A sketch of an association of democratic,
autonomous neighborhoods and how to create it
Fourth Edition, January 2004
by James Herod
to contact the author, <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Note. The 2007 Edition is available as a rich text format (rtf) file at
Getting Free (the entire essay, complete in this one long file, 395kb),
The entire essay is available in rich text format (501kb). It may be downloaded from
The entire essay is available in rich text format (501kb). It may be downloaded from
placed in the public domain. Please reproduce freely.
First edition, fall 1998, eighty copies.
Getting Free is available on the Web at:
A Portuguese translation of the 2nd Internet edition is available on the web at: http://www.geocities.com/projetoperiferia/gettingfreept.htm
A Spanish translation of the final edition, in preparation, will be at:
A serialized translation of the first edition into Persian has appeared in:
printed copy of the essay, which is available as a rich text format file at
Both the left and right links go to individual htm files for
each of the essay's sections. --G.S.]
Table of Contents
Getting Free, in a much shorter version, was first prepared for the conference on “Critical Issues in Contemporary Anarchism” held at Montague, Massachusetts on June 7-9, 1996. I would like to thank the organizers of that conference, John Petrovato and Cindy Milstein, for providing an incentive to get it written.
I would like to thank the following friends and acquaintances who read various earlier drafts of the essay and returned comments to me (my apologies if I have overlooked anyone): George Salzman, Betsy Rueda Gynn, Libardo Rueda, Jaime Becker, Brian Hart, Juan Carlos Oretga, Sonya Huber, Gary Zabel, Chris Pauli, Brian Griffin, Henry Jung, Bob McKinney, Thomas Reifer, Marianela Tovar, Behrooz Ghassemi, Monty Neill, Charlene Decker, Steve Heims, Danielle Zabel, Jon Bekken, Sanya Hyland, Mark Laskey, Suzanne Miller, Sarah Shoemaker, Barry Tilles, Andrew Nevins, Hudson Luce, Tony Young, and Alex Dajkovic.
I also presented the paper at a workshop at the Anarchist Gathering held in Lawrence, Kansas in June 2002. The essay was well received and I got much useful feedback from some of those attending.
I had interesting conversations about the book via e-mail with Lenny Gray, Edwin Laing, Marc Silverstein, (I)An-ok Ta Chai, Duy Nguyen, Brian Martin, Micah Bales, Derek, Kenny, Simon Cumming, Hugo Mildenberger, Sebastien Gagnon, Louis Gosselin, and Matt Leonard.
I was able to improve the essay considerably because of these many suggestions, although I did not agree with all of them. I've tried to answer some of the criticisms in this revised version.
I did the typesetting and proof reading myself (and am therefore responsible for the remaining mistakes), but I had help, much appreciated, in reproducing and distributing the first edition, from Betsy Gynn, Jon Bekken, Kenn Browne, and Chris Pauli. Unfortunately, the manuscript has not yet been privileged to receive the attention of a good copy editor; I’m sure the text could be improved thereby.
I would especially like to thank George Salzman. Without his interest and encouragement I doubt if the essay would have reached this finished form. He carefully read the various versions of the essay, and made comments that helped clarify the text at numerous places. He has also promoted the essay vigorously in many ways, including posting it on his web site, and arranging to have it translated into Spanish. Naturally, he doesn’t (and hardly anyone does) agree with everything in it.
A first edition was published in the fall of 1998 in only eighty copies, photocopied (not printed), but bound in book form. A second version, revised and expanded, was posted on the Internet in the winter of 2000, under the name of Jared James. The Internet version was updated with further additions and revisions in February, 2002. This last, and final, version was wrapped up in January 2004.
Rather than load this book down with footnotes, I've decided to refer the reader instead to another book of mine, Emancipatory Social Thought: A Partially Annotated Bibliography in English for the Libertarian Left and Progressive Populists in the United States, which gives references to most of the topics discussed here.
I would also like to refer the reader to other essays I’ve written over the past few years which supplement Getting Free. These are included in my book, Selected Writings: 1969-2004. Eight of them are also available by links immediately below, which are repeated just following the Recommended Reading section, the final one of the essay.
Neither of these works, Selected Writings or Emancipatory Social Thought has yet been published, but they are available on the Internet at: (web site address to be announced).
1. Breaking Out of the Cage and Destroying Our Jailers
The main purpose of this book is to try to persuade revolutionaries to shift the sites of the anti-capitalist struggle, and to select new battlefields. I identify three strategic sites for fighting — neighborhoods, workplaces, and households — which I believe will not only enable us to defeat capitalists but also to build a new society in the process.
The advantage of shifting the battleground to the three strategic sites is that it is an offensive strategy, not merely a defensive one. That is, it is not merely our reacting to things we don't like and want to stop, not merely our resisting what they are doing to us, but rather our defending what we are doing to them through our new social creations. It means that we would begin to take the initiative to build the life we want, and then fight to defend this life, and defend our social creations from attacks by the ruling class. I think people will be much more willing to fight for something like this, than to fight to stop outrages of the ruling class elsewhere, which often seem remote from their everyday lives. But we should be quite clear that this will involve us in terrible fights. We will never be able to establish free associations on any of these sites without directly confronting ruling class power.
In listing all the strategies that have failed it isn't my intention to denigrate the revolutionary efforts of past generations. Resisting and defeating capitalism has been an historical project of enormous scope; revolutionaries have poured their lives into strategies they considered best at the time. I'm simply trying to take stock, and to reflect on where we've been and what we've tried, and on where ought to be going now, and what we ought to be trying to do. I do not claim that the strategy I outline here is the end all and be all. It's a proposal, that's all, an assessment, a reflection on what I think it will take for us to win. But I'm only one person. Fashioning a new anti-capitalist strategy for our times is obviously a task for millions.
Nor is it my intention (in listing what I claim are failed strategies) to say that people should stop resisting altogether. It is to argue that these forms of resistance, although they have accomplished a lot, haven't gotten us very far toward our ultimate goal of destroying capitalism. They haven't enabled us to overthrow the system, defeat the ruling class, or build a free society, and I don't think they ever will.
Some of these failed strategies, like the Leninist vanguard party, social democracy, dropping out, and guerrilla warfare, should be abandoned completely. Others, like demonstrations and single-issue campaigns, should clearly be subordinated to the main task of building free associations in neighborhoods, workplaces, and households. It's not so much that strategies like strikes, civil disobedience, or insurrections are wrong in themselves. It's that they are not enough, and by themselves cannot defeat capitalism. To win we must add another whole dimension.
The sad truth though is that the three strategic sites we could be fighting on, and which might lead us to victory, are largely being ignored. The workplace struggles going on are largely reformist, as are most neighborhood organizing initiatives, while there is very little organizing at all being done around households. So the bulk of our energies are not going into these three strategic sites at all, but into other arenas. I would feel much better about all the demonstrations, the marches, the civil disobedience, the single-issue campaigns, if significant struggles were also being waged in workplaces, neighborhoods, and households. But in the absence of these fights, where does all the rest get us? Not to victory, that's clear enough.
The recent, spectacular resurgence of radical movements the world over, first symbolized by the Battle of Seattle in November 1999, and continuing on through Quebec City and Genoa, highlights the issues I've raised in a most urgent way. As heartening as these developments have been, and as wonderful as they are to see, it's all too possible that they will go nowhere, and will eventually fizzle out and disappear, just like the revolts of the sixties did, unless they can be linked to struggles to seize control of our lives on the local level.
Somehow, it has come to be accepted that this is what radicals do — demonstrate — when they want to protest or stop something, and that mass demonstrations take priority over everything else. I will be arguing that we have it just backwards, upside down. If we had reorganized ourselves into neighborhood, workplace, and household assemblies, and were struggling to seize power there, then we would have a base from which to stop ruling class offensives like neoliberalism, and if we then chose to demonstrate in the streets, there would be some teeth to it, and not be just an isolated, ephemeral event, which can be pretty much ignored by our rulers. We would not be just protesting but countering. We have to organize ourselves in such a way that we have the power to counter them, not just protest against them, but refuse them, neutralize them. This cannot be done by affinity groups, NGOs, or isolated individuals converging periodically at world summits to protest against the ruling class, but only by free associations rooted in real everyday life.
And if we were organized like this it might not even be necessary to go to mass demonstrations at all. We could simply announce what we were going to do to them if they didn't cease oppressive practices. But opposition movements gravitate again and again to these kinds of demonstrations. "Taking to the Streets", we call it. We can't build a new social world in the streets. As long as we're only in the streets, whereas our opponents function through real organizations like governments, corporations, and police, we will always be on the receiving end of the tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and, almost everywhere in the world but North America or Europe, real bullets, napalm, poisons, and bombs. This predilection for protests and demonstrations prevailed throughout the sixties, as the movement traveled to Washington DC time and again, taking to the streets. We are still like children, only able to 'raise a ruckus'. We are not yet adults who can assemble, reason together, take stock of our options, devise a strategy, and then strike, to defeat our enemies, and build the world we want.
We are living in a window of opportunity. Anti-capitalist forces have been at a strategic impasse for decades, with widespread confusion over both the shape of the new world we want and how to dismantle the existing one. But the complete collapse and discrediting of the Bolshevik model in Russia and all over the third world, and the equal bankruptcy of Social Democracy in Europe, opens up the possibility of redefining radical politics, of rethinking the goal of the revolution and its strategy. For the first time in over a century anarchist perspectives are back on the agenda in a serious way. Anti-statist approaches are gaining ground, even among some communists and marxists. I think of my essay as a contribution to this world-wide effort to redefine radical politics and to break out of the impasse that has stymied the revolution ever since the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917, the Socialist Democrats were defeated in Germany in 1919, and the Spanish Revolution went down to defeat in 1939.
My essay helps renew radical politics in several ways I believe. By outlining a three pronged attack on the system, by focusing not merely on the workplace (seizing the means of production) but also on neighborhoods, and households, it anticipates a recapturing of decision-making, that is, its relocation, out of state bureaucracies, parliaments, and corporate boards, and into our assemblies. It also emphasizes capturing the means of re-production (and not only of production) through household associations. Its guiding principle is free association. It focuses squarely on the necessity of building an opposition movement and culture, and of creating for ourselves new social relations. It also integrates the goal and the strategy for achieving the goal, suggesting very concrete steps that ordinary people can take to defeat capitalism and build a new world.
I have taken some ideas for granted, in addition to an anti-capitalist outlook, which the reader needs to be aware of in order to understand why I have written as I have. My sketch of a new social world and a strategy for achieving it is based on a firm commitment to direct democracy, not representative democracy or federation. I am aware that almost everyone now automatically dismisses direct democracy as being no longer possible in a “complex industrial society.” I have always disagreed with this view.
You will also not be able to understand my remarks unless you are aware that I think of capitalism as a worldwide system, which is approximately 500 years old. Capitalists started establishing their way of living in Europe, between 1450 and 1650 roughly, and then, over the next several centuries, carried their practices to every corner of the globe, destroying and displacing other traditions, usually through warfare. World history for the last 500 years is thus in the main the story of this assault capitalists have thrown against the world’s peoples, beginning with the peasants of Europe, in order to seize their lands and force them into wage-slavery (wealth making laborers), tenancy (rent paying residents), and citizenship (tax paying subjects). It is also the story of the worldwide resistance to this invasion. A good part of the story of course is taken up merely with the fights among capitalists themselves.
You should also be aware that, from this perspective, countries that came to be called communist were just capitalist states doing what capitalists always do, enslaving and exploiting their populations. There was always a radical tradition that perceived the Soviet experiment, and the colonial revolutions that aped it, in these terms (council communists, western marxists, anarchists, and anarcho-syndicalists). Now that the Soviet Union is gone, more people are realizing that communist countries were just capitalism in a different form, and had little to do with the struggle against capitalism.
A further assumption I make is that it is impossible to defeat our ruling class by force of arms. The level of firepower currently possessed by all major governments and most minor ones is simply overwhelming. It is bought with the expropriated wealth of billions of people. For any opposition movement to think that it can acquire, maintain, and deploy a similarly vast and sophisticated armament is ludicrous. I have nothing against armed struggle in principle (although of course I don't like it). I just don’t think it can work now. It would take an empire as enormous and rich as capitalism itself is to fight capitalists on their own terms. This is something the working classes of the world will never have, nor should we even want it.
This does not mean though that we should not think strategically, in order to win, and defeat our oppressors. It means that we have to learn how to destroy them without firing a single shot. It means that we have to look to, and invent if necessary, other weapons, other tactics. But we must be careful not to fall into the nonviolence/violence trap. Is tearing down a fence a violent act, or resistance to the violence of those who erected the fence in the first place? Is throwing a tear gas canister back at the police who fired it an act of violence, or resistance to an act of violence? Nonviolence is a main ideological weapon of a very violent ruling class. They use it to pacify us. They use their mass media to preach nonviolence incessantly. It's an effective weapon because we all (but they don't) want to live in a peaceful, nonviolent world. We would do well to chart a careful course through this swamp.
In this essay I have focused on the three strategic associations that are needed to defeat capitalists. I have not attempted to discuss also the numerous and varied cultural associations that will undoubtedly be created by free peoples, covering every conceivable interest.
As will become evident, I'm writing from the perspective of someone who lives in the United States of America. This is the only culture that I'm familiar with in any depth, although I have traveled abroad, lived two years in the Middle East, and have studied other cultures. My remarks are therefore most relevant to others living in this country, and to a lesser extent to persons living in other core capitalist countries, and to a still lesser extent to persons living in the rest of the world, although I hope everyone may find some value in it.
This essay has been written for those who already want to destroy capitalism. It is not intended to persuade anyone that it ought to be. That is a task of a different kind. What is self-evident to me, as it is to most radicals, is unfortunately not so self-evident to others, not even to the working class itself. Nevertheless, I have included a short initial section on how we do not want to live, in hopes of attracting a wider range of readers, readers who may be quite unhappy with their lives but who are far from attributing their misery to capitalists. I’ve also included a list of recommended readings for those who want to explore emancipatory social thought further.
Not Want To Live
There are places where you can come over a bridge and see a whole big city spread out before you. The Mystic River Bridge coming into Boston is such a place, as is the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan, or the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco. Driving over one of these bridges you can see the dozens of skyscrapers, the hundreds of office buildings and factories, the hundreds of stores and shops, thousands of people bustling along, traffic everywhere, and ships in the harbor. And you think to yourself, how could we ever presume to change all this? It is so vast. Countless activities. Millions of people going to work everyday. Thousands of enterprises. Goods being shipped. Phones ringing. How could we ever presume to change it?
And yet this whole enormous edifice is built on one tiny single social relation: wage-slavery (the extraction of wealth by force from the direct producers by the accumulators of capital). The government bureaucracies, the police, the thousands of lawyers, the schools, the courts, are all there to enforce this tiny single social relation. But hardly anyone knows this anymore. This fact has been carefully hidden in dozens of ways. The knowledge that this wealth is extracted by force has long been lost, even though brute force is used all over the world on a daily basis to defend this relation, and even though millions of us face unemployment (and hence destitution) not so infrequently. The knowledge that we are slaves, being bought by the hour rather than by the lifetime, has also been lost. We have been wage-slaves for so long we have forgotten there is any other way to live. We have forgotten that once we had land and tools and could live independently, providing for ourselves, without being forced to sell our labor power for wages.
