what is a relevant question to whatever is being investigated is very very low, these are an ideal tool for investigating dissident communities. Because any kind of criminal activity that occurs that appears to be connected to a dissident community, what ends up happening is that people end up being subpoenaed, called in and asked all kinds of questions that really have absolutely nothing to do with whatever unlawful activity that has occurred.
The other thing about the grand jury is that you are not allowed to have an attorney present. So although you can invoke your constitutional privileges, your first amendment privilege, your fifth amendment privilege against self-incrimination, you don’t have an attorney there. You can leave the courtroom after every question or every few questions to consult with your attorney, but there isn’t someone there who has your back. But who is there is a prosecutor and a large group of people who can ask you ANYTHING.
The other thing that is important to know about a grand jury is that although you can invoke you fifth amendment right against compelled self-incrimination, the prosecution has a very powerful tool to compel you to speak anyway, and that tool is immunity. So if they confer upon you immunity, which means you cannot incriminate yourself, they have just removed your right against compelled self-incrimination. And so once they give you immunity, which is what happened with Jerry in the first grand jury, your right to remain silent has been removed.
The other thing about a grand jury that is important and comes up a lot when I speak to people who aren’t familiar with the concept: people say, well, why don’t people just go before the grand jury and say, “I don’t know,” or selectively answer questions? The issue is, first of all, by saying “I don’t know” or being evasive, you ultimately can face perjury charges, which are incredibly serious. And you don’t necessarily know you’re perjuring yourself; you can have passive knowledge of something without necessarily knowing it. And if you say I don’t know, you could end up facing perjury charges, and you aren’t really able to be selectively answer questions for similar reasons.
There are grand juries that are simply investigating crime. There are also grand juries that are investigating dissident communities. They all have a purported object of investigation, but the ones that we’re concerned with in this context are grand juries that are convened to try to tease out social networks and gather intelligence, not only on some unlawful activity, but on some larger group of people or dissident communities that are perceived as being a threat in some way to the state.
The most recent example prior to Jerry was in the Pacific northwest there was some property damage that occurred on May Day. It was an enormous investigation over relatively minor property damage. Ultimately, those young people were released on a Grumbles motion for similar reasons as Jerry: they had letters of support, they convinced the judge that they weren’t going to testify. And another reason with them was that by the time they were released from prison - these two kids were actually also not targets of the investigation, they were civilly confined for refusing to cooperate with the grand jury investigation - and by the time they were released from prison, they could have plead guilty to the actual conduct that was being investigated, done their time, and been released.
Prior to that, there was some stuff that happened in the Midwest, in Minneapolis, in Chicago, and before that in New York, which is of course where we’re working and the case law that we’re working with, we had the Puerto Rican independence movement. But prior to that, you have the Young Lords, the Black Panthers – sort of the usual suspects, right? The dissident groups that the state most feared, that were the biggest thorn in their side. I think the one involving the Puerto Rican independence movement, there were 19 or 20 people who were called to the grand jury and resisted. And it’s definitely, you can see, that yes, there are events that might precipitate or justify a grand jury investigation. But it tends to be fairly evident that what is really being investigated, whether or not they’re trying to actively solve a crime, what is being investigated are the names of people, who knows whom, what people’s underlying belief systems are, what resources are available to these communities.
Alanis: What can we do to resist grand juries?
Mo: Well, you know, everyone talks about security culture, and there’s a reason. The prosecution in this case at one point early on made the claim that the basis of their having subpoenaed Jerry was a claim that they got somewhere that Jerry had been in a bar and may have overheard a discussion where two other people were discussing these events. He has claimed from jump that he has no recollection of this happening. But one thing to be aware of is to not take your conversations about unlawful activity lightly, because you aren’t simply endangering yourself; you’re potentially endangering anyone within earshot, who can then be subpoenaed to a grand jury and, if they’re a committed anarchist, are going to resist and face very severe penalties.
So I think that’s one thing. Most of what you can do is not legal strategy, but social: making sure people have support. And not just support when people are in prison – although that is extremely important – but making sure that people who have children feel secure that their children will be cared for in the event that they go to prison. Making sure that people who are in some way part of a marginalized or oppressed community feel safe in your community. I think that community support gets talked about a lot once somebody has been incarcerated, but it has to happen a long time before then. So that’s making sure that people feel that they can resist a grand jury and they will continue to be supported. And it’s a big job to support someone – it takes a lot of resources, it takes a lot of energy. And it’s absolutely worth it, because these people are our friends. But it’s a commitment. So communities need to be very serious about what understand what that commitment entails, and making that commitment.
Alanis: So what’s in store now for Jerry? Is he in the clear, or are there more possible legal concerns ahead?
Mo: That is a very good question. I cannot see the future; I hope that this means that Jerry’s out of the woods. I would be irresponsible to make a claim about it; I just don’t know. It’s possible that they could reconvene, convene another grand jury after this one expires. I imagine that it is clear to everyone at this point that Jerry not only isn’t going to talk to them, but actually is possessed of no meaningful information about this. He’s maintained that since the beginning, and I don’t think anything is going to change. It’s my devout hope that this is the end of it, but there’s the possibility, of course.
Another possibility that I almost don’t want to talk about is the possibility that the prosecution could go after him for what’s called criminal contempt, for the same act of resistance that resulted in his civil confinement. But I would hope not. One of the things that the judge said in his decision was he cautioned against “martyring” Jerry. I hope that law enforcement takes that to heart.
Alanis: Whatever happens, he’s lucky to have an advocate like you working on his behalf. Thanks for coming on the show to speak with us, and thank you for everything you’ve done to help support grand jury resistance!
Mo: Oh, it’s really my pleasure! This is a dream job!
Clara: And now it’s time for listener feedback! We have two corrections to make from our last episode on conspiracy and state repression, thanks to alert listeners.
Alanis: We’ve been informed that the SHAC 7 weren’t actually convicted under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, as we incorrectly reported in the last episode. In fact, they were charged with conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, which was passed in 1992. The AETA wasn’t signed into law until Nov. 2006, several months after the SHAC 7 were sentenced.
Clara: And listener Peter pointed out that the “Bounty Hunters and Child Predators” essay we excerpted on the FBI’s entrapment strategy incorrectly implies that the NATO 3 were targeted by FBI informants. In fact, Mo and Gloves, the two informants involved in the NATO 3, are Chicago police officers. Peter writes, “No idea whether this means local cops are going to start adopting the FBI’s methods, or if the feds just farmed this particular operation out to Chicago PD to take advantage of Illinois’ bullshit terrorism laws.
