“I want to live in a world where governance is legitimate and human relations are consensual. I want to live in a world of peaceful, spontaneous experimentation, where individuals can shape their own political environment; a world with an array of self-actualized communities that create their own social and economic norms without coercive third parties interfering. In short, I have a humble desire – to see the state and corporate capitalism destroyed, and replaced with complete human autonomy and cooperation. I want anarchy.”
Autonomy and Action
Joel Williamson | July 12th, 2016
“By striving to do the impossible, man has always achieved what is possible. Those who have cautiously done no more than they believed possible have never taken a single step forward.” – Attributed to Mikhail Bakunin in Paolo Novaresio’s The Explorers
A revolutionary is someone who knows the political world in which they want to live and makes steps toward that world in verifiable ways. Promoting political revolution is one thing; putting boots on the ground is another. In what world do you want to live, and what are you doing to get there?
I want to live in a world where governance is legitimate and human relations are consensual. I want to live in a world of peaceful, spontaneous experimentation, where individuals can shape their own political environment; a world with an array of self-actualized communities that create their own social and economic norms without coercive third parties interfering. In short, I have a humble desire – to see the state and corporate capitalism destroyed, and replaced with complete human autonomy and cooperation. I want anarchy.
There are many who share a similar dream and who understand that such a world is possible, theoretically. But what can we realistically hope to achieve? Will anarchy be limited to small pockets throughout the world or will it spread worldwide? Will we see it implemented in our lifetime or is it a multigenerational goal?
Once we dissect the specifics and articulate reasonable answers to these questions, we then can develop sensible tactics. Allowing our perspectives to evolve with experience and discourse enables us to continually shape practicable strategy. Moving forward, the only relevant question is how to carve the path and what tools to use.
First, ditch electoral politics. Progressive reformism and conservative gradualism are largely a waste of time, money, and energy, and should be avoided if the goal is revolutionary transformation. As the popular saying, often attributed to Emma Goldman goes, “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal”. The truth is, voting can have some effect, but not in any predictable way that ensures lasting change. The reforms that politicians propose can often come as a package deal that returns a certain liberty in one hand and takes away a different liberty in the other. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that your chosen politician will get office, that their promises will be met, or that their promises would be a net benefit for the expansion of freedom. There is a knowledge problem that cannot be reconciled. For too long people have given in to the hope for liberty through channels of traditional politics, under the guise of pragmatism. What constitutes a practical tactic should be determined by its success. The results are in and politicking has failed us.
We who abstain from conventional politics are sometimes accused of wanting too much, too fast. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the same could very easily be said about those who engage primarily inside the system. Building alternatives and exploring tactics that fall outside of recommended methods for shaping our political and social environment require experimentation and planning, which takes patience. On the contrary, electoral reform seeks immediate gratification, often bringing about trivial changes that possess no promise of permanence.
It’s often repeated amongst some who advocate for a withdrawal from parliamentary politics that, “voting is violence”. But is this slogan true, or even effective? I would argue that, when you vote for a politician, you do play a direct hand in attempting to put someone in a coercive position above another, therefore participating in an act of initiatory violence. This type of action is worthy of ethical criticism, however, it is not always that simple. Take the act of voting against a local proposition that infringes on civil liberties, for instance. This type of vote is in a different contextual category that hardly seems to be an act of violence. Speaking generously, it can be seen as an act of self-defense, even if that act is done through state sanctioned means; it’s not clear to me that all voting is violence. Taking all of that into account, it is important to understand that these acts are essentially insignificant if the goal is total liberation. If we wish to radicalize other anarchists who participate inside the system, we have a better chance of doing so with a consequential analysis, not moral condemnation.
If we reject the state, we should also reject its methods for letting our voices be heard. There is no dignity in participating in our enemy’s diversions and we should consistently strive to delegitimize them in theory and practice. One of the more obvious examples of the uselessness of reformism can be found in the political history of America. The so-called Founding Fathers imagined a world where the government remained limited and bound by the constitution. That government has now grown into one of the largest empires to ever exist, and this has happened despite people’s parliamentary efforts to stop it. History shows that operating within prescribed modes for political change will prove to be futile in the long run. Objects in motion remain in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. We need to become that outside force.