So this is the first and most important awareness we can come to: we should not be living as slaves but as free people. Seen in this light capitalism does not seem so invincible, but actually rather vulnerable. If we could only sever this single relation we could destroy capitalism and free ourselves to create a new social world. This is undoubtedly why capitalists go to such lengths to camouflage, mystify, and deny the wage-slave relation. It is their Achilles’ heel.
A second awareness is more easily come by. If we take a stroll around one of these cities, noticing the kinds of buildings that exist, we will come up with something like this list: banks, factories, department stores, warehouses, office buildings, shops, churches, houses, apartment buildings, museums, schools, an occasional union hall, sports arenas, theaters, restaurants, convention centers, garages, airports, train stations, bus depots, nightclubs, hospitals, nursing homes, gyms, malls, hotels, courthouses, police stations, post offices. What we will never see is a Meeting Hall. If we happen to live in a capital city we will be able to find there somewhere a single chamber, where the politicians meet. Worshipers congregate in churches of course. Unionists hold meetings sometimes in their union halls, businessmen convene in downtown centers, spectators aggregate in theaters and arenas to watch games, movies, plays, ballets, and concerts, and students gather for lectures, sometimes in large auditoriums. But there are no Meeting Halls, as such, for citizens, where we can assemble to make decisions and govern our own lives. So how can it be said that we live in a democracy, if we don’t even assemble, nor have any facilities for doing so? Here is a second awareness we can come to. Not only should we not be living as slaves, we should not be living in an undemocratic society, but rather in a real democracy, where we govern our own communities.
Beyond these two basic awarenesses, there is the awareness of the linkages between our many miseries and the wage-slave system. This awareness is more difficult to acquire, mainly because capitalists, and their PR men, take such pains to blame the sufferings of the world on anything and everything other than their own practices. If there is starvation in Bangladesh, it’s because there are too many people, and not because agricultural self-sufficiency has been destroyed by capitalist world markets. If the oceans are dying from oil tanker flushes, this is a shame, but it’s really no one’s fault; it’s just the price we must pay for progress and civilization. If millions are living in abject poverty in the shantytowns of third world cities, there is nothing unusual about this; it’s just part of the worldwide “process of urbanization”; they never mention that governments and corporations have seized the peasants’ lands, forcing them to leave their homes. If cities are filling up with the homeless it’s because these people are lazy and won’t look for work, and not because there aren't enough jobs for everyone, and rents are sky high. If there is filth and trash everywhere it’s our own fault because we litter. And it’s no mystery why cities are congested with traffic; we just keep refusing to use car pools. The list of such subterfuges is endless.
The truth is that most of the suffering in the world now is directly attributable to capitalists. I wouldn’t want to put an exact percentage on it, but it is way way up there. But for capitalists, most of the illness in the world could be eliminated, as well as most of the hunger, most of the ignorance, most of the homelessness, most of the environmental destruction, most of the congestion, most of the warfare, most of the crime, most of the insecurity, most of the waste, most of the boredom, most of the loneliness, and so forth. Even much of the suffering caused by hurricanes, floods, droughts, and earthquakes can be laid at the feet of capitalists because capitalists prevent us from preparing for and responding to these disasters as a community, in an intelligent way. And recently, capitalists are to blame for the increased severity of some of these events, which is due to global warming, which capitalists have caused. Unless you’re already convinced, I know you’re not going to believe these bald claims. But others have documented the linkages between these various evils and the profit system, if you care enough to study their works.
I have my own personal hate list. I hate advertisements, seriously. Nothing could be sweeter to me than living in an advertisement-free world. I hate congested cities, being stuck in traffic jams, not being able to park, being ticketed unfairly, having to suffer the rudeness of Boston drivers. I hate car alarms, a perfect example of a totally unnecessary aggravation, but for the insanity of capitalism. (To see the connection between the scourge of car alarms and capitalism will be a test of your newfound awareness of linkages.) I hate insurance companies, the biggest racketeers in America (not counting the Savings and Loans crooks of course). I hate the Internal Revenue Service, the Registry of Motor Vehicles, and the Metropolitan Transit Authority. I hate telemarketing. I hate call waiting. I hate weather forecasters; they are alarmists, and not one of them likes rain (among their many other faults). I hate cops; and they are everywhere now, even at the movies, in workplaces, department stores, parks, schools, and libraries. I hate bosses. I never had one who was a decent human being (at least not at work), but always twisted in some way, mean, self-centered, or arrogant, or else incompetent, bluffing through it, pretending not to be, with no one daring to say otherwise. I hate mechanics. I hate the terrible insecurity of not having a reliable income. I hate this precarious existence. I hate looking for a job, big time. This is when you realize what a bind they’ve got you in. No way to live without a job; so hustle, make the rounds, update the resume, get the interviews, all for free (i.e., job hunting is unpaid labor which benefits corporations). Money running out or already gone; no one to help. Desperate to find someone to buy your poor self by the hour. Desperately seeking slavery in order to go on living. This is what I hate. And then, once a buyer is found, the boredom, drudgery, and fatigue starts all over again, and you see your life slipping away, all used up by businessmen, and all for nothing. I hate living alone, with my crippled emotions and aborted love life. I hate television with a passion, and have ever since the first set appeared in my parents’ home in 1951. I hate doctors. I hate seeing the earth, such a beautiful place, go down the tubes, just so some greedy morons can make a profit. I hate not being around small children, they being the loveliest creatures to grace our lives (most of them). I hate social scientists. Nothing has done more to make the world unintelligible than their decades of jargon and gibberish. I hate standing in line at banks (and I hate banks). It’s bad enough that I’m paying them to use my money to make themselves a profit. It’s the standing in line to do it that rankles. I hate automobiles, in too many ways to even count. I hate nondairy creamer. I hate seat belts, the thousandth way they have found to blame the victim. I hate being chased off the beach during a hurricane. I hate Smoky the Bear. I hate lawns. I haven’t even begun to list all the things I hate about our present disorder.
I suppose, to be fair, I should list now all the things I love, in order to balance the picture, but it wouldn’t be in character.
Want To Live
We can turn now to a notion of how we might want to live. Let’s assume, for the moment, that we could start from scratch to build a totally new social world, building up our neighborhoods just the way we wanted. What would they look like?
I have imagined a neighborhood with the following features (see below for a Footnote on Terminology):
Households: Households are units of roughly 200 people cohabiting in a building complex which provides for a variety of living arrangements for single individuals, couples, families, and extended families. The complex will have facilities for meetings, communal (as well as some private) cooking, laundry, basic education, building maintenance, various workshops, basic health care, a birthing room, emergency medical care, and certain recreational facilities. Households are managed democratically and cooperatively by a direct assembly of members (the Household Assembly).
Projects: Projects include all cooperative activities (more than one person) in agriculture and husbandry, manufactures, higher education, research, advanced medicine, communications, transportation, arts, sports, and so forth, plus cooperative activities undertaken within the household itself (cooking, teaching, child care, health care, maintenance, etc.). Buildings will be designed and constructed for these various activities. Internally, projects are managed democratically and cooperatively by a direct assembly of members (Project Assembly). Some projects, perhaps most, are controlled, in the larger sense, directly by the neighborhood, through the Home Assembly. Other projects are controlled by agreements worked out among several or many Home Assemblies.
Peer Circles: Peer Circles are units of roughly 30-50 people. All persons in the neighborhood will belong to just one peer circle, located at their primary project. For some this will be in the household but for most it will be in a project outside the household, or even outside the neighborhood. All projects are broken down into such circles. These circles meet within the project to discuss issues, and, where necessary, coalesce into project-wide general assemblies. Votes are taken within meetings but tallied across meetings, within each project. Peer circle meetings are necessary because genuine face-to-face discussion and deliberation are seriously constricted in groups larger than 50 people.
Because households contain many persons whose primary project is not within the household, but who are nevertheless living there, and who will want to be engaged in the self-governing of the household, I will refer to the Household Assembly as a distinct entity, different from Project (workplace) Assemblies, even though the household includes Peer Circles for such projects as cooking, teaching, childcare, and healthcare.
Home Assembly: The Home Assembly is the core social creation. It is an assembly of the entire neighborhood, roughly 2000 people, meeting in a large hall designed to facilitate directly democratic discussion and decision-making. In practice of course the size of Home Assemblies will vary considerably. Its upper limit though is determined by the number of people who can meet in one large hall and still engage in democratic, face-to-face, unmediated decision-making.
An Association of Home Assemblies: Home Assemblies will join together, by means of a pact or a treaty agreement, to form a larger association. There will be an overall agreement which will define the association in general, as well as many specific agreements for particular projects.
The Home Assembly is the neighborhood governing itself. The neighborhood makes its own rules, allocates its own resources and energies, and negotiates its own treaties with other neighborhoods. The neighborhood will control the land on which it lives, and all projects and households within it.
Please note what this arrangement of social relations does not have: hierarchy, representation, wage-slavery, profit, commodities, money, classes, private ownership of the means of production, taxes, nation-states, patriarchy, alienation, exploitation, elite professional control of any activity, or formal divisions by race, gender, age, ethnicity, looks, beliefs, intelligence, or sexual preference. This neighborhood, so organized, will be the basic unit of the new social order.
Those familiar with radical traditions will recognize in this sketch a melding of the anarcho-communist focus on community, the anarcho-syndicalist focus on workers control, and the feminist focus on abolishing the distinction between public and private spheres of social life. It is my belief that each of these cannot be achieved without the other. The achievement of workers control alone would leave no way for the community as a whole to allocate its resources (e.g., to decide whether to phase out a project or start up a new one), whereas the achievement of community control alone, without simultaneously controlling the means of production, is meaningless, empty. And the failure to democratize and socialize households, including them (and hence reproduction) as an explicit and integral part of the social arrangements, would leave a gender based division of labor intact, thus perpetuating the public/private dichotomy.
New towns have occasionally been built from scratch in recent decades, primarily by “developers” as commercial enterprises. Also, many completely new utopian communities were established throughout the nineteenth century in the United States, and perhaps elsewhere. It will surely be possible, given the resources, to build new communities from scratch in the future, at least on a limited scale. This will certainly be the exception though rather than the rule, especially at the beginning of this revolution. For the most part building from scratch will be out of the question for the first 50-75 years.
The actual task we face then is to transform existing structures (buildings, plant) and social relations into the desired ones. We need to try to imagine how our model neighborhood would look after having been converted from a typical urban neighborhood (rather than built from scratch). Let’s see first if we can convert the existing physical plant into something more useful for democratic, cooperative living, keeping in mind that this is the easy part; the hard part is transforming social relations (e.g., property, family, work, and play relations). I will deal with this more below in discussing how to get there.
Factories and shops can be converted easiest of all. These can be used pretty much as they are (after they have been seized of course). Space will have to be cleared somewhere in them for peer circle meetings and project-wide assemblies.
More difficult is how to convert a street full of individual residences into households. It can probably be improvised however as follows: build passageways and tunnels between the buildings; set aside certain rooms for workshops, child care, health care; block off certain streets to sort of enclose the unit; expand one or two kitchens into a communal unit; rearrange bedrooms; clear an apartment for a meeting hall.
It will also be difficult to find a meeting space for the Home Assembly. There are options however. There may be a union hall, a church, a roller skating rink, or a high school gym in the neighborhood. But also, warehouses, supermarkets, and department stores have large open floors which could be cleared and made into meeting halls. Most of these spaces however could not hold 2000 people. It may be necessary to begin with smaller Home Assemblies — say five households of 200 each — for a Home Assembly of 1000 members, instead of ten households for a 2000 member Home Assembly.
Later on, after the flow of wealth out of the neighborhood to the ruling class has been stopped, and after the stolen wealth of the ruling class has been re-appropriated, neighborhoods will undoubtedly want to, and have the resources to, build specially designed Home Assembly Halls, as well as new Household complexes. But at first we will have to make do with what already exists. The wealth of centuries is embedded in the existing architectural plant, a plant which reflects capitalist values, priorities, and social relations. It will take a long time to tear down and rebuild this physical world, rebuilding it to express the needs of a free people.
But when we do rebuild, the mark of our new civilization will be its assembly halls. Just as earlier worlds have been marked by the pyramids of ancient Egypt, the temples and theaters of ancient Greece, the castles and cathedrals of medieval Europe, and the banks and skyscrapers of modern capitalism, so the new social world of a cooperatively self-governing people will be known by its meeting halls. They will be its most distinguishing architectural feature. They will undoubtedly come in all shapes and sizes. Besides the large general assembly chambers for neighborhoods (Home Assemblies), there will need to be small caucus rooms in every project and every household for peer circle meetings, as well as project-wide and household-wide assembly rooms. A deliberating people will design, build, and equip excellent and beautiful spaces for deliberation.
To complete this sketch we would need to imagine at least two more arrangements, one for a typical small town, and another for a typical peasant village, two rapidly disappearing social entities (given the continuing, violent enclosures forced through by our corporate rulers). Peasant villages the world over, although under heavy attack and rapidly disappearing, nevertheless still possess a basis for community, with many communal traditions still in tact. These traditions are not always and everywhere relevant to creating a free, anarchistic society, but some of them are. Marx, after all, believed that Russia could skip capitalism and move directly to communism by building on the peasant commune. Small towns still exist too, in every country. Even in a highly urbanized country like the United States, there are still 20,000 towns with a population below 10,000, 15,000 of which are below 2500. There is no reason why these small towns couldn't switch to direct democracy right now if they wanted to.
It will be easier I think to transform small towns and peasant villages into our desired neighborhoods than suburbs or dense urban areas. But maybe not. Megalopolises and suburbia will surely wither away, decade by decade into the new civilization, as the countryside is repopulated with livable, cooperative, autonomous communities of free people. (Needless to say, the vast shantytowns of the neo-colonized world will be the first to go.)
A neighborhood is a very small place, relatively speaking. Although there may be many villages or small towns left in the world with populations as low as 2,000, they are rapidly disappearing. Most settled areas are much more densely populated. Consider a town of 90,000 for example, which is a very small town by today’s standards. An average Home Assembly size of 2,000 members means we will have 45 Home Assemblies in the town. A city of 600,000 will have 300 Home Assemblies. A city of 1,800,000 will have 900, a city of 9,000,000 will have 4500.
This shows us immediately the tremendous power of this strategy. For the people in a small town of 60,000 to reconstitute themselves into 30 deliberating bodies to take charge of their lives, resources, and neighborhoods is an unbelievably powerful revolutionary act. Just the mere act of assembling is revolutionary, without even considering all that these assemblies can do. Capitalists depend a lot on keeping us all isolated. Our assembling starts to destroy that isolation. It is an act that will be next to impossible to stop, an act that has the power to destroy capitalism, and an act that has the potential to build a new civilization.