Alanis: He also pointed out that “the FBI’s entrapment strategy didn’t start with, and isn’t primarily aimed at anarchists. They’ve been doing the same thing in Muslim communities for years, a lot more intensively. Trevor Aaronson’s book The Terror Factory can tell you all about it.”
Clara: Thank you, Peter, for bringing this up. In Episode 17 we mentioned in passing that other communities have been targeted using these tactics, but Muslims specifically have received the brunt of the FBI’s counter-terrorism entrapment efforts since 2001. We’ve got links up on our website to a feature from Mother Jones magazine that has a ton of useful information on FBI terrorism entrapment, including a Trevor Aaronson article, if you want to learn more.
Alanis: And another listener wrote in to let us know about a hunger strike going on Menard Correctional Center in Illinois. About twenty prisoners began refusing food on January 15th in protest against abominable conditions in the prison. Since declaring their strike, inmates have been brutally beaten by guards and threatened with torture and force-feeding by nurses. Despite this, they’re entering their third week of the strike. It’s hard to get information from inside the prison, but we’ll keep you updated on what we learn; you can find updates when they’re available at antistatestl.noblogs.org.
Clara: And finally, listener Cieran weighed in on the ongoing conversation about religion and radicalism:
Alanis: I hope you’ll accept the listener’s challenge to widen your view of religiously inspired rebellion. Two brief notes on your reading suggestions. First, you mentioned The Pursuit of the Millenium, but didn’t mention that people might want to be aware that Norman Cohn’s book derives from a rather suspicious effort to “historicise” the fascism of the Second World War, as if all these millennial movements were really just proto-fascist cults. Certainly, some were anti-Semitic, and it’s important to point this out. But to reduce this history of popular proletarian rebellion to this fact is totally inadequate. An alternative (though presently only partially translated) history is Os Cangaceiros’ “L’incendie Millenariste”, rendered in English as “Millenarian Rebels” I believe. Though the translation is slightly dodgy, this is a history written by people whose interest in the tradition is much more in line with that of anarchists today, and it shows in their reading. I would recommend this book over the Cohn, or at least alongside it. Lastly, Silvia Federici has a solid chapter on heresy in Caliban and the Witch, which ought to be mentioned, of course.
Clara: Thanks, Cieran! Point taken; we’ve got links up to these texts on our website, and you can also hear our review of Caliban and the Witch on the Chopping Block in Episode 2. Keep the feedback and comments coming – our email address is podcast at crimethinc dot com.
Alanis: And now it’s time to share a piece of the CrimethInc Contradictionary. This episode is brought to you by: Market and Libertarian.
Alanis: For more explorations of the war in every word, visit crimethinc.com/contradictionary.
FEATURE: DEBUNKING ANARCHO-CAPITALISM AND LIBERTARIANISM
Alanis: Oh, hey Clara.
Clara: Hey Alanis, whatcha doing?
Alanis: Oh, I’m just searching online for other anarchist podcasts. I mean, the Ex-Worker is cool, but there have got to be others right?
Clara: Find anything interesting?
Alanis: Well, here’s one called the Anarchast – clever name, right? Let’s see what they have to say…
Clara: Hey everyone, welcome to another edition of Anarchast your home for anarchy on the internet…
Clara: Aww, I thought we were your home for anarchy on the internet! Oh, well.
Clara: Wait, did you see this? The title of their episode is “Free Enterprise is the Fuel for Freedom,”
Alanis: What? Is this a joke? Who is this guy they’re interviewing?
Anarchast: He’s also a business strategist and a real entrepreneurial-minded person. We’re gonna get into a lot of that and how to make money and things like that…
Alanis: This must be a some kind of prank.
Clara: Uh, no, I’m pretty sure they’re serious.
Anarchast: How did you become an anarchist?
Well, I really refer to myself as a freedomist. Even anarchist has such a label now on social media that if you don’t agree with somebody on something that says they’re an anarchist, then all of a sudden you’re not. So I’m just abandoning all titles in true anarchist form and saying I’m just a freedomist, I’m just me, and, you know, as long as you don’t get in my way, we’ll be fine.
Alanis: Huh. So is he trying to give the insurrectionary anarchist critique of identity, like we should just focus on affinity instead of political labels?
Clara: Uh… that’s one way to interpret it, I guess. Freedomist?
Alanis: Well, what’s his deal?
Anarchast: I actually talk every day about how the government’s a problem, I get that, but there are still so many opportunities for us to start businesses. And there’s never been a movement for freedom in the history of the world that didn’t have free enterprise fueling it. When we look at this idea of, aww, the government’s so oppressive – absolutely agree, so we have one of two choices. We’re either gonna continue being employees, or we’re gonna become entrepreneurs.
Alanis: This is the least anarchist thing I’ve ever heard in my life!
Clara: If you don’t want to be an employee, your only other option is to end capitalism! In a capitalist context, even if you own your own business, then the market just becomes your boss. Sorry everybody, it’s pretty much that simple!
Alanis: And where the hell did he get that thing about movements for freedom being based in “free enterprise.” That’s what Ronald Reagan’s ideology is based on, not liberation struggles!
Clara: Oh, I guess we must just be like those people on social media who are always complaining that if someone doesn’t agree with me on this thing or that thing that they’re not a real anarchist, huh?
Alanis: Well, c’mon! We’re not talking about quibbling over details - we’re talking about politics that are the polar opposite of what we believe in. Anarchists are against the state and against capitalism – that’s what makes us anarchists!
Clara: I guess you’ve never heard of anarcho-capitalists, then.
Alanis: Anarcho-capitalist? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard all day.
Clara: But it’s a real thing! I mean, just look: the Anarchast has 108 episodes out… we’ve only got 18.
Alanis: But… but… this is ridiculous! Why even talk about something that’s such an obvious contradiction in terms.
Clara: Because whether you like it or not, more and more people who are in to private property and the free market are using the A word to describe themselves. And if we don’t make it clear where we stand, folks who hate the state and care about freedom are going to be encountering their critiques instead of ours. The point isn’t for us to get bogged down in definitions or to police the boundaries of anarchist identity, obviously. But we do need to get some basic things clear before we can move forward as a podcast.