Secondly, I feel that anarchists should also avoid philosophical perfectionism. It is certainly true that some forms of anarchism are questionable and worthy of proper discussion. Nevertheless, infighting amongst anarchist circles can often distract us from organizing. This proposal for a big tent approach is not inclusive for the sake of inclusivity. It is, rather, recognition of the true potential we hold as allies working against a common enemy. Let’s smash the state and build another world despite one another’s perceived ideological imperfections.
In an anarchist world, individuals will have the opportunity to arrange themselves voluntarily in whatever fashion they see fit. They can do this either together, or separately from those who hold different values. There is no reason for these varying networks and communities to be at constant war with one another, absent the state’s monopoly on conflict resolution. The same ought to apply in our means to this end. As we go about implementing this world, let’s be creative in our problem solving and keep our eye on the prize. When we shift our focus to broader revolutionary discourse, we can build alliances and cultivate power with a diverse set of tactics. As Samuel Edward Konkin III said in New Libertarian Manifesto, “There is no One Way, one straight line graph to Liberty, to be sure. But there is a family of graphs, a Space filled with lines, which will take the libertarian to his goal of the free society, and that Space can be described.”
Assuming the state will not simply collapse on its own, there are things we can and should be doing to help end it once and for all. Electoral politics are a wash, but is nonparticipation sufficient in getting the job done? I think not. The question remains, how do we fundamentally change our statist condition to a libertarian one? As Konkin points out, the answer is necessarily multi-pronged.
We can take notes from existing anarchist efforts such as the Rojavan freedom fighters. They posses intense bravery in armed struggle against imposition and are great proof that autonomy can sustain even amongst the most hostile of situations. If anarchists in the West could harness that kind of revolutionary fervor and apply it toward our own struggles, we would undoubtedly be in a better place.
Defense Distributed is another great example of direct action that should be an inspiration. Their creation of tools like The Liberator, Ghost Gunner, and Dark Wallet have changed the game for us not only in the abstract but also quite literally in the real world. They are actively expanding freedom and shaping the discourse surrounding topics of the firearm, privacy, and free speech.
Peaceful Streets Project and other cop-watch groups like them are on the front lines in our struggle to grow awareness of police brutality. They hold criminal cops accountable by documenting their interactions with the public and encourage people to form community defense to lesson their dependency on the state. Groups like these are exciting and make a difference in radically overt ways.
There are also other organizations that do great work and are less risky. Groups like Food Not Bombs regularly provide free food for underprivileged people and are a great example of solving social ills through grassroots efforts. The Food is Free Project, an organization with similar goals, has no official political affiliation but is nonetheless succeeding abundantly in their efforts to provide food and build community by erecting gardens in peoples front lawns, while promoting a sharing culture in neighborhoods across Texas.
Work with existing groups, create your own, or work alone. Fortunately for us, there is no one size fits all when it comes to creating another world from the ground up. In addition to the methods used by the organizations mentioned previously, I’ve created an incomplete list of practical tactics outside of the parliamentary world that I see as worthy of consideration. Note that not all of these tactics are equal. They should be debated and other ideas should be added:
* Practicing counter-economics, self-sufficiency, and encrypting communication
* Using Bitcoin, experimenting in gift, barter, and other enterprises like LETS
* Developing and distributing disruptive technology, including sustainable online dark markets and hacking projects
* Constructing intentional communities, forming cadres, affinity groups, or underground societies of trusted friends and family
* Forming grassroots, non-state unionization under corporate hegemony
* Publishing subversive literature anonymously
* Organizing prison outreach and strikes
* Creating autonomous alternatives for schools, healthcare, arbitration, emergency services, and defense
We do not need faith in mass philosophical conversion in order to be successful. We need only to create incentives for people to join our efforts. Non-radicals will likely adopt different ways of living, despite its political implications, if it shows to be beneficial or superior to what the state and corporate capitalism offers them. Education is important in all phases of the revolution and the most useful type of education will happen through the building of alternatives. The possibilities are abundant and a revolution requires action – so pick your poison and organize. How much do we want anarchy, and what are we willing to do to make it happen?