This is the way to think of the revolution. It is a people re-assembling themselves (reordering, reconstituting, reorganizing themselves) into free associations at home, at work, and in the neighborhood. Capitalists will fight this. They may outlaw the meetings, bust them up by force, arrest those attending, or even murder the assemblers. But if we are determined they will not be able to block us from reconstituting ourselves into the kind of social world we want.
The basic social unit is the Home Assembly, as described above. For many purposes however these Home Assemblies will want to cooperate with other Home Assemblies. They will coalesce to accomplish certain objectives. In other words they will sometimes form larger associations. They will do this by treaty negotiations. They will negotiate agreements to govern all supra-neighborhood projects. Sometimes these agreements will involve just a few Home Assemblies, sometimes many. That is, agreements will encompass larger or smaller numbers of Home Assemblies, depending on the nature of the project. A telephone system will require a regional or even inter-regional pact. A local park may involve only three or four neighborhoods. The highway system will require regional agreements. A large manufacturing facility may involve 15 or 20 Home Assemblies. Similarly for hospitals, large research facilities, orchestras, and so forth. A considerable amount of the activity in the world at present is governed by such treaties and not by legislation (for example, the worldwide postal service among nations). Also, contracts between corporations are more in the nature of treaties (mutually agreed upon terms and conditions) rather than laws (although they are enforced by a nation’s laws). So we should not be frightened by this. The number of inter-neighborhood agreements the Home Assemblies will have to work out to regulate our common endeavors will be well within the range of complexity manageable by human intelligence. It probably won’t exceed a couple hundred agreements (not counting trade agreements, which may run into the thousands).
Beyond agreements governing particular projects there will need to be a general agreement about the nature of the association. Becoming a signature to this agreement or pact is what it means to join an “Association of Democratic Autonomous Neighborhoods.” There will need to be agreements about membership in neighborhoods, about the basic structures of the neighborhood itself (Households, Projects, Peer Circles, Home Assembly), about voting procedures within the assemblies, about territory and resources, about leaving the association, about not even joining the association, about aggression and defense, and so forth. (See the Appendix for a Draft General Agreement for such an association.)
Negotiating these treaties will involve a lot of work at first, less so later. Nevertheless, it will be an ongoing process. Procedures and facilities for negotiating will need to be established. These treaty negotiating procedures will probably not differ all that much from the way treaties are negotiated among states: delegates from each neighborhood will be sent to regional treaty drafting conferences, with the final ratification resting with the Home Assemblies. The main difference lies in the number of negotiating parties, a hundred and a half nations versus tens of thousands of neighborhoods.
Although this may seem cumbersome, there is no alternative if we want to govern our own lives. The alternative is to relinquish control into the hands of regional or inter-regional elites, thus voiding our determination to be autonomous, free peoples. Besides, it probably looks a lot worse than it will prove to be in reality.
Once we have in mind a clear notion of how we might want to live we can begin to see ways to bring this new world into being, and to see what obstacles have to be overcome.
Perhaps the greatest obstacle we face is the enormous capacity capitalists have acquired to shape and control what people think and how they see the world and events taking place in it. Radio, television, and movies are the greatest weapons ever to fall into the hands of any ruling class. Add to this all the other instruments of mass communication — books, newspapers, magazines, newsletters, advertising, videos, computers; then add years and years of schooling, ruling class control of all major institutions, propaganda at work, the homogenization of culture, and the destruction of families, neighborhoods, and communities. Given all this it is hard to see how an autonomous, opposition consciousness could ever emerge, or survive the system’s attacks if it did emerge.
Nevertheless, capitalist control of consciousness and culture is not total. Opposition movements continue to be born even now. There are cracks in the empire through which the irrepressible creative subjectivity of human beings can find outlets. This is our main hope. The rapid creation of a worldwide Indymedia, in just a few years (dating from November 1999), is a spectacular manifestation of this hope. I'm sure there are many other ways that we can break the hold of ruling class thought, prove that we have not been totally brainwashed by the doublespeak of their media, and assert our own values and perceptions.
Another big obstacle we face is the labor market itself. We have to go to where the jobs are. This means that many of us are moving all the time. Many of our current neighbors will be gone in a couple of years (or we will be gone ourselves). Even if we managed to set up neighborhood assemblies, their members would be constantly turning over. Nevertheless, in every neighborhood, there are also many who manage to stay put and who could provide the needed continuity and stability.
Having to follow the jobs also results in a huge disjunction between where people live and where they work. The vast majority of people who live in urban or suburban areas, throughout the world, do not work in the neighborhoods where they live. They commute to jobs somewhere else. Even if this job is only half a mile away it most likely takes them out of the Home Assembly district (depending on population density of course). That is, even if a neighborhood succeeded in establishing a Home Assembly and even if workers in a neighborhood seized the factories and offices there, we would still be dealing with two sets of people. And many suburban neighborhoods do not even have factories and offices; thus suburbia itself is an obstacle, and will have to be dismantled or rebuilt. So how could a neighborhood-based Home Assembly become a decision-making unit governing the projects in that area? It would take decades, even if capitalism were destroyed, for people to get relocated into projects nearer home. This must of necessity be a gradual process. In order to avoid total chaos and disintegration, most people must go on working at the jobs they have and know. Otherwise we would all die. There would be no food, no transportation, no medical care, no electricity, no heat, no clothing. So it is quite clear that at least initially there cannot be an integrated neighborhood decision-making unit comprised of a gathering of Peer Circles from Projects and Households into a Home Assembly.
But this is not the whole story. There are still compelling reasons for sticking with the strategy. For one thing, even in a thoroughly reconstructed social world, there will be many inter-neighborhood projects which will be governed by pacts struck by several Home Assemblies rather than being controlled solely by a single Home Assembly. So some people will always be working away from the neighborhoods where they live. That is, some persons will attend their Home Assemblies as individuals who are members of Peer Circles from outside their neighborhood. Secondly, it is only by reconstituting ourselves into neighborhood, workplace, and household associations, despite the obstacles, that we can destroy capitalism and thus slowly start to undo the absurd work/home spatial patterns thrown up by this idiotic system.
Another huge obstacle to creating the envisioned Association of Autonomous Neighborhoods sketched above is the worldwide division of labor. Every little enterprise (office, workshop, clinic, classroom) gets supplies and equipment from all over. Light bulbs come from way off. Paper, pens, electricity, computers, furniture, medicines, machines come from way off. In the short run, no enterprise could continue to function if these networks of trade were disrupted. But at present this trade is corporate controlled. In recent decades, given transnational corporations and the further globalization of capital, the worldwide division of labor (and trade networks) has taken another expansive leap. It has suited capital’s purposes to decentralize production, scattering plants all over the world, all made possible by the new communication and information technology. It doesn’t have to be this way, of course, nor is this necessarily the best way to organize production. But this existing division of labor, induced and shaped by the imperatives of capital, certainly does constitute an obstacle to establishing democratic, autonomous communities of free people. It will take time to restructure the circulation of goods to reflect the principle of freedom rather than slavery.
In the meantime, the existing trade networks will have to be maintained and worked with. But who will maintain them? And how? Obviously you can’t overthrow the corporate world but somehow maintain its division of labor. Which leads us to an important insight: residential patterns and divisions of labor cannot be overthrown; they have to be replaced. (This is true also for capitalist property relations and capitalist institutions of decision making.) I have no doubt that Home Assemblies and self-managed Projects will be able to eventually build up extensive networks of interchange to replace the existing corporate-controlled ones.
Speaking of capitalist property relations, they have traditionally been seen as the greatest single obstacle to achieving communism. The fact that the capitalists “own” the land and factories, and that this “ownership” is inscribed in law, upheld by the courts, and enforced by the police, this fact is what has led anti-capitalist forces to focus primarily on the state in their efforts to abolish these property relations. This strategy proved ineffective, through nearly a century of trials. In any case, any attempt to establish autonomous neighborhoods, with cooperatively run households and projects, would run smack up against capitalist property relations, and they would have to be overcome.
The military might of the capitalist ruling class is of course an obvious obstacle to the establishment of democratic, autonomous neighborhoods. Their ability and willingness to simply murder us, if they choose to, to protect their profits, is very daunting indeed. Nevertheless, although this firepower is overwhelming, it is not invincible. We can defeat it. I hope I am beginning to show how in this essay.
We must never forget however that we are at war, and have been for five hundred years. We are involved in class warfare. This defines our situation historically and sets limits to what we can do. It would be nice to think of peace, for example, but this is out of the question. It is excluded as an option by historical conditions. Peace can be achieved only by destroying capitalism.
The casualties from this war, on our side, long ago reached astronomical sums. It is estimated that thirty million people perished during the first century of the capitalist invasion of the Americas, including millions of Africans who were worked to death as slaves. Thousands of peasants died in the great revolts in France and Germany in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. During the enclosures movement in England and during the first wave of industrialization, hundreds of thousands of people died needlessly. African slaves died by the millions (an estimated fifteen million) during the Atlantic crossing. Hundreds of poor people were hanged in London in the early nineteenth century to enforce the new property laws. During the Paris uprising of 1871, thirty thousand communards were slaughtered. Twenty million were lost in Stalin’s Gulag, and millions more perished during the 1930s when the Soviet state expropriated the land and forced the collectivization of agriculture, an event historically comparable to the enclosures in England (and thus the Bolsheviks destroyed one of the greatest peasant revolutions of all time). Thousands of militants were murdered by the German police during the near revolution in Germany and Austria in 1919. Thousands of workers and peasants were killed during the Spanish Civil War. Hitler killed 10 million people in the camps (including six million Jews in the gas chambers). An estimated 200,000 labor leaders, activists, and citizens have been murdered in Guatemala since the CIA engineered coup in 1954. Thousands were lost in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Half-a-million communists were massacred in Indonesia in 1975. Millions of Vietnamese were killed by French and American capitalists during decades of colonialism and war. And how many were killed during British capital’s subjugation of India, and during capitalist Europe’s colonization of Asia and Africa?
A major weapon of capitalists has always been to simply murder those who are threatening their rule. Thousands were killed by the contras and death squads in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Thousands were murdered in Chile by Pinochet during his counter-revolution, after the assassination of Allende. Speaking of assassinations – Patrice Lumumba, Rosa Luxemburg, Antonio Gramsci (died in prison), Ricardo Flores Magon (died in prison), Che Guevara, Gustav Landauer, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Fred Hampton, George Jackson, the Chicago anarchists, Amilcar Cabral, Steve Biko, Karl Liebnicht, Nat Turner, and thousands more. Thousands are being murdered every year now in Colombia. Thousands die every year in the workplace in the United States alone. Eighty thousand die needlessly in hospitals every year in the United States due to malpractice and negligence. Fifty thousand die every year in automobile accidents in the US, deaths directly due to deliberate capitalist decisions to scuttle mass transit in favor of an economy based on oil, roads, and cars (unsafe cars to boot). Thousands have died in mines since capitalism began. Millions of people are dying right now, every year, from famines directly attributable to capitalists, and from diseases easily prevented but for capitalists. Nearly all poverty-related deaths are because of capitalists. We cannot begin to estimate the stunted, wasted, and shortened lives caused by capitalists. Not to even mention the millions of us who have died fighting their stupid little world wars, and their equally stupid colonial wars. (This enumeration is very far from being complete.)
Capitalists (generically speaking) are not merely thieves. They are murderers. Their theft and murder is on a scale never seen before in history, a scale so vast it boggles the mind. Capitalists make Alexander, Caesar, Genghis, and Attila look like boy scouts. This is a terrible enemy we face.
I can just hear the cries of protest now that we cannot blame all this on capitalists, Hitler’s holocaust as well as Stalin’s Gulag, racial murders as well as famines. I can and I do, and if this were another book than it is, I could present reasoned arguments and evidence to back up this claim.
1. Social Democracy (gaining control of the state apparatus through elections). We can’t destroy capitalism by running for office. It hasn’t been done and it won’t be done, even though numerous governments have been in socialist hands in Europe, sometimes for decades. It won’t be done because governments don’t have the last say, they don’t control society. Capitalists do. The government doesn’t control capitalists; capitalists control the government. Modern government (i.e., the nation-state system) is an invention of capitalists. It is their tool and they know how to use it and keep it from being turned against them. Although building worker-controlled political parties, and then using those parties to win elections and get control of governments, and then using those governments to establish socialism, seemed like a plausible enough strategy when it was initiated in the mid-nineteenth century, it's way past time for us to recognize and admit that it simply hasn't worked. Capitalism goes rolling on no matter who controls the government.
2. Leninism (capturing the state apparatus by force of arms). We can’t destroy capitalism by taking over the government in a so-called revolution. This has been the most widely used strategy during the past century in countries on the periphery of capitalism (National Liberation Movements), beginning with the Russian Revolution. Dozens of “revolutionary parties” have come to power all over the world, but nowhere have they succeeded in destroying capitalism. In all cases so far they have simply gone on doing what capitalists always do, accumulate more capital. They become, inevitably (and in spite of their intentions), just another government, in a system of nation-states, inextricably embedded in capitalism, with no possibility of escape. Generations of revolutionaries devoted their lives this strategy. It seemed like the best thing to do at the time, and maybe it was. But now, after nearly a century of trials, it's painfully clear that the strategy has failed, and more and more revolutionaries are coming to this conclusion. The few remaining die-hard leninists, who are still struggling to build a vanguard party to seize state power, are definitely, and thankfully, a dying breed.
3. Guerrilla warfare. We cannot destroy capitalism with guerrilla warfare. This strategy has been mostly deployed as part of National Liberation Movements in colonial countries in order to capture the governments there. It is a form of Leninism. As noted above, Leninism in general didn’t work. And now, guerrilla warfare, as a particular tactic within Leninism, doesn’t work. Capitalists have learned how to defeat it. The strategy was based on the assumed unwillingness of the capitalists to murder the civilian population in order to kill the guerrillas too. Capitalists showed no such reluctance. They are willing to murder on a massive scale, and uproot and displace whole populations, in order to defeat guerrilla movements. And they win. (The current wars in Colombia and Iraq will perhaps serve as the final test of the strategy.)
Some wild-eyed romantic revolutionaries have thought to adopt the strategy for use in the core countries, with disastrous results. Capitalists have been delighted to have a new enemy, namely “terrorists” and “anarchists,” now that “communists” are gone. But of course they will malign any opposition movement, so this is not the reason guerrilla warfare will not work here. It won’t work because it is part of Leninism (seizing state power) and Leninism didn’t work. It will not work because of the overwhelming firepower amassed by every advanced capitalist government. It will not work because it doesn’t contain within itself the seeds of the new civilization. I would think twice before joining the underground.