Alanis: OK, I see what you’re saying.
Clara: So back in Episode 11, we explained why the so-called National Anarchists or Autonomous Nationalists are not anarchists.
Alanis: Right. Because we oppose all forms of hierarchy, so an ideology that claims one racial group is superior to others is obviously incompatible with anarchism, even if some fringe group of white supremacist creeps sometimes dress in black sweatshirts in demonstrations.
Clara: And then in Episode 15, we addressed the question of Christian anarchists…
Alanis: Right. I mean, what happened to “No Gods, No Masters?” What is it, “One God, no other masters?”
Clara: There’s definitely controversy about the relationship between spiritual and political beliefs, and how those have played out in the history of rebellious social movements.
Alanis: Sure. But the fact is, most anarchists today reject Christianity, and most other religions, as authoritarian forces that promote hierarchy and justify domination.
Clara: So now for our next two episodes, we turn to two of the other areas in which folks sometimes get confused about who anarchists are and aren’t. Libertarians and so-called anarcho-capitalists increasingly use the term “anarchist” to describe their pro-capitalist views; meanwhile, critics of the left often lump anarchists together with socialists and communists as freedom-hating collectivists.
Alanis: But anarchists are really different from both of those groups. We’re distinct from libertarians because we reject capitalism and private property, and we’re distinct from many socialists and communists because we reject political authority and centralization.
Clara: So for this episode, let’s focus on this weird group of people who didn’t seem to get the memo that opposition to all forms of hierarchy and domination isn’t compatible with their private property schemes.
Alanis: Before we can get started talking about this, we have to clarify something right away: almost everywhere else in the world except for the United States, the word “libertarian” means “anarchist” - that is, against the state and capitalism. Describing someone as a libertarian communist or socialist distinguishes them from an authoritarian communist or socialist – that is, the difference between an anti-capitalist who believes in horizontal means towards horizontal ends versus one that believes in vanguard parties and seizing state power. (More on that in our next episode!)
Clara: But from the mid-twentieth century onwards, Americans who advocated for extreme laissez-faire capitalism started using the term libertarian to describe their beliefs… even though anti-capitalist anarchists had been using the term in many languages since at least the 1850s.
Alanis: Because many of our listeners in the US understand it in this newer sense, when we use the term libertarian in this episode, we’ll be talking about the pro-capitalist, neoliberal sorts. But let’s not forget that in central and South America, much of Europe, and elsewhere, capitalists have not succeeded in appropriating the term libertarian for their own devices.
Clara: That said, let’s see if we can sort out the term, the ideas, and the movement as they play out here in the US…
Alanis: …and what they do or don’t have in common with anarchism.
THE LIBERTARIAN SPECTRUM
Clara: OK, so… libertarian. What’s a libertarian, in this US context?
Alanis: There are a lot of variants of libertarian thought that go by different names. We can imagine a continuum based on how invested in the state these different libertarians are. On one end of the spectrum, we’ve got the Libertarian Party, which actually fields candidates and has had some electoral success here and there – by some accounts, they may be the third largest political party in the US. The conventional definition sees them as socially liberal but fiscally conservative; in other words, they want to see less government intervention into economic life and personal behavior, and see politicians and elections as a tool to do that. The whole Ron and Rand Paul brand is quite popular amongst this crowd.
Then we’ve got the so-called “minarchists,” minimal government libertarians, who believe that the state has to exist, but that it should only consist in the bare minimal institutions necessary to preserve private property and adjudicate disputes: military, police, courts, and such. Somewhere around this point we’ve got supporters of Ayn Rand and the so-called Objectivist movement, even though Rand personally rejected the label libertarian.
Then we have anarcho-capitalists, who support individual sovereignty over any notion of the state, and advocate a free market of private competitors in place of any monopoly on force funded by taxation. This view draws on the theories of the American economist Murray Rothbard. Another current that runs through several of these positions is voluntaryism: this is the notion that all forms of human association should be voluntary, and should be based on the non-aggression principle, which rejects all aggression as illegitimate, including that of the state. On the closest end of the libertarian spectrum to how we conceive of anarchism, there are left libertarians and market anarchists. These folks criticize inequality and exploitation, sometimes even identifying as anti-capitalist, but see private property and a free market as the keys to liberty and human flourishing in a stateless society.
Clara: These are fairly broad characterizations and not definitive categories. But they offer some insight into the wide range of ideas that US libertarians promote in relation to the state and society.
Alanis: What’s the common link between all of these?
Clara: Well, in general, libertarians and anarcho-capitalists believe in a free market and private property as the fundamental basis of society, and see the state as antagonistic to those values. They vary considerably in regards to what should happen with the state – should it be abolished totally, or is it a necessary evil that should be limited to certain functions only, etcetera. Most believe that the state should have no or virtually no role in regulating personal behavior, such as diet, drug use, gun ownership, sexuality, and so forth.
Alanis: Guns and drugs in particular seem to be some of the major rallying points for libertarians in the US.
Clara: Yeah. This is one of the ways that libertarian positions complicate the left/right and Republican/Democrat binaries in the US political spectrum – some traditionally liberal or left issues, such as drug legalization or decriminalizing homosexuality, mix with conventionally right-wing or conservative issues, such as freedom to own and carry guns.
Alanis: And that’s one of the similarities between libertarians and anarchists – we don’t seem to make sense within the binary logic of US politics. We see more similarities than differences between the major political parties. When I was first becoming an anarchist, I seem to remember that we were pretty out there for making that claim. But now that’s become almost universally acknowledged. I mean, listen to this:
Glenn Beck: I don’t know a single person except maybe at the White House that thinks that we are headed in the right direction or have been headed in the right direction the last forty or fifty years. And it’s not a Republican/Democrat thing; it comes from this. We all say, all of us, we elect a different party and they keep going in the same direction. Nothing ever changes. What is pulling us in this direction? Why? We all know that things aren’t right. Is there something that we’re missing?
Alanis: Know who that was?
Alanis: Glenn Beck.
Clara: The right wing talk show host?
Alanis: Yep. He’s obviously not an anarchist, nor a libertarian per se. But that shows that this kind of anti-government, anti-politician rhetoric has a lot of currency these days. The popularity of the Ron Paul campaign has shown that libertarian ideas can gain some traction in electoral politics.