4. Syndicalism (federations of peasant, worker, and soldier councils). We cannot destroy capitalism by seizing and occupying the factories and farms, at least not in the way this has been tried so far. Nevertheless, of all the strategies that have failed, syndicalism is the only one that had a ghost of a chance of succeeding, and the only one that even came close to creating a new world. It came close in the great Spanish revolution in the thirties. Unfortunately, that magnificent revolution was defeated. In fact, all syndicalist revolutions have failed so far.
I believe there are serious flaws inherent in the strategy itself. For one thing, the syndicalist strategy ignores households, as if households weren’t part of the means of production. Thus it excludes millions of homemakers from active participation in the revolution. Homemakers can only serve in a supporting role. It also excludes old people, young people, sick people, prisoners, students, welfare recipients, and millions of unemployed workers. To think that a revolution can be made only by those people who hold jobs is the sheerest folly. Perhaps immediately after syndicalists “seize the factories” and make a revolution this exclusion could be overcome by having everyone join a council at home or in school, but this is no help beforehand, during the revolution itself. The whole image is badly skewed, wacky.
Moreover, syndicalists have never specified clearly enough how all the various councils are going to function together to make decisions and set policy, defend themselves, and launch a new civilization. In the near revolution in Germany in 1918 the worker and soldier councils were for a few months the only organized power. They could have won. But they were confused about what to do. They couldn’t see how to get from their separate councils to the establishment of overall power and the defeat of capitalism.
In the massive general strike in Poland in 1980, factory, office, mining, and farm councils were set up all over the country. But they didn’t know how to coalesce into an alternative social arrangement capable of replacing the existing power structure. Moreover, they mistakenly refrained from even attacking ruling class power, with the intent of destroying it. Instead they merely wanted to coexist in some kind of uneasy dual structure (perhaps because they were afraid of a Soviet invasion; but a strategy that has not taken external armies into account is badly flawed).
Workplace associations would have to be permanent assemblies, with years of experience under their belts, before they could have a chance of success. They cannot be new forms suddenly thrown up in the depths of a crisis, or in the middle of a general strike, with a strong government still waiting in the wings, supported by its fully operational military forces. It is no wonder that syndicalist-style revolts have gone down to defeat.
Finally, syndicalists have not worked out the relations between the councils and the community at large, and to assume that workers in a factory have the final say over the allocation of those resources (or whether the factory should even exist) rather than the community at large, simply won’t do. Nor have syndicalists worked out inter-community relations. In short, syndicalism is a half-baked strategy that has not been capable of destroying capitalism, although it has been headed in the right direction.
5. General Strikes. General strikes cannot destroy capitalism. There is an upper limit of about six weeks as to how long they can even last. Beyond that society starts to disintegrate. But since the General Strikers have not even thought about reconstituting society through alternative social arrangements, let alone created them, they are compelled to go back to their jobs just to survive, to keep from starving. All a government has to do is wait them out, perhaps making a few concessions to placate the masses. This is what DeGaulle did in France in 1968.
A general strike couldn't even last six weeks if it were really general, that is, if everyone stopped working. Under those conditions there would be no water, electricity, heat, or food. The garbage would pile up. We couldn't go anywhere because the gas stations would be closed. We couldn't get medical treatment. Thus we would only be hurting ourselves mostly. And what could our objectives possibly be? By stopping work, we obviously wouldn't be aiming at occupying and seizing our workplaces. If that were our aim we would continue working, but kick the bosses out. So our main aim would have to be to topple a government, and replace it with another. This might be a legitimate goal if we needed to get rid of a particularly oppressive regime. But as for getting rid of capitalism, it gets us nowhere. I don't think we should put any energy into agitating for a General Strike.
6. Strikes. Strikes against a particular corporation cannot destroy capitalism. They are not even thought to. The purpose of strikes is to change the rate of exploitation in favor of workers. They have only rarely been linked also to demands for workers control (let alone the abolition of wage-slavery); nor could capitalist property relations be overcome in a single corporation. The strike does not contain within itself any vision for reconstituting social relations across society, nor any plans to do so.
In recent years strikes have even lost most of the effectiveness they once had for gaining short term benefits for the working class. More often than not strikers are defeated: their union leaders sell them out; the owners bring in scabs, or simply fire everyone and hire a whole new crew; the owners move their plants elsewhere; the government declares the strike illegal and calls out the state militia. Strike breaking is a flourishing industry on Consultant Row. Decades of anti-union propaganda by corporate controlled media has destroyed a pro-labor working class culture, which in turn helps management break strikes. Nowadays, for strikers to get anywhere at all, entire communities have to be mobilized, with linkages to national campaigns. Even so, they are still aiming only at higher wages, health benefits, and the like. They are not anti-capitalist. With rare exception, they are not even fighting for a shorter work week, not to mention workers control.
I do not believe that this situation is temporary or can be reversed. So however important strikes are, or once were, in the unending fight over the extraction of wealth from the direct producers, they cannot destroy capitalism as a system.
7. Unions. Unions cannot destroy capitalism. Although unions were created by workers, mainly to help protect themselves from the ravages of wage-slavery, they have long since lost any emancipatory potential. They were easily co-opted by the ruling class and used against workers, as a disciplinary tool, to prevent strikes, to prevent job actions, to drain power from the shop floor, to stabilize the work force and reduce absenteeism, to pacify workers, to water down demands, and so forth. Almost from their beginnings in the middle of the nineteenth century (and with rare exception) unions have been “business unions”, working in cahoots with capitalists to manage “labor relations.” There is an inherent flaw in the strategy. It is based on constructing a bureaucratic institution outside the workplace instead of free association of workers inside the workplace. In any case the heyday of unions is long since past and any hope of bringing them back is delusive.
In recent years there has been a movement to rebuild unions, even in the United States, which is notoriously lacking in labor consciousness, and where union membership is down to eight percent in non-government workplaces. Also in other countries though, especially poor ones, there are some strong union movements, arising in response to industries having been moved there, or to the appearance of sweatshops. With rare exception, these unions are not anti-capitalist. Naturally, it's important to fight for better working conditions, higher wages, shorter hours, and health benefits. Such struggles do often highlight the evils of the wage-slave system, as well as improve the lives of workers. Who could not be excited by the rapid emergence of the student anti-sweatshop movement on college campuses across the country? But something more is needed if we want to get rid of capitalism. Even if current labor activists succeed, and rebuild unions back to what they once were, can we expect these newly rebuilt unions to accomplish more than previous ones did, at the height of the unionization drives of a strong labor movement, a movement that was embedded in communist, socialist, and anarchist working class cultures, cultures which have now been obliterated? Hardly.
8. Insurrections. Insurrections cannot destroy capitalism. I don’t even think the ruling class is very frightened of them any more. You can rampage through the streets all you want, burn down your neighborhoods, and loot all the local stores to your heart’s content. They know it will not go anywhere. They know the blind rage will burn itself out. When it’s all over these insurrectionists will be showing up for work like always or standing again in the dole line. Nothing has changed. Nothing has been organized. No new associations have been created. What do capitalists care if they lose a whole city? They can afford it. All they have to do is cordon off the area of conflagration, wait for the fires to burn down, go in and arrest thousands of people at random, and then leave, letting the “rioters” cope with their ruined neighborhoods as best they can. Maybe we should think of something a little more damaging to capitalism than burning down our own neighborhoods.
9. Civil Disobedience. Acts of civil disobedience cannot destroy capitalism. They can sometimes make strong moral statements. But moral statements are pointless against immoral persons. They fall on deaf ears. Therefore, the act of deliberately breaking a law and getting arrested is of limited value in actually breaking the power of the rulers. Acts of civil disobedience can be used as weapons in the battle for the hearts and minds of ordinary persons I guess (assuming ordinary persons ever hear about them). But they are basically the actions of powerless persons. Powerless persons must use whatever tactics they can of course. But that is the point. Why remain powerless, when by adopting a different strategy (building strategic associations) we could become powerful and not be reduced to impotent acts like civil disobedience against laws we had no say in making and which we regard as unjust?
Moreover, civil disobedience is a tactic used primarily by more well off and securely situated activists who can count on friends and family to raise bail, and who can be pretty sure of not getting a long prison term. This is not true of course for those strongly motivated religious persons who sometimes embrace long prison sentences as part of bearing witness to a higher morality. But you almost never see poor people or minorities deliberately getting themselves arrested, because they know that once in prison they are not likely to get out.
Civil disobedience has the additional disadvantage that the movement has to spend a lot of precious time and money getting people out of jail. Enough people get arrested anyway, against their wills. We don't need to be having to struggle to free persons who voluntarily put themselves in the hands of our jailers.
10. Single-issue campaigns. We cannot destroy capitalism with single-issue campaigns. Yet the great bulk of the energies of radicals is spent on these campaigns. There are dozens of them: campaigns to preserve the forests, keep rent control, stop whaling, stop animal experiments, defend abortion rights, stop toxic dumping, stop the killing of baby seals, stop nuclear testing, stop smoking, stop pornography, stop drug testing, stop drugs, stop the war on drugs, stop police brutality, stop union busting, stop red-lining, stop the death penalty, stop racism, stop sexism, stop child abuse, stop the re-emerging slave trade, stop the bombing of Yugoslavia, stop the logging of redwoods, stop the spread of advertising, stop the patenting of genes, stop the trapping and killing of animals for furs, stop irradiated meat, stop genetically modified foods, stop human cloning, stop the death squads in Colombia, stop the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, stop the extermination of species, stop corporations from buying politicians, stop high stakes educational testing, stop the bovine growth hormone from being used on milk cows, stop micro radio from being banned, stop global warming, stop the militarization of space, stop the killing of the oceans, and on and on. What we are doing is spending our lives trying to fix up a system which generates evils far faster than we can ever eradicate them.
Although some of these campaigns use direct action (e.g., spikes in the trees to stop the chain saws or Greenpeace boats in front of the whaling ships to block the harpoons), for the most part the campaigns are directed at passing legislation in Congress to correct the problem. Unfortunately, reforms that are won in one decade, after endless agitation, can be easily wiped off the books the following decade, after the protesters have gone home, or after a new administration comes to power.
These struggles all have value and are needed. Could anyone think that the campaigns against global warming, or to free Leonard Peltier, or to aid the East Timorese ought to be abandoned? Single issue campaigns keep us aware of what's wrong, and sometimes even win. But in and of themselves, they cannot destroy capitalism, and thus cannot really fix things. It is utopian to believe that we can reform capitalism. Most of these evils can only be eradicated for good if we destroy capitalism itself and create a new civilization. We cannot afford to aim for anything less. Our very survival is at stake. There is one single-issue campaign I can wholehearted endorse: the total and permanent eradication of capitalism.
Many millions of us though are rootless, and are quite alienated from a particular place or local community. We are part of the vast mass of atomized individuals brought into being by the market for commodified labor. Our political activities tend to reflect this. We tend to act as free-floating protesters. But we could start to change this. We could start to root ourselves in our local communities. This will be more possible for some than others of course. There can be no hard and fast rule. Many of us though could start establishing free associations at work, at home, and in the neighborhood. In this way our fights to stop what we don't like, through single-issue campaigns, could be combined with what we do want. Plus we would have a lot more power to stop what we don't like. Our single-issue campaigns might start being more successful.
What is missing is free association, free assemblies, on the local level. If we added these into the mix, we would start getting somewhere. We could attack the ruling class on all fronts. There are millions of us, plenty of us to do everything, but everything must include fights on the local level, especially at the three strategic sites.
11. Demonstrations. We cannot destroy capitalism by staging demonstrations. This most popular of all radical strategies is also one of the most questionable. As a rule, demonstrations barely even embarrass capitalists, let alone frighten them, let alone damage them. They are just a form of petition usually. They petition the ruling class regarding some grievance, essentially begging it to change its policies. They are not designed to take any power or wealth away from capitalists. They only last a few hours or a day or two and then, with rare exception, everything goes back to the way it was. If they do win an occasional concession, it is usually minor and short-lived. They do not build an alternative social world. They mostly just alert the ruling class that it needs to retool, or to invent new measures to counter an emerging source of opposition.
But even if demonstrations rise above the petition level, and become instead a way of presenting our demands and making our opposition known, we still have not acquired the power to see that our demands are met. Our opposition is empty. It has no teeth. In order to give some bite to our protests we would have to reorganize ourselves, reorient ourselves, by rooting ourselves, assembling ourselves, on the local level. Then when we went off on demonstrations to protest ruling class initiatives and projects there would be some muscle behind the protests, rather than just shouted slogans, unfurled banners, hoisted placards, street scuffles, and clever puppets. We would be in a position to take action if our demands were not met. Then when we chanted: "Whose Streets? Our Streets!", our words might represent more than just a pipe-dream.
Demonstrations are not even good propaganda tools, because the ruling class, given its control of the media, can put any spin it wants to on the event, and the interpretation it puts is invariably damaging to the opposition movement, assuming they even report the event, for their latest approach to these events is simply to ignore them, and black out news about them. This is very effective.
And what are the gains? An issue can be brought to the attention of the public, or rather, to a small minority of the public, because for the majority, the protesters' message is neutralized by the corporate spin. Also, more people can be drawn into the opposition movement. For those participating, a demonstration can be an inspiring experience. (In many cases, though, this high is offset by the onset of dispiritedness upon returning home.) Demonstrations can thus contribute to building an opposition movement. But are these small gains worth the expense? Large national demonstrations drain energy and resources away from local struggles. Are they worth it? But even local demonstrations are costly, requiring time, energy, and money, which are always in short supply among radicals. Are demonstrations worth all the work and expense they take to organize? No matter what, they remain just a form of protest. They show what we're against. By their very nature, demonstrations are of limited value for articulating what we are for. We were against the war in Vietnam, but what were we for? We are against the World Trade Organization, but what are we for?
Rather than taking to the streets and marching off all the time, protesting this or that (all the while the police are taking our pictures), we would be better off staying home and building up our workplace, neighborhood, and household associations until they are powerful enough to strike at the heart of capitalism. We cannot build a new social world in the streets.
12. New Social Movements. The so-called New Social Movements, based on gender, racial, sexual, or ethnic identities, cannot destroy capitalism. They haven’t even tried. Except for a tiny fringe of radicals in each of them, they have been trying to get into the system, not overthrow it. This is true for women, black, homosexual, and ethnic (including ‘native’) identities, as well as all the other identities — old people, the handicapped, welfare mothers, and so forth. Nothing has derailed the anti-capitalist struggle during the past quarter century so thoroughly as have these movements. Sometimes it seems that identity politics is all that is left of the left. Identity politics has simply swamped class politics.
The mainstream versions of these movements (the ones fighting to get into the system rather than overthrow it) have given capitalists a chance to do a little fine tooling, by eliminating tensions here and there, and by including token representatives of the excluded groups. Many of the demands of these movements can be easily accommodated. Capitalists can live with boards of directors exhibiting ethnic, gender, and racial diversity, as long as all the board members are pro-capitalist. Capitalists can easily accept a rainbow cabinet as long as the cabinet is pushing the corporate agenda. So mainstream identity politics has not threatened capitalism at all. These have been liberal movements, and have sought only to reform the system, not abolish it.
The radical wings of the new social movements however are rather more subversive. These militants realized that it was necessary to attack the whole social order in order to uproot racism and sexism — problems which could not be overcome under capitalism, since they are an integral part of capitalism. There is no denying the evils of racism, sexism, and nationalism, which are major structural supports to ruling class control. These militants have done whatever they could to highlight, analyze, and ameliorate these evils. Unfortunately, for the most part, their voices have been lost in all the clamor for admittance to the system by the majorities in their movements.
There have been gains of course. The women's movement has forever changed the world's consciousness about gender. Unpaid housework has been recognized as a key ingredient in the wage-slave system. Reproduction, as well as production, has been included in our analysis of the system. Identity politics in general has underscored just how many people are excluded, and exposed gaps in previous revolutionary strategies. Also, the demand for real racial and gender equality is itself inherently revolutionary, in that the demand cannot be met by capitalists, given that racial and gender discrimination are two of the key structural mechanisms for keeping the wage bill low, and thus making profits possible.
Nevertheless, I'm convinced that unless we can return to class politics, and integrate the fights for gender, racial, sexual, and age equality into the class struggle, we will continue to flounder.
13. Boycotts. Boycotts cannot destroy capitalism. They have always been an extremely ineffective way to attack the system, and almost impossible to organize. They almost invariably fail in their objectives. In the rare cases where they have succeeded, the gains are minor. A corporation is forced to amend its labor policies here and there, or drop a product, or divest somewhere. That’s about it.
In recent years boycotting has become a way of life for thousands in the environmental movement. They publish thick books on which products are okay to buy and which must be boycotted, covering literally everything, from toilet paper to deodorants, foods to toys. All they have succeeded in doing is creating a whole new capitalist industry of politically correct products. They have bought into the myth that the “economy” will give us anything we want if we just demand it, and that it is our demands that have been wrong rather than the system itself.
It’s true that it is better to eat food that hasn’t been polluted with insecticides, better to wear clothes not made with child labor, better to wear make-up not tested by blinding rabbits. But capitalism cannot be destroyed by making such choices. If we are going to boycott something, we might try boycotting wage-slavery.
14. Dropping-out. We cannot destroy capitalism by dropping out, either as an individual, a small group, or a community. It’s been tried over and over and it fails every time. There is no escaping capitalism. There is nowhere left to go, nowhere to drop out to. The only escape from capitalism is to destroy it. Then we could be free. In fact, capitalists love it when we drop out. They don’t need us. They have plenty of suckers already. What do they care if we live under bridges, beg for meals, and die young? I haven’t seen the ruling class rushing to help the homeless.
Even more illusory than the idea that an individual can drop out is the idea that a whole community can withdraw from the system and build its own little new world somewhere else. This was tried repeatedly by utopian communities throughout the nineteenth century. The strategy was revived in the sixties as thousands of new left radicals retired to their remote rural communes to groove on togetherness (and dope). The strategy is once again surfacing in the New Age movement as dozens of new age communities are being established all over the country. These movements all suffer from the mistaken idea that they don’t have to attack capitalism and destroy it, but can simply withdraw from it, to live their own lives separately and independently. It is a vast illusion. Capitalists rule the world. Until they are defeated there will be no freedom for anyone.
15. Luddism. As wonderful as Luddism was, as one of the fiercest attacks ever made against capitalism, wrecking machinery, in and of itself, cannot destroy capitalism, and for the same reason that insurrections and strikes cannot: the action is not designed to replace capitalism with new decision-making arrangements. It does not even strike at the heart of capitalism — wage-slavery $#8212; but only at the physical plant, the material means of production. Although sabotage, on a large scale, if it were a part of a movement to destroy capitalism and replace it with something else, could weaken the corporate world and put a strain on the accumulation of capital, it is far better to get ourselves in a position where we can seize the machinery rather than smash it. (Not that we even want much of the existing machinery; it will have to be redesigned; but seizing it is a way of getting control over the means of production.)
Moreover, Luddites were already enslaved to capitalists, in their cottage industries, before they struck. They were angry because new machinery was eliminating their customary job (which was an old way of making a living, relatively speaking, and thus had some strong traditions attached to it). In current terms, it would be like if linotype operators destroyed computers because their jobs were being eliminated by the new equipment. Destroying the new machinery misses the point. It is not the machinery that is the problem but the wage-slave system itself. If it weren’t for wage-slavery we could welcome labor saving devices, provided they weren’t destructive in other ways, for freeing us from unnecessary toil.
We can draw inspiration from Luddism, as a fine example of workers aggressively resisting the further degradation of their lives, but we should not imitate it, at least not as a general strategy.
16. Publishing. We cannot destroy capitalism by publishing. I doubt if anyone believes that we can. I mention it here only because publishing constitutes for so many of us our practice. This is what we are doing. We justify this by saying that radical books, magazines, and newspapers are weapons in the fight against bourgeois cultural hegemony. Which is true. But we are permitted to publish only because the ruling class isn’t worried one jot by our “underground press.” Their weapons — television, radio, movies, schools — are infinitely more powerful. It’s conceivable though that capitalism could be destroyed without any publishing at all. The strategy of re-assembling ourselves into workplace, neighborhood, and household associations could catch on and spread by word of mouth from community to community. Destroying capitalism is more a matter of rearranging ourselves socially (reconstituting our social relations) than it is a matter of propagating a particular set of ideas. So instead of starting our own zine, why don't we call a meeting with co-workers or neighbors to form an association?
17. Education. We cannot destroy capitalism through education. Not many radicals recommend this strategy any more, although you still hear it occasionally. New Left radicals established free schools and even a free university or two, and there was a fairly strong and long lasting modern school movement among anarchists. But these are long gone. However, the notion that education is the path to change and the way out of the mess we're in is quite common in the culture at large. This is like the tail waging the dog. We don't even control the schools, or what is taught there. Schools and education are artifacts, and minor ones at that, of the ruling class, and are a reflection of its power over society. It is that power that must be broken. This cannot be done through schools. Even the very notion of education, as an activity separated from life, needs to be overcome. Learning among free peoples will be strikingly different. When we have achieved our autonomy, by directly engaging and defeating our oppressors, that will be the time to worry about how to conduct our learning.
It is time to try to describe, at first abstractly and later concretely, a strategy for destroying capitalism. This strategy, at its most basic, calls for pulling time, energy, and resources out of capitalist civilization and putting them into building a new civilization. The image then is one of emptying out capitalist structures, hollowing them out, by draining wealth, power, and meaning out of them until there is nothing left but shells.
This is definitely an aggressive strategy. It requires great militancy, and constitutes an attack on the existing order. The strategy clearly recognizes that capitalism is the enemy and must be destroyed, but it is not a frontal attack aimed at overthrowing the system, but an inside attack aimed at gutting it, while simultaneously replacing it with something better, something we want.
Thus capitalist structures (corporations, governments, banks, schools, etc.) are not seized so much as simply abandoned. Capitalist relations are not fought so much as they are simply rejected. We stop participating in activities that support (finance, condone) the capitalist world and start participating in activities that build a new world while simultaneously undermining the old. We create a new pattern of social relations alongside capitalist relations and then we continually build and strengthen our new pattern while doing every thing we can to weaken capitalist relations. In this way our new democratic, non-hierarchical, non-commodified relations can eventually overwhelm the capitalist relations and force them out of existence.
This is how it has to be done. This is a plausible, realistic strategy. To think that we could create a whole new world of decent social arrangements overnight, in the midst of a crisis, during a so-called revolution, or during the collapse of capitalism, is foolhardy. Our new social world must grow within the old, and in opposition to it, until it is strong enough to dismantle and abolish capitalist relations. Such a revolution will never happen automatically, blindly, determinably, because of the inexorable, materialist laws of history. It will happen, and only happen, because we want it to, and because we know what we’re doing and know how we want to live, and know what obstacles have to be overcome before we can live that way, and know how to distinguish between our social patterns and theirs.
But we must not think that the capitalist world can simply be ignored, in a live and let live attitude, while we try to build new lives elsewhere. (There is no elsewhere.) There is at least one thing, wage-slavery, that we can’t simply stop participating in (but even here there are ways we can chip away at it). Capitalism must be explicitly refused and replaced by something else. This constitutes War, but it is not a war in the traditional sense of armies and tanks, but a war fought on a daily basis, on the level of everyday life, by millions of people. It is a war nevertheless because the accumulators of capital will use coercion, brutality, and murder, as they have always done in the past, to try to block any rejection of the system. They have always had to force compliance; they will not hesitate to continue doing so. Nevertheless, there are many concrete ways that individuals, groups, and neighborhoods can gut capitalism, which I will enumerate shortly.
We must always keep in mind how we became slaves; then we can see more clearly how we can cease being slaves. We were forced into wage-slavery because the ruling class slowly, systematically, and brutally destroyed our ability to live autonomously. By driving us off the land, changing the property laws, destroying community rights, destroying our tools, imposing taxes, destroying our local markets, and so forth, we were forced onto the labor market in order to survive, our only remaining option being to sell, for a wage, our ability to work.
It’s quite clear then how we can overthrow slavery. We must reverse this process. We must begin to reacquire the ability to live without working for a wage or buying the products made by wage-slaves (that is, we must get free from the labor market and the way of living based on it), and embed ourselves instead in cooperative labor and cooperatively produced goods.
Another clarification is needed. This strategy does not call for reforming capitalism, for changing capitalism into something else. It calls for replacing capitalism, totally, with a new civilization. This is an important distinction, because capitalism has proved impervious to reforms, as a system. We can sometimes in some places win certain concessions from it (usually only temporary ones) and win some (usually short-lived) improvements in our lives as its victims, but we cannot reform it piecemeal, as a system.
Thus our strategy of gutting and eventually destroying capitalism requires at a minimum a totalizing image, an awareness that we are attacking an entire way of life and replacing it with another, and not merely reforming one way of life into something else. Many people may not be accustomed to thinking about entire systems and social orders, but everyone knows what a lifestyle is, or a way of life, and that is the way we should approach it.
The thing is this: in order for capitalism to be destroyed millions and millions of people must be dissatisfied with their way of life. They must want something else and see certain existing things as obstacles to getting what they want. It is not useful to think of this as a new ideology. It is not merely a belief-system that is needed, like a religion, or like Marxism, or Anarchism. Rather it is a new prevailing vision, a dominant desire, an overriding need. What must exist is a pressing desire to live a certain way, and not to live another way. If this pressing desire were a desire to live free, to be autonomous, to live in democratically controlled communities, to participate in the self-regulating activities of a mature people, then capitalism could be destroyed. Otherwise we are doomed to perpetual slavery and possibly even to extinction.
The content of this vision is actually not new at all, but quite old. The long term goal of communists, anarchists, and socialists has always been to restore community. Even the great peasant revolts of early capitalism sought to get free from external authorities and restore autonomy to villages. Marx defined communism once as a free association of producers, and at another time as a situation in which the free development of each is a condition for the free development of all. Anarchists have always called for worker and peasant self-managed cooperatives. The long term goals have always been clear: to abolish wage-slavery, to eradicate a social order organized solely around the accumulation of capital for its own sake, and to establish in its place a society of free people who democratically and cooperatively self-determine the shape of their social world.
These principles however must be embodied in concrete social arrangements. In this sketch they are embodied in the following configuration of social forms: (a) autonomous, self-governing democratic Neighborhoods (through the practice of the Home Assembly); (b) self-managed Projects; (c) cooperatively operated Households; and (d) an Association, by means of treaties, of neighborhoods one with another.
But how can this be achieved? Now we must turn to the task of fleshing out this strategy, but this time in concrete terms rather than abstractly.
1. Form a Neighborhood Association. Get together with some neighbors and form a Neighborhood Association. Hold regular meetings. These meetings will form the basis, later on, for Home Assemblies. This, together with Employee Associations and Household Associations (see items 2 and 3 following) are the three most important things anyone can do. It may seem pointless at first, since these associations will have no power or money. But they will begin to attract energy and will become focal points for siphoning power and wealth out of capitalism back into the communities from which they were originally stolen. (See also “What can neighborhood associations do?” below at #1 under Further Discussion.)
2. Form an Employee's Association. Get together with some co-workers at your workplace and form an Employee’s Association. Bypass unions. You will have to meet on your own time. Hold regular meetings. These meetings will form the basis, later on, for the Peer Circles of self-managed Projects (and part of the basis for escaping wage-slavery). There may be several such groups in one shop. It is only through face-to-face associations like these that an autonomous opposition culture can once again be generated. Even if you start with only half-a-dozen people word will get around that there is a meeting where the problems of the workplace are being discussed. This will become the focal point of a consciousness that is opposed to corporate culture. Without this counter consciousness there is no possibility of effective opposition. (See also “What can employee associations do?” below at #2 under Further Discussion.)
3. Form a Cooperative Housing Association. This can be done right now. Several families can pool resources and buy a building to form an extended household. Groups of people, single and married, already rent houses together and live cooperatively. Where buying is clearly out of the question form a Tenants Association in your building. Try to begin sharing resources and living cooperatively. These cooperative housing associations will form the basis, later on, for Households, as in our initial sketch. (See also “What can household associations do?” below at #3 under Further Discussion.)
4. Build a Meeting Hall. Pool resources with neighbors and build a place to meet. The first neighborhood to do this will go down in history as having launched a new civilization. Most neighborhoods, no matter how poor, somehow find money to build churches. If they wanted to they could build Meeting Halls. Obviously, they must first perceive a need for them. They must want to associate, want to begin to exercise control over their lives in cooperation with their neighbors. They must see the meetings as the linchpin of a new way of life.
5. Organize worker-owned businesses. Worker-owned businesses, in and of themselves, cannot destroy capitalism. As long as they are operating in a capitalist market they will face bankruptcy unless they pay attention to the bottom line. Actually, they merely replace the traditional capitalist owner with a shop full of capitalist owners. Thus worker-owners are merely joining the petty bourgeoisie. Which is what the New Left did in a big way in the early seventies. We created a multitude of what we thought of as “alternative institutions” (we were actually just going into business for ourselves). There were food coops, bookstores, day care centers, clinics, publishing houses, auto repair shops, community newspapers, psychedelic shops (with clothing, leather goods, music), and so forth. But the capitalists were not hurt by this at all. On the contrary, they benefitted greatly. They simply took over all our new creations and mass marketed them, making billions in the process.
Nevertheless, there are at least two very important differences between regular businesses and worker-owned ones. The latter can abolish internal hierarchies and self-manage the shop in a democratic way, and they have greater flexibility about using any extra wealth created. Instead of paying dividends to stockholders they can use income to support opposition movements, or they can simply raise their own salaries, shorten their work hours, or lower their prices. Actually, in real life most worker-owners end up working longer hours for less pay than they would in a traditional enterprise. They also tend to start out democratic but end up managerial, due largely I think to the pressures and temptations of the surrounding capitalist market, and not I hope to inherent flaws in human nature.