Clara: Though I think there’s a contradiction in that: a political party that appeals to people with anti-state convictions is probably not too likely to successfully challenge the two-party system.
Alanis: We can also identify two broad currents within libertarian and anarcho-capitalist politics: one is academic and intellectual, while the other is grassroots. Among the academics, we have Austrian school economists churning out massive tomes of dense political philosophy, and college professors who write books and staff think tanks. They’re not especially numerous, but they’re increasingly influential, especially in academia and public policy circles.
Clara: To be clear, though: among these libertarian-leaning intellectuals, economists who push extreme neoliberal lines, like Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boys, are far more influential than market anarchists who advocate dismantling state systems of privilege and exploitation, even if their views share some core principles.
Alanis: And then we have the grassroots base of the Libertarian Party or “liberty movement” and its offshoots – all the gun nuts, marijuana legalization activists, small business entrepreneurs who hate government bureaucracy, anti-surveillance enthusiasts, constitutionalists, militia members, sovereign citizens, and so forth. Some of these folks may be influenced by academic critiques of the state and the economy, but on the whole they tend to be more reactive and issue-based. Common values include distrusting the government and all politicians, rejecting restrictions on individual behavior, and really loving private property (specifically, their private property).
Clara: And that’s a huge number of people! A lot of them used to be part of the Republican Party’s base of support, who could mobilize them on the basis of opposition to gun laws, social welfare, high taxes, and such issues. Many of them are extremely, vehemently anti-Obama. But the Tea Party and the Ron Paul campaign have revealed divides in the conservative coalition. Nowadays, a lot of the folks who are suspicious of government generally and not as moved by appeals to religious conservatism and family values have drifted away from the Republican Party and are doing their own thing.
Alanis: On the other hand, back during Bush the Second’s presidency, there was a huge coalition of radicals, liberals, and progressives who opposed Bush, the war in Iraq, the PATRIOT Act, and civil liberties restrictions. The bulk of these folks got brainwashed by the Obama campaign and threw their energy into that. But now, five years in, few people have any illusions that Democrats offer a meaningful alternative to Republicans on any of those issues…
Clara: …especially when the Obama administration has expanded surveillance, drone warfare, militarization of the border, and so on.
Alanis: Exactly. This disillusionment with the hope and change we were promised in 2008 is one of the major catalysts for the brief, dramatic flare-up of the Occupy movement in the US. And in the Occupy camps and assemblies we saw lots of libertarians coming out of the woodwork with all sorts of weird ideas.
Clara: I always got the impression that a lot of those folks had lived entirely on the internet up to that point and hadn’t really figured out how to interact with real live humans.
Alanis: You’re probably right. Some of those folks who connected to others through Occupy became anarchists or joined other real life social movements. But a lot of them retreated back to the internet, and are busy waging flame wars on message boards and comment threads to this day.
Clara: OK, so you’re saying that the libertarian movement includes renegades from both parties and both traditionally left and right perspectives, disagreeing on a lot but united in their belief that the government sucks, that government in general sucks, and that we’d probably all be a lot better off if they’d just leave us alone?
Alanis: Yeah, more or less. And among these folks, first just on the fringes but now more widely, the term “anarchist” is being used more and more. Just like they did with the word libertarian, rebranding it with the connotation of rugged individualism, free enterprise, and private property – those core American values – makes it less scary, even to more mainstream audiences. And because they draw on former left and right-wingers and feed off disillusionment with all political parties, it cuts across a lot of lines of difference in the US, far beyond the subcultures of many currents of radical politics.
Clara: So while they may seem like a bunch of wingnuts – as indeed many of them are – their perspectives are growing in popularity and influence. Especially if you look at some of the hot-button issues in technology and finance today – 3D printers, Bitcoin currency, the Silk Road internet marketplace, and such – libertarian perspectives are quite prominent. Many people see the decentralizing possibilities of the internet as the means by which to realize these fantasies of stateless free enterprise. So we’d be unwise to ignore the libertarian spectrum; whether or not they become allies against the state, they’re definitely a factor in the political landscape.
ANARCHO-CAPITALISTS: ARE THEY ANARCHISTS? (SPOLIER ALERT: NO)
Alanis: Moving on beyond libertarians, which as we’ve pointed out encompasses a lot of different tendencies, let’s hone in on a particular group among them: anarcho-capitalists. These folks advocate for a stateless society based in private ownership, a free market, and individual sovereignty. The term was coined by an American economist named Murray Rothbard. He was part of the so-called Austrian School, which attempted to make economics into an axiomatic system like math or logic. His ideas trace their heritage to thinkers of the 19th century, including the classical liberals of the Enlightenment tradition who promoted laissez-faire capitalism and challenged the role of the state, as well as some American individualist anarchists, especially Lysander Spooner and Benjamin Tucker.
Clara: OK, so let’s just settle the question: are anarcho-capitalists anarchists?
Alanis: Well, obviously we don’t think so. But on some level it’s sort of pointless to quibble over definitions. A different way to approach it would be: does anarcho-capitalism fit into the historical trajectory of anarchism? Experts agree: the answer is pretty clearly no. The word anarchism first appeared with Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who coined the phrase “property is theft.” He defines anarchy as the absence of a master or a sovereign, and since a proprietor is in essence a sovereign, “property engenders despotism,“ since ”each proprietor is sovereign lord within the sphere of his property." So from the very beginning, anarchism was directly opposed to private property, by definition.
Clara: In Demanding the Impossible, a history of anarchism, Peter Marshall writes:“Few anarchists would accept the ‘anarcho-capitalists’ into the anarchist camp since they do not share a concern for economic equality and social justice… [so] even if they do reject the State, [they] might therefore best be called right-wing libertarians rather than anarchists.”
Alanis: The Anarchist FAQ website points out, “To anarchists it seems bizarre that “anarcho”-capitalists want to get rid of the state but maintain the system it helped create and its function as a defender of the capitalist class’s property and property rights. In other words, to reduce the state purely to its function as (to use Malatesta’s apt word) the gendarme of the capitalist class is not an anarchist goal.”
Clara: And the British anarchist Albert Meltzer puts it this way: “Common sense shows that any capitalist society … could not dispense with organised Government, or a privatised form of it, if there were people amassing money and others working to amass it for them. The philosophy of “anarcho-capitalism” dreamed up by the “libertarian” New Right, has nothing to do with Anarchism as known by the Anarchist movement proper. Unbridled capitalism… needs some force at its disposal to maintain class privileges, either from the State itself or from private Armies. What they believe in is in fact a limited State — that is, one in which the State has one function, to protect the ruling class, does not interfere with exploitation, and comes as cheap as possible for the ruling class.
(He also adds that anarcho-capitalism offers a way for the bourgeois to justify not paying taxes without feeling guilty, which throws an intriguing light on the whole “fair tax” or tax resistance movements among libertarian sectors in the US.)
As these responses hint, there are a few major objections that indicate that anarcho-capitalism is not merely a quirky variation of anarchism, but something entirely different and in fact opposed to it. Let’s start with the central one, which goes to the heart of anarcho-capitalist philosophy and how anarchism negates it: the question of private property.
WHY ANARCHISTS ARE AGAINST PRIVATE PROPERTY
“The first man who, having fenced off a plot of land, thought of saying, ‘This is mine’ and found people simple enough to believe him was the real founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders, how many miseries and horrors might the human race had been spared by the one who, upon pulling up the stakes or filling in the ditch, had shouted to his fellow men: ‘Beware of listening to this impostor; you are lost if you forget the fruits of the earth belong to all and that the earth belongs to no one.’” -Jean-Jacques Rousseau, "Discourse on Inequality”
Clara: Let’s break it down as simply as we can. Anarchists oppose all forms of hierarchy and domination; two of the primary systems of domination in this society are capitalism and the state. In terms of the state, it’s pretty obvious: there’s a small group of people who hold a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, and use that to exert control over you. They extort resources from you in the form of taxes, they tell you what you can and can’t do through laws and bureaucracy, and they compel you to do their bidding with soldiers and police. Anarchists think this is bad for all of us, and that we could organize our lives a lot better without it.
Alanis: So far, so good. Anarcho-capitalists and libertarians generally agree with this part of the analysis – though not necessarily for the same reasons, or based on the same values. The differences become most obvious when we move on to the next mode of domination that anarchists oppose: capitalism.
Clara: So what is capitalism? Well, for starters, it’s an economic system marked by two features: private property and wage labor. The latter is a result of the former; who would work for a wage, i.e., generate surplus value for a boss, if they had access the means of production themselves? Private property is the source of the inequality necessary for capitalism to function. And how is this inequality enforced and preserved? By means of a coercive structure at the disposal of the owners: that is, the state.
Alanis: Let’s get something squared away from the beginning: there’s no such thing as private property without a coercive structure to enforce it. There’s no mystical essence to property. It’s not a concept that exists in all cultures and time periods. Anarcho-capitalists revere private property with religious fervor, making it into a deity that they worship through entrepreneurship and competition. But as we do with all religions, anarchists ask: does that make sense to me? Who wants me to believe that? And whose interests does it serve?
Clara: Not mine, that’s who.
Alanis: But, you ask, what about my house, my toothbrush, my favorite shirt?
Clara: No, I don’t. I don’t ask that.
Alanis: OK, fine, but someone might ask: aren’t those reasons to value private property? Of course we all have the place where we live and the things that we use. This is different from an abstract, inalienable right to dispose of something however we please because of “owning” it, rather than using it. By private property, we’re not talking about the things we use every day; we don’t need some abstract notion of property rights to justify entitlement to those, because it doesn’t entail using them to make a profit. The notion that we can “own” something that we don’t use only makes sense in a system of private property, and capitalism couldn’t exist without a whole lot of people who don’t own the things we use.
Clara: Anarchism offers a pretty simple alternative: resources that we share in common aren’t subject to ownership, but belong to all of us to use and protect. To be clear, anarchists did not invent this idea; in fact, it’s been the centerpiece of most human societies for most of our existence. As for the individual items we use, which aren’t used to make a profit at the expense of anyone else’s time or labor, well, no problem. We can call this the difference between private property and personal property, or private ownership versus possession, or whatever you like. Without a state, there’s no coercive mechanism for redistributing the things we possess and produce away from us; and without private ownership, we have collective access to the resources we need to survive.
Alanis: So what’s the anarcho-capitalist argument for private property and the free market? Well, according to Murray Rothbard, the granddaddy of anarcho-capitalism:
“The basic axiom of libertarian political theory holds that every man is a self owner, having absolute jurisdiction over his own body. In effect, this means that no one else may justly invade, or aggress against, another’s person. It follows then that each person justly owns whatever previously unowned resources he appropriates or “mixes his labor with”. From these twin axioms– self-ownership and “homesteading”– stem the justification for the entire system of property rights titles in a free-market society.”
Clara: Umm… let’s see if we can take this apart. So the basis for why no one can mess with our person is because we own ourselves; so we start from property relationships as the foundation of everything, and build even our sense of bodily integrity up from that. And then we can “justly own” any previously unowned resources we can appropriate or add our labor to – so literally everything can be owned, and if someone else hasn’t claimed it in a private property system, it’s up for grabs.
Alanis: Wait… that sounds like colonialism!
Clara: Sure does! It’s no coincidence that one of the only historical examples anarcho-capitalists can cite of their theory in practice was the settlement of the American west by descendents of Europeans in the 19th century. The inconvenient fact that their experiment required the genocide and displacement of hundreds of human cultures and the desecration of the land base seems not to matter.
Alanis: In case you have any doubts about the explicitly white supremacist nature of this homesteading approach to property rights, take a look at Ayn Rand’s disgusting rant justifying the displacement of native peoples from the Americas. She argues, “Since the Indians did not have the concept of property or property rights…they didn’t have rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights that they had not conceived of and were not using.” According to the logic of property rights, the only alternative to a life based on competition and domination is displacement and death.
Clara: Anarcho-capitalism is a political and economic theory to justify the frontier mentality at the heart of the American colonial psyche; freedom and liberty are possible if we can just move past the boundaries of government control into uncharted territory where private individuals can make contracts with each other like men should. But beneath this fantasy we can see the reality of indigenous genocide and environmental destruction, a world in which every square inch is carved up and owned to the detriment of all life – a reality, we might add, that could never have come to pass without the backing of state power. Private property is the ideology that makes it possible. It cannot and will not ever be the basis for any kind of freedom that anarchists long to see.