If there were dozens of worker-owned businesses in a community, providing needed services and making useful products, in addition to supporting anti-capitalist struggles, they could accumulate a wealth of experience and become the initial core, later on, for the self-managed Projects of democratic autonomous neighborhoods. They could become the basis for socially conscious, cooperative labor, democratically agreed upon labor, as opposed to labor that is bought and sold.
Worker-owned businesses are a growing movement in the United States (around 1500 majority-owned businesses so far I think). Some of them in the same trade are forming networks for mutual support and to share information. They can become revolutionary however only by becoming part of a movement to destroy capitalism and build something else, as sketched in this book, for example.
6. Try to convert local business families to the democratic autonomous way of life. That is, try to convince them to give up private ownership and switch to worker-managed projects controlled by the neighborhood Home Assembly. This may not be as hard as we at first imagine. The petty bourgeoisie (i.e., small business families) is one of the most desperate and miserable classes in capitalism. They work unbelievably long hours. Very few of them are getting rich. They go bankrupt by the thousands, losing everything they have, all their money and all their long years of labor. Those who do survive may still be on the verge of going under. They are constantly being gobbled up by chain stores and I doubt that the buyouts are all that wonderful. These people are on the fringe of the corporate world. They have been a shrinking class for over a hundred years. Maybe some of them are ready to throw in the towel. They have sought not only to get rich, but “to be their own boss.” That is, they have striven to escape wage-slavery by going into business for themselves. But there is another way to escape wage-slavery and be your own boss — participate in a worker-managed project. If we could convince even 10% of them to convert their properties to cooperatively owned and operated projects, this would provide a starting financial base for neighborhood autonomy. If we could convince 20, 30, or 40 percent, we would have a very substantial material base for transforming our neighborhoods.
7. Change jobs and move to worker-managed projects as opportunities emerge. We should shift our employment from the giant corporate world to worker-managed, neighborhood-controlled projects. The wealth that we produce in the former is siphoned off into the coffers of global capitalism. The wealth we produce in the latter can be retained in the neighborhood. There is a very big danger here though, namely that we will end up doing poverty level work. So we must never let up on our overall attack on capitalism, as described herein. We must not be content to live in the backwaters, barely subsisting in our impoverished neighborhoods, however autonomous they may be, while capitalism goes rolling on.
8. Set up local currencies. Most people don't even know that we don't have to use ruling class money (government or bank money) or that we can issue our own. Local currencies, of which there are many types, help us to get free from the world market, strengthen local markets, and thus build self-sufficiency and autonomy. They enable us to stop circulating the money of our oppressors, and thus escape, partially, the system of control based on that money. Local currencies also provide a way to stop wealth from being drained out of the community. Although local currencies are possible now (and many experiments are under way) they will probably be outlawed if the practice spreads.
9. Organize a Community Land Trust. These are not-for-profit corporations which acquire and hold land in the public interest. They are an existing legal form in the United States which autonomists should be using more than we are. They are a way of fighting the real estate industry, and of resisting the continuing concentration of land ownership. Like Community Development Corporations, they can easily become regressive, but if used properly they could become, later on, the basis for neighborhood control of all the lands upon which the neighborhood lives and works. Getting control of the land is always the first step capitalists take when beginning an attack on the autonomy of any people. With us, in the core capitalist countries, the land is long gone. But in many parts of the world the enclosure (expropriation of the land by the masters) is just now happening, and on a massive scale. Peasants and native peoples everywhere are being forced to register their holdings, which have traditionally been communally defined, thus turning the land into a commodity which can be bought and sold, under state and market rules. Another way of emptying the land is to make peasant farming unviable, by flooding the country with cheap, subsidized farm products from the rich countries. Sometimes peasants are simply driven off the land by force. Contemporary Colombia is a prime example, where the combination of death squads and toxic spraying have made millions landless, to become dwellers in the vast urban slums.
Community Land Trusts do not overcome the problem of land being treated like a commodity of course, since the land still has a title registered with the state. They are thus only a stop gap measure, but one which might be used now to start the process of re-appropriating the land.
10. Start switching to solar/wind energy. This will be easiest for people living in small towns and villages. There are already solar and wind units that can supply all the electrical needs of a small community. It will be hardest for people living in dense urban or suburban neighborhoods. Solar and wind power has gotten cheaper and cheaper. It is about ready to takeoff, so to speak, but under corporate control — vast solar and wind installations feeding electricity into the corporate-controlled grids. What communities, and even private households, must do is use the new technology to get free from the grid and thus achieve a measure of self-sufficiency and autonomy. There may come a time when this will make the difference between survival or death. For now though it is an essential step toward taking power, in both senses, back from capitalists and returning it to democratic communities where it belongs.
11. Start growing some of our own food. This will make sense only in the context of struggles to re-empower local communities and destroy capitalism. The objective is to regain a degree of self-sufficiency and autonomy in order to be able to abandon and hence gut and destroy the profit-system. Otherwise we play right into their hands. Capitalists no longer need vast millions of people. They couldn’t care less if we scurry around in our little vegetable gardens, garage workshops, and utility rooms trying to scrape together the bare necessities of life. As long as they control the major technologies, the governments, and markets sufficient for the continued accumulation of capital, they are happy, and can control the world. They would be happy to see millions of us simply die off. In fact they are talking about this already, all the time, and looking forward to it.
So the tactic of 'starting to grow some of our own food' stems not from any romantic illusion about mother earth or about working with our hands, but from our dire need to establish independence in order to survive. Today’s urban populations are unimaginably vulnerable to the disruption of food supplies. And don’t think for one minute that governments and corporations won’t block food shipments, if they have to, to protect themselves and the system they are devoted to. In fact, structurally induced famines have already reached epidemic levels in the contemporary world. So 'growing some of our own food' applies not just to first world neighborhoods, but also, and especially, to the poorer countries which have been forced into importing basic food stuffs while their own lands are given over to cash crops for export (e.g., coffee, sugar, bananas, beef).
We don't need farms to start growing food. We can do it in the backyard, or in roof top gardens. We can build solar powered greenhouses, and try aqua culture and hydroponics. There are many ways to start getting free from agribusiness.
12. Set up a neighborhood storehouse to facilitate mutual aid. At first this will simply be a depository where persons can put in things they don't need and take out things they do need. This could include food, for example, as people in the neighborhood start growing more and more of their own food. A person or family who has grown more food than they need will put it in the storehouse, where it can be taken out by persons and families who need food. It will be a way of facilitating mutual aid and sharing. It could also include clothing, especially children's clothing. As children outgrow clothes, these clothes could be put in (or returned to) the storehouse to be available to other children who need them. Same with toys, and many other items, like books, dishes, furniture, appliances, extra plants, scrap lumber, and tools. As the neighborhood gets more and more free from the market, more and more of the necessities of life (and even non-necessities) will be channeled through the storehouse. Eventually, all production – industrial, agricultural, etcetera – will be funneled into the storehouse. After the needs of the neighborhood have been met, excess production will be exchanged with other neighborhoods. There might be inter-neighborhood, or even regional, storehouses for some items. It will be by means of arrangements like this that we will eventually be able to abolish money. Setting up such a storehouse is something that could be done right now, in every neighborhood. In some communities, there already exists a similar organization, in the form of thrift stores of various kinds (Salvation Army, Goodwill, Veterans). In these stores, although their goods have usually been donated, the items are nevertheless sold for money. But in a voluntarily organized and run storehouse, the money could be eliminated.
13. Support orthomolecular medicine and the preventive health care movement. Medicine as currently practiced is a ruling institution that seeks to control us just like schools do, and corporations, and the government itself. It also wants to sell us drugs, cut us up (for a high fee), and keep us coming back again and again. We must start breaking free from it, start reducing its influence over our lives, start gutting it of power. The best way to do this is not to get sick. We must take charge of our own health and learn how to take care of ourselves. A step in this direction is to become advocates and adherents of orthomolecular medicine — a new philosophy of health and sickness founded in the 1970s by Linus Pauling and his colleagues, which was actually mostly a crystallization of long-standing alternative health practices, although they certainly gave them a new twist and a firmer scientific foundation.
We should go to doctors and hospitals only as a last resort, and when we do go we must question everything they do. Never let them treat us like pieces of meat. Never let them do a single thing to us without forcing them to explain it, and to wait until we decide whether we want the treatment.
Some of us should also try to begin establishing neighborhood health clinics. This will be difficult because medicine is tightly controlled by the state, together with the drug companies, insurance companies, and doctors themselves in their professional organizations. Nevertheless, some progress can surely be made toward neighborhood-controlled clinics even if it is only education at first to spread the preventive health care movement. These clinics will become, later on, the means whereby we take back control of health care in our democratic autonomous neighborhoods.
Naturally, people who presently work in hospitals should be forming employee associations, with an eye to eventually taking over the hospitals. But the seizure of hospitals will probably take place at about the time that it becomes feasible to seize factories, farms, offices, and stores. In the meantime, we should be getting free from mainstream medicine by practicing preventive health care and by establishing independent neighborhood clinics.
14. Do not work hard at our jobs. Generally speaking, this cannot be anything as obvious as an explicit slowdown (deliberate slowdowns have their place of course). Rather, when we start a new job we should work at a level far below our true ability. Never let them know we can do more. Do just the bare minimum not to get fired. This may still be quite a high level of output in a very competitive labor market where there are millions of gung-ho employees trying to impress the bosses and get ahead (i.e., get promoted) or perhaps just trying to keep their jobs. But as more and more workers adopt this attitude it will be harder and harder for the bosses to tell what the real capacities are. The centuries-old struggle between capitalists and workers turns precisely on the capitalists’ need to extract more value from the direct producers than they pay out in wages and benefits. This battle has been, and is being, fought over the length of the working day, wages, speed-ups, breaks, vacation time, intensity of work, sick leave, lunch periods, overtime, age of retirement, health and pension benefits, and so on. Anything that requires capitalists to pay more while getting less weakens their world and strengthens ours.
But “not working hard at our jobs” goes somewhat beyond these other kinds of struggle. No business could last a year if it weren’t for the enthusiasm, energy, and dedication that workers bring to their jobs. This happens everywhere, at every construction site, in every factory, and in every office. There are always those few who keep the business going, or even keep it operating smoothly. Capitalism would collapse without this creative energy, without this problem-solving, without this free intelligence applied to new situations. Just look at what happens when a few workers do attempt to “work to rule” — things start to unravel fast. Capitalists still continue to preach that workers should just do what they’re told and not think about it (“Just Do It”). At the same time they usually blame workers when things go wrong, for not having seen the problem and taken the initiative to fix it.
The principle of “Not Working Hard at Our Jobs” means that we will assume no responsibility for the success of the business, bring no enthusiasm to our work, fix nothing when things go wrong, solve no production problems for them, volunteer no information, make no inventions, improve no procedures — in short do as little as possible. This is a way of stopping capitalists from extracting wealth from our labors. It also throws a monkey-wrench into the capital accumulation process, without which the system collapses.
There have always been people who sloughed off at work. This often creates tensions because other workers usually have to do the work the slackers are not doing. But what if all of us, or most of us, sloughed off? The strategy of “Not Working Hard at Our Jobs” suggests precisely this — that we all become malingerers. This does go against the grain however, at least for a lot of us. It is natural to want to do well, to develop skills, to be proud of our work. We have to realize though that our exploiters rely upon these good motivations of ours and use them against us. Our natural instincts to excel at our tasks are being used to destroy us, our communities, and in fact the earth itself.
Finally, the extent to which any individual can become a slough-off will vary depending on that person’s situation and personality. People who live in extensive networks of family, friends, and co-workers, can risk getting fired more easily. Very isolated people can’t. Also, some people are more afraid than others, more subject to peer pressure, and to pressure from the bosses. Only fearless and secure people can snub their noses at bosses and peers alike. If we could get our neighborhood, workplace, and household associations going then more of us could be brave enough to become first rate slough-offs at work. Also, it would help immensely, in fact it is vitally important to the strategy, if we could use the energy thus saved for other skills and tasks not exploitable by capitalists, for activities which would build our world while undermining theirs.
The tactical principle of 'Not Working Hard at Our Jobs' strikes capitalism at its core, could become a central component of an opposition culture, and is something that could be started today by every employed person. Just don’t do it. Don’t care. Don’t try.
Naturally, there are safety precautions that must be observed. Crane operators, pilots, bus drivers, surgeons (and dozens more workers in critical jobs) must be skillful enough to ensure that nobody gets hurt. Within these limits though there is still plenty of room for sloughing off. Most jobs are not critical at all.
Also, sloughing off at work must be accompanied by the determined effort to build something of excellence elsewhere. Otherwise, sloughing off becomes a way of life and amounts to nothing more than sinking into slothfulness and apathy.
15. Organize locally to stop ruling class offensives in the community. There are numerous examples of this already. A town has mobilized to stop a Wal-Mart from moving in and destroying all the local small businesses. Communities have mobilized to force the clean up of toxic waste dumps. Neighborhoods have organized to stop expressways from being built right through the middle of their homes. Some suburban sprawl (damn little though) has been blocked. Proposed dams have been stopped. Forests, wetlands, and seashores have been saved. And so forth. This is where capitalists have to be stopped – locally, in our communities. Why? Because this is where our strength is.
Even if one hundred thousand militants converged periodically in cities and capitals around the world to protest at the summit meetings of the world's ruling classes, this is nothing compared to the tens of millions, hundred of millions worldwide, who could become engaged in struggles at the local level. Most people cannot go to regional, national, or continental demonstrations. They have to work and cannot leave their jobs. Plus travel is expensive and beyond the means of many people. Plus they have family responsibilities. Hence protests at summit meetings is perforce limited mostly to more affluent students and other movement celebrities who can afford to operate on a national or global level. Quite a few less well off persons do manage nevertheless to go to these events, by taking vacation time, using up savings, and the like. But they are not the majority. Moreover, in order really to be able to defeat capitalists on the global level, we would have to get control of national governments, and that is simply not in the picture. So however useful national and global protests are for highlighting issues, articulating demands, and putting pressure on our rulers, it is at the local level that the real battles must be fought.
16. Start applying criminal laws to capitalists and government officials. This has started to happen. It's quite surprising that it hasn't happened long before now. Not long ago a couple of corporate executives were convicted of murder, because they knowingly allowed an employee to be poisoned to death at the workplace. This was the first case of its kind in the United States. Pinochet has been arrested and may be placed on trial in Chile. Kissinger may well be brought to trial as a war criminal. All this is an excellent development. If we could only bring the criminal laws to bear on capitalists themselves, and their functionaries in government, this by itself would almost be enough to destroy capitalism, because capitalism cannot exist (that is, capitalists, as a world class, cannot make profits) without violence, brutality, oppression, theft, lies, and murder. It requires all that to keep the system going, speaking in global terms. If we could hold them to the same laws that all the rest of us must obey, their scam would be exposed, and the system would collapse.
17. Democratize all voluntary associations. By democratize, of course I mean direct democracy, whereby an association is operated cooperatively, through face-to-face assemblies. Unfortunately, the practice of direct democracy has almost disappeared from our culture. Instead, the first thing we do when we get together to establish an association, is to elect officers and hand over authority to them, thus disbanding our meetings, and forfeiting our power of self-government. That is, we establish a hierarchy, even though this is seen as democratic (whereby we choose leaders periodically through elections). But this practice could be abandoned and we could return to the practice of direct democracy. No one is stopping us from doing this right now, in all the many and various associations we establish, whether they be educational societies, chess clubs, baseball teams, parent-teacher associations, professional organizations, quilting bees, orchestras, health clinics, youth centers, food coops, or what have you. This could be done in all organizations that we establish which are not registered with the state. So-called not-for-profit corporations, which are registered with the state (that is, incorporated by the state), are usually required, by law, to have a board of directors and officers. Nevertheless, in many cases, it is possible to do the paper work to meet the official requirements (which demand the establishment of hierarchy, that is, an authoritarian structure for the enterprise), but to run the project internally, unofficially, with direct democracy. At present, it is an unfortunate fact that not-for-profit corporations and so-called non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are almost invariably authoritarian. But this is something that we might be able to change, long before it becomes feasible to seize, and thus democratize, corporations per se. The experience we could thus gain now with direct democracy in our voluntary associations, non-profits, and NGOs would help us later in our workplace, neighborhood, and household assemblies.
18. Reject mainstream divisions of social knowledge. About a hundred years ago, largely in response to a very powerful labor movement and a vigorous anti-capitalist culture, conservatives in Europe began parceling up social knowledge into fields or disciplines, which rapidly became institutionalized as departments in universities, and then as occupations in the labor market. The main ones were economics, political science, and sociology. But also, history was partitioned off more completely as a specialized and more limited discipline, as was philosophy. Psychology had already been separated out earlier. Anthropology was added in. There is not the slightest justification for any of this. There is no such thing as an economy, for example. But such a claim sounds idiotic to contemporary minds. What conservatives have succeeded in doing is thoroughly trouncing another way of looking at human life which uses a different set of categories entirely, namely the radical critique of capitalist civilization. These false divisions are now one of the greatest barriers to understanding the world we live in.
19. Don’t watch television or listen to the radio. I'm referring to corporate media of course. For most people it’s probably best not to even own televisions or radios. Every hour given up to corporate programming is one hour less available for face-to-face association with friends and neighbors, one hour less available for building independent lives, for creating an autonomous culture, and for assembling the social arrangements that will replace capitalism. Mainstream television and radio are unspeakable evils, with their endless hours of advertising, their biased newscasts, their destruction of conversation, their silence about everything important, their trivialization of knowledge, their distortion of history, and their endorsement of greed, vulgarity, and brutality. Television creates a false, mediated world, a cultural world that has been filtered through the prism of capitalist values. We come to act and talk as if the only things we have in common are what we have all seen in the movies or on television or heard on the radio. This comes to be the mediated linkage that binds us together. We no longer have direct cultural linkages emerging out of our own face to face interaction, but only these round-about, second hand, artificial, distorted ones.
I have known only a few persons who could watch television without being damaged. These are persons who are already deeply steeped in an alternative culture. They don’t so much watch television as they study it, like they would a species of insect never encountered before. They examine television, with a critical eye, bringing to the task already developed autonomous knowledge and values with which to judge it. They see it as data, to be analyzed, to discover what the ruling class is doing, and what spin it is putting on current events. They read between the lines to decipher what’s happening in the world. This is a very important thing to do, but it is not for everyone.
This presents a problem. We all need to be aware of what’s happening in the world. We can read the newspapers, but mainstream newspapers must be approached with the same 'reading between the lines' critical eye needed for television and radio. At present the best resource is the independent media, which can be consulted regularly to keep informed. Hopefully, a growing opposition culture will continue to invent ways to bypass corporate/government media.
A report was made about what happened in a remote village in northern India when the first transistor radio arrived. Within a short time villagers no longer danced around their fires singing songs. Instead they sat and listened to the canned music from New Delhi.
20. Support the Independent Media. What began in the 1960s as Underground Newspapers, and continued to flourish in the 1970s and 1980s as the Alternative Press, has come into its own in the 1990s as the Independent Media. This is a much better name. Why should our publications be considered alternative rather than mainstream, instead of the reverse? It is corporate media after all that is not authentic, being nothing but a propaganda machine, and is therefore out of line, dishonest, marginal, based on special interests (profit), inimical to human life, subterranean, and immoral. So why should this be considered mainstream? Well of course it is mainstream, for capitalism, and that is why the term mainstream is a dirty word for us. Still.
Our Independent Media now consists of hundreds of newspapers, magazines, newsletters, journals, and zines, as well as independent radio and television. The most spectacular development in this area, in just the past few years since the Battle of Seattle in November 1999, has been the rapid creation, on a world scale, of IndyMedia Centers, using the Internet. These centers collect written, audio, and visual reports about current events and make them available to anyone with access to the Internet. This is a critically important strategic initiative. The new generation of activists seems to be very media savvy, far surpassing the media skills of earlier generations of militants. They seem to be focusing more on how central media are, and therefore on how crucial it is to fight in this arena.
21. Don’t buy into the culture industry or commodified entertainment. In the heavily commodified cultures of the core capitalist countries we can hardly move without using a commodity transaction. We certainly cannot live. We can’t even die. There are options, nevertheless, in the hours when we are not forced into wage-slavery (the core commodity transaction).
I believe that in our non-working hours we must consciously avoid commodified activities. A commodified activity is one which is organized as a business to yield a profit to the entrepreneurs. Quite obviously this cannot be an absolute rule, otherwise we couldn’t do anything, couldn’t go out to dinner, couldn’t go dancing, couldn’t travel, couldn’t listen to music, couldn’t read a book. But what we can do is start shifting the emphasis, start shifting the ratio of commodified to non-commodified activities, and be more selective about which commodified activities we do (some are worse than others).
Most of us are heavily dependent on commercial entertainment, whether it be movies, television, CDs, rock and roll clubs, home videos, or spectator sports. Every hour of our non-wage laboring time we spend on commodified entertainment strengthens capitalism and reduces the time we have available for creating an autonomous culture. The very worst commodified entertainment is that which reduces us to spectators, to passivity; movies, television, and commercial sports are the bad ones. (There is a highbrow version of spectator entertainment — plays, concerts, and ballets.)
Even active entertainment requires equipment — boats, bikes, golf clubs, tennis rackets, binoculars, fishing gear — and as such ties us to the leisure time industry. But these uses of leisure are far better than spectator entertainment. But has someone who spends every available free hour playing golf been captured by the culture industry? I think so. Has someone who spends every available dollar maintaining a motor boat been captured by the culture industry? I think so. Add into this all the people who spend themselves broke every week playing the horses, buying the latest CDs, reading the latest romance novels, going to rock concerts, eating out, taking tours, going to bars, going to the movies, going to ball games, going to bowling alleys, skating rinks, and pool halls, going to nightclubs, going to stock car races, visiting amusement parks, and you see a population enslaved to the leisure time industry, to commodified entertainment and activities. All these activities destroy community and isolate us from each other.
The crazy thing is that this is all voluntary. No one is forcing us to do any of this. Capitalists have captured our laboring hours by force and turned us into slaves. But they have captured our so-called leisure hours by seduction and turned us into spectators and consumers. It’s going to be hard to break free from the culture industry. The trouble is that most of this stuff is fun. We have to realize though that it is destroying us. We can, and we must, break free from it.
This is certainly one way we can all begin today to gut capitalism. We can learn to play instruments again and make our own music. We can learn to sing together again, an ability which we have lost (yet people who have forgotten how to sing can never make a revolution; so here’s a thought; we can destroy capitalism by starting to sing again). We can get together with neighbors and play sports. We can hike together and cycle, go on picnics, attend free lectures, form discussion groups and argue, play games in our own homes, go camping (but without a van load of equipment), read (good books instead of trash), organize community dances with live local musical talent, stage plays, sit and talk, visit friends and relatives, sleep, sit around and do nothing. The capitalist culture industry would collapse tomorrow without our endless purchases.
22. Don’t Vote. There is a whole list of things not to do, namely don’t waste time on any of the strategies that have failed. Voting (in elections for representatives to local, state, and national governments) deserves special mention though, because of the horrible ambivalence that still surrounds this issue. The ambivalence stems in large measure from the obvious fact that it can make a considerable difference in our lives whether the government is controlled by right-wing fanatics or liberal do-gooders. Governments, after all, if run by nice people, and if the internal dynamics of capitalism permit it (i.e., if the rate of profit is sufficiently healthy) can do many beneficial things for the average worker. What governments cannot do is destroy capitalism, because they are an integral part of capitalism.
We have to face up to this. Any time or energy put into winning elections will always fall short of achieving our true objectives. We cannot afford this waste. Time is short. We have to stop fighting for what we can get and start fighting for what we want. We have to reserve our energies for those strategies that will destroy capitalism and create a new world. Revolutionaries who argue that we have to do both, that we should be electing socialists or at least progressive liberals to office, all the while we are building alternative institutions and attacking the system in other ways, just aren’t being realistic. You can spend decades of your life trying to build a new labor or progressive party, but what have you got even if you succeed? Not what you really wanted!
There are in addition all the other objections to voting, like that it perpetuates the illusion that we are living in a democracy or at least a quasi-democracy, that it legitimizes the system, that running for office is an option only for the very rich, and so on. You may recall the anarchist quip that if voting could change anything it would be illegal. There is a bumper sticker which reads: “Don’t Vote! It only encourages them.” To refuse to even cast a vote, for the lesser of two evils (the "evil of two lessors"), even though it only takes an hour or two, is an act of resistance. It is a conscious rejection of capitalism, a refusal to be bought off with crumbs, and as such is a step toward building an opposition movement.
Although universal suffrage was won largely through working class, feminist, and civil rights agitation, it was long ago turned into a controlling mechanism by the ruling class, to be used against us. We should make a clean break with this practice and start taking direct action to destroy the system that is killing us by the millions.
A Caveat: Continuing Ambivalence. No matter how powerful the arguments against voting are, I can’t help but waver when faced with a situation like that in the United States in 2004. It is now not just a question of the lesser of two evils, because the difference between a full-fledged fascist regime and a regular right-wing government might add up to millions of lives lost, plus the loss of whatever maneuvering room we have left for liberatory struggle. People can always struggle of course, even under fascism, but they are starting from way back, from a much weaker position. Let’s hope that the split in the ruling class is severe enough to derail real fascism from emerging.
But it may actually already be too late. One can’t help but suspect that the hard-right extremists who have seized control of the US government will never give up power. Fascist types have after all been struggling to seize control at least since the murder of John F. Kennedy in 1963, and probably for a couple of decades before that. So now that they have finally gotten control of all three branches of government, most of the courts, the media, and the military-industrial-intelligence agency-university-prison complex, are they going to give up power? I wouldn’t bet on it. They have already put in place most of the things they need for a totalitarian police state. So they probably will either steal the election using the electronic voting machines and other election fraud strategies, like scrubbing the voting rolls, or else they will stage some crisis and declare martial law. Assuming though that this latter doesn’t happen and that the election is fair, there is surely a strong case to be made for going to the polls to try to dislodge the neo-conservative extremists from power, in favor of some less vicious ruling class representative (our only choice, since candidates who might represent the people are barred from the race; and even if candidates with a peoples agenda do occasionally make it into office, they are immediately neutralized by the brokers of international capital, like has just happened recently to Lula da Silva in Brazil).
23. Recover our own language. We no longer speak our own freely created language. We speak the language of our rulers and their hacks. It’s no wonder, considering the bombardment from schools and mass media we have been under. Also, we don’t really talk much with each other any more, which of course is the only way a language can be created. Instead we listen, to them. We walk around with earphones on our heads. We listen to teachers, sometimes for twenty years. We listen to the news, to talk shows, to weather forecasters, to advertisements by the thousands, and to the stock market report, even though few of us own stocks (and those who do, don't own many). We listen to the President. We listen to bosses, ministers, doctors, and psychiatrists. Some people can’t even sleep unless the radio or television is on. There are radios in every car, in every workplace, in every kitchen. Millions of people wake up every morning to clock radios. There are radios on the beach and in camp. We listen to the MTA, over their loudspeakers in every station and train, telling us not to step over the yellow line, not to smoke, not to litter, to report vandals (222-1212), and to have a nice day, with nary a grimace of protest from a single passenger. We are constantly listening, to language not of our own making.
We even allow them to start piping their language right into our children’s brains before they can even talk. It is a language filled with euphemisms, double-speak, psycho-babble, and befuddlement. It is an ugly language. Compared with only a hundred years ago our language now is impoverished, polluted, and degraded, with greatly weakened expressive powers. We cannot think straight using this language. Although it sounds strange to say so, words are very concrete things, and we can pay attention to them. We don’t have to say “industrial society” instead of “capitalism”, to cite only one example. Whole books are now being written on Double-Speak by oppositionists. We should study them. We should also study the words, whenever we can find them, of the very first victims of capitalism, in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. They had a clearer perception of what they were being hit with. Even in the 19th century, opposition language was still rich and powerful. Study the speeches of William Morris or Voltairine de Cleyre, for example, if you want to see how pitiful our language has become compared to theirs.
24. Recover the capacity for self-defense. Never before in history has a people been rendered so utterly defenseless before its oppressors as have the working classes of the capitalist world, classes which now include the overwhelming majority of people. We own no land and cannot grow the food we need. We own no tools and cannot make the necessities of life, not even clothing and shelter. We own no weapons and cannot defend ourselves against attack. Our communities and families have been broken up. We cannot control what our children are taught. We can no longer make our own music. Our language is no longer our own. Each week we hand over our money to the ruling class for safekeeping. We are completely at the mercy of our rulers (and yet we think we are free!).
Even our character has been changed and weakened. Long gone from us is the fierce independence and resistance shown by peasants and native peoples the world over (including those in Europe) when they were first assaulted by capitalists. We are now a tamed class of people, so tamed that we are no longer even aware that we have been tamed. We are a subdued, cowed, pacified, controlled, contained, managed, manipulated class.
We are not completely tamed, however, and this is our strength and only hope (or despair, if all they need is to mostly tame us). The fact that they have so far failed, even with all their governments, schools, firepower, and mass media, to completely tame us, tells us that they can never completely tame us (short of genetically altering us, which I’m sure they’re already working on around the clock). It tells us that we can win, that we are stronger.