“FREE TRADE” AND THE MYTH OF MUTUAL PROFIT
Alanis: OK, so private property isn’t going to be the basis for an anarchist society, at least not any kind of one I’d want to live in. But when I talk to libertarians, they always argue that the foundation of a free society is free exchange, which benefits everyone. Each of us has something the other needs; we make an exchange, and we both come out ahead… right?
Clara: It’s not that simple. We can create a thought experiment in which we’ve all got equal but different resources, and there’s no hierarchy or coercion to compel us one way or another, and then we barter with each other according to our comparative advantage, and mutually benefit. But this isn’t how it works in the real world. Whether between individuals or between nations, the state-enforced system of private ownership we live under weights the scales to compel most of us to accept deals we’d never tolerate without coercion. My boss has all kinds of stuff I need, but all I’ve got to sell is my time; I’m free to sell my labor, or otherwise free to get evicted from my house and starve on the street. The US forces Mexico into a “free trade” agreement and dumps cheap corn on the market, impoverishing thousands of peasants who can’t afford to stay on their land, so have to move into the maquiladoras to produce consumer goods for Americans at poverty wages. If this is the free market, then freedom certainly isn’t free.
Alanis: Ah, say the libertarians, but that’s not really the free market. If we just got rid of all the government barriers to trade and individual entrepreneurship, then we’d be free to negotiate whatever deals we wanted, individual to individual, and surely then we’d all benefit, right?
Clara: Sorry, still not convinced. So-called market forces dictate that prices rise for food during famines, or for life-saving drugs during epidemics, since the demand is so much higher. They also prioritize producing anything that will result in profit regardless of its utility or the consequences it exacts on the environment it comes from or the social world it enters. Thus we have a world full of pointless consumer crap rotting in landfills. We can’t blame that on state intervention into the economy. No invisible hand points market-based choices in mutually beneficial directions. And without private property rights and the coercive power to defend them, no one would be able to convert forests into junk mail when it served no interest other than profit.
Alanis: What is profit, anyway? It’s not the same thing as positive benefit; some of the most destructive activity possible today is highly profitable, and even the individuals garnering those profits aren’t necessarily happier or better off from having profited. They’re simply higher up on the treadmill, with more capital to use to make more profit- though of course they’ll lose their position if they relent for a second in the scramble for profit, since capitalism forces everyone and everything into the logic of competition.
Clara: And that’s the key to understanding what profit really is – it can only come at the expense of others. It’s a zero-sum game. That’s because to profit means to gain control over a proportionally larger amount of the resources of your society. It’s not just making more money, as if everyone could make more money at the same time and be wealthier; that would just be inflation. The technological advances of the industrial era haven’t resulted in everyone being better off; even if most people in the US have a car now, we’re more socially isolated and working longer hours to fund our auto dependence, not to mention the deforestation and air pollution rendering life less possible by the day. When the drive for profit and market forces set the agenda, everybody loses in the long run.
Alanis: Only by abandoning profit as the incentive for all human activity can we imagine a world where our efforts nourish rather than deplete each other and the world we live in.
IT’S NEVER WORKED, IT COULD NEVER WORK
Clara: Even if we thought it was a good idea- which obviously we don’t – a society in which private property and a free market exist without a state to enforce them is simply imaginary. It doesn’t exist; never has, and never could. Why? Well, first and foremost, because the notion of a free market operating outside of any state is a fiction. There aren’t any historical examples of societies organized along anarcho-capitalist principles – save the wild West example we discussed earlier, or perhaps medieval Iceland, if you sort of squint at it right – and the contemporary examples most closely informed by extreme free market ideas are dystopian nightmares.
Alanis: In her book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein examines the case of Chile in 1973, in which a military coup overthrew the government and established a dictatorship, at the behest of American corporate interests and with the help of the CIA. The new regime hired economists from the University of Chicago under the direction of Milton Friedman to impose their theories on the country, since only conditions of extreme authoritarian terror would allow them to be implemented. A similar process took place after the fall of the Soviet Union, when a massive privatization of formerly state-owned assets overseen by neoliberal economists made overnight billionaires out of a few oligarchs while poverty and misery skyrocketed. Implementing the types of policies dreamt up by libertarians is impossible outside of catastrophic situations, and inevitably has catastrophic consequences for the majority of the population. And even these fall short of the prescriptions of anarcho-capitalists. As Noam Chomsky put it:
“Anarcho-capitalism, in my opinion, is a doctrinal system which, if ever implemented, would lead to forms of tyranny and oppression that have few counterparts in human history. There isn’t the slightest possibility that its (in my view, horrendous) ideas would be implemented, because they would quickly destroy any society that made this colossal error.”
INDIVIDUALISM VS. COLLECTIVISM
Clara: OK, so we’ve pretty well done away with any notion that anarcho-capitalists have anything to do with us. But there are still a couple of intriguing things that come up for me when I think about what significance they might have for anarchists today.
Alanis: Oh yeah?
Clara: I’m still wondering about the alignment between some anarchists and right-wing libertarians in this notion of individualism: everything comes down to the unit of the individual. Is anarchism individualist or collectivist?
Alanis: Fundamentally, both.
Clara: Wait, how does that work?
Alanis: This may seem contradictory, but it’s actually one of the most important subtleties to understand about anarchism, so let’s try to flesh it out. Libertarians (the capitalist ones) often frame themselves as opposites to socialists (the authoritarian ones). But they both share the conviction that the individual and the collective are opposed to each other. Whereas anarchists assert that our fullest freedom as individuals can only flourish in a social context free from oppression and exploitation.
Clara: So in the sense you mean, being free isn’t just the absence of constraint, but the presence of our capacity to manifest our fullest potential: a negative as well as a positive conception.
Alanis: Yes. And that has to consider our collective flourishing as well. Anarchists are pretty unique, in that when it comes to individual and collective, liberty as well as equality, we want it all – and in fact believe that we have to have it all for any of it to matter.
Clara: Aha! Like that Bakunin quote -
Alanis: Freedom without socialism is privilege and injustice;
Clara: Socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.
Alanis: And that’s something we’ll discuss more in our next episode…
THE CHOPPING BLOCK: A SECRET HISTORY OF “MARKETS NOT CAPITALISM”
Alanis: And now it’s time for the Chopping Block, our section of each episode dedicated to reviewing books and magazines and other things that anarchists should be reading. This one was a little tricky, because most of the anarcho-capitalist books out there are utterly unreadable, or diametrically opposed to our politics, or both. So what should we review for this episode?
Clara: Alright, I’ve been thinking. So we’ve gone through libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism; we see the fundamental conflict between anarchists who oppose private property and those others who adopt anarchist critiques of the state but preserve private property as the basis of their politics. We should be just about ready to move on.
Clara: But what about those so-called market anarchists on the left end of the libertarian spectrum? The ones who claim to oppose inequality and exploitation, even capitalism, yet hold this notion of the free market as a tool for freedom, if we could just get the artificial inequalities reinforced by the state out of the way?
Clara: No, hear me out. It seems like these folks are the ones who overlap the most with us in terms of political values and issues, so maybe we should try to engage more seriously with their ideas.
Alanis: If you think I’m spending the rapidly vanishing hours of my life reading about how the free market is going to save the world, sorry, Clara, it’s not gonna happen.
Clara: But take a book like Markets Not Capitalism, the anthology edited by Charles Johnson and Gary Chartier. They’ve got some of the more interesting and sort of anarcho-compatible ideas from the pro-private property crowd. The Final Straw radio show did an interview with one of the editors a while back, and it sort of piqued my interest. It was put out by Minor Compositions, which is an imprint of the pretty much anarchist press Autonomedia, so there must be something to it, right?
Alanis: Ha ha ha, ho ho ho! Welllll, funny you should ask about that particular book.
Clara: Why? What do you mean?
Alanis: As it turns out, we have an interview to share with one of the folks who made that book happen – an actual anarchist – and I think you’ll find the story pretty illuminating.
Anarchist Designer: I am not very proud to say I’m the designer of the book Markets Not Capitalism. I was contacted to lay out the book and do the graphic design a number of years ago, while the book was still in process, and it had the name “Not Capitalism” in the title, so I was perfectly willing to do it. And I don’t consider myself a mutualist or anything like that; I never had a specific problem with mutualism because it’s not capitalism. So I thought that was what this book would be about.
So I started laying out the book, and pretty immediately… now, I’m going to go ahead and admit that I don’t read everything that I lay out, but I would skim as I was laying it out. And I read a couple chapters that would say things like, “In effect, the poor and the rich are stealing from the middle class by means of corporate and traditional welfare” - which is insane, or at least capitalist logic. And I would run across another chapter that would say things like, “We must defend bigots’ right to have spaces free of people of color,” or whatever, and that the people who staged sit-ins at lunch counters in the civil rights movement were only justified in trespassing because they didn’t resist arrest. And… what was another one? Another one was, “The first enemy of the environmental movement is environmental law.” Now, obviously as an anarchist I understand that environmental law is not the solution to environmental problems. But I would actually go ahead and suggest that the first enemy of the environmental movement is industrial capitalism.
And so I realized this, I got about half way through laying out the book, and then I was like, no, I quit. There’s no way I’m gonna do this… this book is awful! And the book goes on at great length about how this freer market is going to spread the wealth around, and it’s the real socialism. And in the introduction to the book it says something like, we all agree – all free market people agree, including these free market “anti-capitalists” that wrote this book – they all believe in the private ownership of the means of production as well as capital goods… which seems to be a working definition of capitalism. And the only way in which they distinguish themselves from capitalists is that they believe in starting from a level playing field, that expropriation is okay (so long as it’s expropriation of goods given to the rich by the government), and that they believe, unlike the free market capitalists, the free market anti-capitalists believe that this setup will inherently lead to equality. And they frame all of this as socialism and anarchism, and they actually make several swipes at anyone else as not being the real socialists unless they believe this.
So I quit. I wrote the publisher and I said, I’m sorry, I started laying out this book, but it’s racist, classist, and just ridiculous. And so I quit. And they thought about it, and they said – and you know, I was very polite, I gave them the work that I had done thus far for free, about half way done, saying, you know figure it out yourself. And they wrote back, and they said – the publishers, not the editors, said - well, how about we give you a page in the back in which you can explain your problems with the book? And I have to admit, this amused me. So I took the job back, I finished it, and I wrote a one page piece in the back that was short and to the point, and the point was that this book was not in any way anarchist, not in any way socialist, and not in any way not racist. And so I put that in the back of the book and I sent the completed manuscript back to the publisher. And the publisher – who I actually have a lot of respect for – looked at it, and then they looked at my extra page, and they kind of laughed, and then they wrote me back and they were like, oh boy, this is going to be a tough sell. And then about a week later I heard, no, we’re not going to let you put that page at the back of the book.
And I was actually at a bit of a loss. Because I didn’t want to do that work, except that I was willing to do the work if I had the page in the back, and not otherwise. But I was trapped by this very free market these people claim will be liberating. I live in my vehicle and my car insurance was due, and I was counting on the money that I would receive for laying out the book in order to continue to live. So I was trapped. And I thought about it for a while, and I said, well, I’m trapped by the market, and so I proposed a market solution to this problem: you all need to pay me significantly more money.
And they did, and they did immediately. Because all the editors of the book, as soon as they heard that the anarchist layout designer was not excited about the book, immediately got together and said, oh, why don’t we just pay him more money? (You know, because that seems to be the solution to all of their problems). I found it very – I don’t know whether it’s fitting or ironic, that this is the only way out of this for me, was that I was literally trapped into continuing to do this work that I despise. I had my name taken off the book, because I had to.
Alanis: And with that, dear Clara, I rest my case.
Clara: Dang! Looks like I am not a left-libertarian market anarchist after all. Something seemed fishy to me about all that, anyway.
Alanis: It’s not that complicated. Anarchists want to end all forms of hierarchy. The state won’t do it; the market won’t do it. Only we can.
Clara: If you’d like to read Markets Not Capitalism or more about private property anarchism, we recommend you get over it and develop better taste in books.
Alanis: But if you would like to read more about anarchist critiques of libertarianism and market ideology, then check out “All the Freedom Money Can Buy: The Problem With Property.” This essay fleshes out the themes we discussed in this episode and lays out an anarchist perspective on private property and its discontents. It’ll be coming out in about a week, and you’ll be able to find it via the blog on crimethinc.com.
NEXT WEEK’S NEWS
Alanis: And now it’s time for next week’s news. Clara, what do we have coming up on the calendar? Clara: Let’s see… the BASTARD, or Berkeley Anarchist Students of Theory And Research and Development, are seeking workshop submissions for their upcoming conference on March 23rd in Berkeley, California. The theme is: SOCIAL WAR! Find more information at sfbay-anarchists.org.
Alanis: Lady and Trans* Fest is happening March 28th through 30th in Dublin, Ireland, and will include music, theater, workshops, films, spoken word, and discussions. Find out more at ladyfestdublin.wordpress.com.
Clara: And our correspondents with CrimethInc Far South Philippines wrote in to let us know that in Naga City on February 21st and 22nd, they will be hosting “Art, Atheism & Anarchy: A Poetic Convergence of Science of Civic Humanity.”
Alanis: Whoa, cool!
Clara: It’s a venue for art, poetry, music, film screening and exchange of ideas that focus on secular humanism and anarchism. Organizers envision that free thought and will be encouraged as embodied in atheist and anarchist ideas and practice. There will also be a special video presentation of Mohammed Bamyeh, the author of the book “Anarchy as Order.”
Alanis: If you’re interested in participating or you want to find out more, email emmagold_man at yahoo dot com.
Clara: And a couple of prisoners’ birthdays to keep in mind:
On February 19th, Kamau Sadiki, former Black Panther and Black Liberation Army soldier, framed for murder 30 years after the fact;
Alanis: And also on the 19th, Shaka Cinque, also known as Albert Woodfox, the last member of the Angola 3 still in prison, still struggling after 41 years in solitary confinement. His case is one of the most disgusting ones in a prison system known for unbelievable injustice and brutality; learn more at angola3.org.
Clara: As usual, check our website for current mailing addresses and links to more info on their cases.
Alanis: And that’s it for this episode of the Ex-worker! This has been a production of the CrimethInc. Ex-Worker’s Collective. Thanks to everybody for listening, thanks to Underground Reverie for the music you’ve heard, and extra special thanks to Jerry and Mo for coming on the show to speak with us.
Clara: We’ll be back in two weeks with our next episode, in which we’ll continue our exploration of what anarchism is NOT by looking at communism!
Alanis: Till next time…
Clara: Property is theft! And don’t you forget it!
Links and references from this episode of The Ex-Worker:
Download MP3 (84 Min; 35MB), Download OGG (36MB)
If you’d like to read more about anarchist critiques of libertarianism and private property, check out the forthcoming CrimethInc essay “All the Freedom Money Can Buy: The Problem With Property.” It’ll be available soon via the CrimethInc blog.
We cited a few other critiques that anarchists have made over the years. A helpful starting place is the Anarchist FAQ, which has several online versions: we drew on the one on The Anarchist Library, one found at the Anarchist Writers article archive, and one accessed via the Free Republic website](http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-backroom/707836/posts). Other sources included Anarchism: Arguments For and Against by Albert Meltzer, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s classic What is Property?, a Noam Chomsky interview, and our old pal Mikey Bakunin.
For more info on the impact of extreme neoliberal economic policies, don’t miss the terrific film “The Chicago Conspiracy,” which traces the impact of Milton Friedman and “the Chicago Boys” on the Chilean economy in the aftermath of the Pinochet dictatorship. We also cited Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine, which covers the Chilean case as well as post-Soviet Russia and post-Katrina New Orleans.
If you want to look into anarcho-capitalism, start with texts from some of the 19th and early 20th century individualist anarchists who influence contemporary market anarchists, in particular “Individual Liberty” by Benjamin Tucker and writings by Lysander Spooner. The Center for a Stateless Society, a “left market anarchist think tank and media center,” occasionally overlaps with anarchist perspectives that interest us. Praxeology, the website of Roderick Long (one of the contributors to the Markets Not Capitalism book), includes links to most of the core texts in the tradition; his organization, the Molinari Institute, promotes market anarchist ideas. You can also listen to the Final Straw podcast’s interview with Charles Johnson, co-author of Markets Not Capitalism.
In this episode, we recapped some of the other folks who use the label “anarchist” despite espousing views directly counter to core anarchist principles. We mentioned our coverage in Episode 11 of the so-called “National Anarchists”. Anti-fascist organizer Daryle Lamont Jenkins from the One People’s Project discusses them as well as the links between white supremacists and the Ron Paul/libertarian crowd in the US in an interview with the Final Straw.
Learn how to support the Westville, Indiana prisoners in resistance at the Dignity at Westville blog.
More updates on released grand jury resistor Jerry Koch will be available from jerryresists.net.
Keep an eye on the Free the NATO 3 support site for updates on their ongoing trial.
You can find updates from the prisoner hunger strike in Menard Correctional Center from the Anti-State St. Louis blog
To learn more about the FBI’s entrapment strategy for counter-terrorism cases targeting American Muslim communities, check out the fascinating “Terrorists for the FBI” feature from Mother Jones magazine, as well as Trevor Aaronson’s book The Terror Factory and an interview with him on Democracy Now.
For those interested in the radical possibilities opened up by heretical religious rebellions, one listener recommends Os Cangaceiros’ Millenarian Rebels as well as Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch, which we reviewed on the Chopping Block in Episode 2.
Upcoming events include Lady & Trans Fest in Dublin, Ireland, the BASTARD Conference in Berkeley, CA, and “Art, Atheism & Anarchy: A Poetic Convergence of Science of Civic Humanity” in Naga City, Philippines.
News briefs on the Hot Wire included the sentencing of animal rights activist Kevin Olliff and former Earth Liberation Front fugitive Rebecca Rubin, an Anonymous leak of an FBI terrorism warning against journalism covering animal abuse, arrest of Chilean anarchist Tamara Sol Farías Vergara, release of four Moscow anti-fascists, anti-right wing rioting in Vienna, Austria, indigenous grandmothers blockading Montana tar sands equipment megaload, police crackdown on Beirut landfill occuption, Mongolian “Fire Nation” environmental activists sentenced for terrorism, Indonesian anti-mining protestors shot by police, and more San Francisco Bay area protests against Google.
Upcoming prisoner birthdays:
Kamau Sadiki (Freddie Hilton) #1150688
Augusta State Medical Prison, Building 13A–2 E7
3001 Gordon Highway
Grovetown, Georgia 30813
Address envelope to Freddie Hilton, address card to Kamau
Shaka Cinque (Albert Woodfox) NIA #3-CCR
David Wade Correctional Center
670 Bell Hill Road Homer, Louisiana 71040
Address envelope to Albert Woodfox, address card to Shaka