Quite obviously, recovering the capacity for self-defense is not a simple matter of stockpiling Uzis. In fact it’s not a simple matter at all. It’s practically the same as recovering the capacity to live autonomously. Nevertheless there are many things we can do in the meantime. For example, we can establish cop watches. Whenever an incident happens involving the police, we should gather round and observe. This in itself will act as a brake on police brutality and provide eye witness accounts to anything that happens. Unfortunately, things at present are going in exactly the opposite direction. Many neighborhoods are setting up crime watches, under the direct supervision of their local police departments. In effect, they are turning themselves into cops, to spy on their neighbors, in the name of fighting crime. If this trend continues, before long it will be like it was in Russia, with family members ratting on other family members to the state's secret police. They will not see the crimes perpetrated by the government, corporations, and the police themselves, but only the street thugs that are threatening their neighborhoods.
Feminists were on the right track when they started taking karate classes in the late sixties. They said they were tired of feeling vulnerable and helpless. So they started learning karate and other methods of self-defense. We should revive this interest in self-defense but broaden it. It must be raised to the community level, and not remain just an individual practice. And since we can never acquire tanks, helicopters, patrol cars, gas grenades, and all that other weaponry (nor should we even want to), we have to invent social weapons with which to resist them and defend our selves. I admit that this is a formidable and daunting task. Anyone who has survived in a ghetto for long realizes what it's like to live in an occupied territory. Half-a-dozen patrol cars can be at any incident within minutes, with more on the way, and helicopters hovering overhead. How can we possibly overcome such firepower?
To be quite honest about it, I don't quite see how break-away, autonomous neighborhoods could be defended against the military might of the bourgeoisie. But then, neither is it possible to see how a break-away nation could be defended. We have just seen, in their attack on Yugoslavia, what they can do to a whole nation which they want to break up. They bombed it back to a pre-industrial level, wiping out in seventy-eight days of bombing raids the productive toils and accomplishments of a whole people for half a century. So the difficulty we have in imagining a defense of our neighborhoods cannot be solved by reverting to a statist strategy, or by building armed forces to engage the ruling class militarily on its own terms — Yugoslavia after all was well armed -- because we're just as bad off on that level.
The answer to the dilemma lies, I suspect, precisely in our smallness, in our ubiquitousness, in direct action, and in the tactics of determined non-cooperation and resistance to violent oppression. After all, we're not starting from scratch. There is much to be learned from the long tradition of nonviolent resistance to physical force. We must also study tactics and strategies of war, however, because that's what we're involved in.
I do believe that we can win. But perhaps I'm just dreaming. We must never forget that they are willing to murder entire populations to protect their ability to accumulate capital, and have done so again and again.
25. Engage the Fight against Religion. As recently as the 1960s it was possible to think that the battle against religion had been won. The tremendous advances of Enlightenment values from the eighteenth century on seemed solidly in place. So how does it happen that forty years later we find ourselves living in a world of resurgent religious fundamentalism — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu?
A big part of the explanation, I submit, is that the US government and its various puppet regimes, sometimes together with its imperialist allies, have been very busy murdering progressive people the world over, for a very long time now. To be more exactly correct, they have been murdering people who reject capitalism and imperialism, the majority of whom are secular people. That’s at the bottom of it. Most recently they destroyed a progressive and secular state in Yugoslavia and replaced it with right wing mini states based on religion and ethnicity. Before that they destroyed a progressive and secular state in Afghanistan, because it was allied with the Soviet Union, and replaced it with a state based on Muslim fundamentalism (in the biggest CIA covert operation in its history). They wiped out the progressive community in Iraq, using their ally Saddam Hussein, by murdering thousands of communists, syndicalists, socialists, anarchists, liberals, and secular humanists. They destroyed the democratic regime of Mossadeq in Iran, and replaced it with a royal dictator, the Shah, who proceeded to exterminate Iran’s progressive, liberal, secular community (many of whom were communists and socialists). So the only social force left that was powerful enough to overthrow the Shah twenty-five years later was Islamic Fundamentalism. Socialists and progressives in Israel have been oppressed and marginalized for decades by right-wing governments backed by the United States. Is it any wonder then that Jewish Fundamentalism has gained the upper hand? In India the United States has consistently allied itself with right-wing, pro-capitalist governments which vigorously suppress any movement aiming to deepen and extend democracy, whether by liberals, socialists, or communists, until only Hindu fascists are left controlling the government. The list goes on and on. They slaughtered at least half a million communists in Indonesia in 1965. They murdered 200,000 people in Guatemala, 30,000 in Argentina, 3000 or more in Chile.
The same thing has been happening inside the United States. Can there be any doubt that the government’s destruction of the New Left in the late sixties and early seventies paved the way for the resurgence of Christian Fundamentalism? If the sixties revolution had been successful, or even partially so, this phenomenon most likely would never have happened. Even leaving aside the New Left, would the country now be in the grip of Christian Fundamentalists if the fascist thugs in the ruling class hadn’t murdered so many progressive leaders, like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr, John and Robert Kennedy, Walter Reuther, and more (most recently Paul Wellstone)? This is no new thing. They killed the leadership of the anarchist movement in Chicago in the 1880s; and more generally, they destroyed an autonomous working class culture, which was imbued with communism, socialism, anarchism, secularism, and atheism. They destroyed the country’s huge socialist, syndicalist, and anarchist movement in the 1920s, by killing, jailing, or deporting its leaders, and otherwise sabotaging its operations. They terminated the Black Panthers, murdering 27 of them, jailing many more, and burning down their offices across the country.
But do you ever see them murdering right-wing Christians? Of course not. Capitalists hate enlightenment, but love religious fanatics. They encourage, foster, and fund them, along with all the other mystics, sectarians, and dopes they can get their arms around. We no longer need to look back in history to see that organized religion has always been the whore of the state. The current mating between Christian Fundamentalists and right-wing extremists of the Republican Party is all the proof we need. But it’s a strange affair, because Money, and the power to make it, is the only God republican extremists ever worship.
So for the past thirty years, the Christian Right has been waging an unrelenting cultural war against liberals and secular humanists (communists, socialists, anarchists, and atheists are now so marginalized they’re hardly even on the scope). They grew dissatisfied with simply enjoying their religious freedom. They decided to go political, and capture the state, in order to impose their beliefs on the nation. We have to embrace this fight once again, or else the Enlightenment will turn out to have been just a blip in the long history of human intolerance and fanaticism.
26. Start Negotiating Global Agreements. Critics of a decentered world claim that many of our problems are worldwide in scope and therefore require world institutions to deal with them. It’s true that we face many global crises that can only be solved on the global level, but it is not true that we need a world government, or some such, to solve them. Local communities could start negotiating global agreements on their own initiative, bypassing governments. If existing treaties, negotiated by governments, are worth supporting, they could simply endorse these (and there are many such treaties, dealing with weapons in space, the oceans, nuclear weapons, land mines, torture, and so forth). Or they could revise these where necessary to improve them and make them compatible with anarchy. Or they could start writing their own treaties. Naturally, this assumes that we have local communities that are trying to take back control of their lives. The recent phenomenon in the United States wherein over two hundred city councils have passed resolutions against the USA Patriot Act, and in defense of the Bill of Rights, indicates the direction we should be moving in. The experience gained in the Sister Cities movement might be relevant. The international networks of NGOs might be relevant also.
The idea that we need national governments (or even worse, a world government) to reach global agreements to deal with our problems is ridiculous. National governments, more often than not, are the causes of these crises.
27. Abolish War. Abolish war? I’ve got to be kidding, right? This is a fantasy if there ever was one. The thing is, modern war has become horrible almost beyond human comprehension. Two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed 210,000 people. One hydrogen bomb dropped on any major world city would kill millions of people instantly. So far this has never happened, but hundreds of nuclear missiles are still on hair trigger alert in both the United States and Russia. It is a miracle they’ve never been fired (and there have been some very close calls). The government officials who keep these missiles aimed and ready to fire at a moment’s notice, with grossly inadequate safeguards against false alarms, are truly criminally insane. They should be arrested immediately and locked up. But they won’t be, will they?
The bombardment of Baghdad in the spring of 2003 was done from far up (supersonic bombers at 15,000 feet) or far away (cruise missiles launched from ships hundreds of miles away). None of the bombardiers or missile launchers were killed from enemy fire when making their attacks. It’s not really war. It’s slaughter. And now we have radioactive uranium munitions. Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq are polluted with them. They will go on killing (cancer) and maiming (deformed babies) until the end of time. We have cluster bombs which continue to kill, mostly children, for decades after the "war" is over. We have land mines, millions of them, scattered over dozens of countries, which kill and kill and kill. We have 50mm bullets, one round of which will tear a body to shreds or blow a child’s head off. We have fire bombs, concussion bombs, bunker buster bombs, and smart bombs.
The first modern war, the American Civil War, the first war to mobilize the entire society on both sides for the war effort, produced 562,130 casualties, and this was a war fought with primitive rifles and canons. The First World War, the war of the machine gun, killed an estimated ten million people. The Second World War, the war of airplanes, tanks, submarines, bombs, torpedoes, artillery, mortars, and grenades, killed roughly 40 million. The Korean War killed four million. Two million were killed in Vietnam, 600,000 more in the secret bombing of Cambodia. Two hundred and fifty thousand, one third of the population, were killed in East Timor. Isn’t it time to put a stop to this madness?
There has always been a vocal minority which opposed war. But for the most part war protesters have mis-diagnosed the problem, seeing war merely as a moral issue. It is a moral issue of course, but it is not only that, for modern war has a structural basis, namely the state itself, with its national government, with its participation in the nation-state system (and in the mechanics of capital accumulation embedded in it). Every government arms itself, as much as it can afford, and claims a monopoly of violence within its territory.
"War is the health of the state," said Randolph Bourne. "War is a racket," said Smedley Butler. Both were right. The state (and its war machine) is needed by capitalists. War is a necessary and inevitable feature of profit-taking. War is needed not only to maintain empire, and to control domestic unrest, but as a source of profit. All this is always done in the name of the ‘national interest’ of course, but most people realize now that this phrase is just a euphemism, a code word, for the interests of the national and international ruling class, not the interests of the general populations of nations.
Capitalism would probably collapse without the military-industrial complex. The US economy is now heavily dependent on the arms industry, as are the economies of several other industrialized nations. These countries spend billions from general tax revenues making weapons which they sell (or more often, give away) to tin pot dictators the world over. The Pentagon itself is the most enormous war machine in the history of the world, and is tightly integrated with the arms industry. The more wars there are, the more money they make. Every time a cruise missile is fired, they get to build another one, at a million dollars a shot. Every time some country’s infrastructure is destroyed, transnational corporations get to go in and rebuild it, making billions. Of course, they never put it back like it was.
Abolish war? How? Dismantle the state, and the profit system, which is what this book is all about. This is the only way. As far as I know there has never been a mass movement, especially an international mass movement, to abolish war. But we could build one. Perhaps the demonstration against the impending US invasion of Iraq, by ten million people, in thirty countries, on five continents, on February 15, 2003, signaled the beginning of such a movement. It will have to be a grassroots initiative. Obviously governments are not going to dismantle themselves or their war machines. But local communities could start to take a stand, declaring their opposition to war, all war. They could begin negotiating a global treaty to abolish war. They could encourage everyone to refuse to fight. What if millions of people the world over simply refused to go to war, and resisted the draft, going to prison instead if they had to? Unlikely? Well, are we just going to sit back and wait for the cruise missiles to start raining down on us, or to be obliterated in a flash by a nuclear blast, or to watch our sons and daughters, husbands and wives murdered and maimed in imperialist wars?
A campaign to abolish war would be a direct threat to the profit-mongers, and is therefore a good tactic to use in getting out of capitalism, and into a world full of democratic autonomous communities, a world without states or war.
28. Get control over union pension funds. At present, billions and billions of dollars that workers have saved are controlled by corporate bankers who use the money to bust unions, red-line poor communities, and finance more corporate enterprises, among other things. If you are in a union or know someone who is, begin to agitate to get these funds removed and re-deposited in worker- and community-friendly cooperative banks, or at least removed from corporate control in some other way.
29. Don’t cooperate with the police. Except perhaps in urban ghettos, the police in the advanced capitalist states work in a very friendly social environment. This is a shame. It reflects some very bad attitudes on our part and lack of political awareness. Far too many people still think the police are here to protect us from crime, whereas in fact, by rendering us defenseless, police are a major cause of crime. Police may spend a tiny portion of their time, half-heartedly, on the problems of ordinary people (but when was the last time the police ever caught someone who robbed you, or recovered the stolen goods?). The great bulk of their work however goes to defend corporate property, to suppress unapproved movements and gatherings, to put down protests, to constantly watch us (surveillance), to ride herd on us (e.g., the ubiquitous patrol car), and to disarm us (you even need a permit to carry mace). Police are the front line mercenary troops of capitalists.
So here’s what we do, at the very least. Never ask a cop for directions. In fact, don't even talk to cops unless you absolutely have to. Never invite a cop into our homes to advise us about security measures (they have such a program). Do not cooperate with any police programs designed to organize us and our neighbors to help fight crime. If we hear of police going into the public schools to give talks to grade schoolers about safety, pull our kids out of school that day. Whenever we see cops making an arrest, gather around to observe; our very presence is a deterrent. Organize cop watches. Never answer any questions beyond those legally required; instead exercise our right to remain silent (so we will have to know our rights). This may get us in trouble. Nothing infuriates cops more than refusals to answer their questions. But it is an essential act of resistance, and if practiced widely, would rapidly lead to a clear awareness that cops are not here for us.
30. Don’t join the military. Don’t become a cop. Most lackeys for the ruling class (e.g., managers, judges, politicians, lawyers) are taken from the richer middle income strata (a few from the ruling class itself) or else from working class people who have been carefully screened (i.e., filtered through the schooling system). In the case of cops and soldiers however working class people are inducted directly into the ranks of storm troopers and used to defend the capitalist order. The trouble is that for destitute persons the military looks like a pretty good deal, and police jobs are highly paid and hence highly prized. Nevertheless, the opposition movement should try, as far as possible, to throw a ban on these jobs. There is no chance of course that we could ever prevent capitalists from recruiting enough troopers. But what we could do is put such an onus on these jobs, through ridicule, disparagement, and ostracism, that anyone who signs up will know quite clearly that they are doing something wrong, betraying their communities, and crossing over into enemy ranks.
31. Do not become a boss. The deeply entrenched ambition to be promoted up through the ranks of the corporate world is very destructive of community, equality, and freedom. It has served capitalism well, but less so in recent years with the decimation of middle income, middle management levels of employment. Promotion has never been an out for more than a few people anyway (relatively speaking, but still a large number in absolute terms). The cost is high however. In exchange for having a somewhat more comfortable life in the material sense (whether it is a better quality of life is doubtful) these people sell their souls to the capitalists, develop vested interests in defending the system, adopt the viewpoints of the rulers, enforce corporate rules, and in truth become policemen for the accumulators of capital. For workers not to even aspire to be promoted, and to refuse promotion into the ranks of managers when offered, would weaken a strategic link in the system and would seriously undermine an enterprise’s ability to operate profitably. As more and more workers adopt this attitude this would become a set of values opposed to the those of the bosses. There would be costs of course, in loss of income. But would these costs be unbearable, especially if the time and energy could be redirected into autonomous associations which further undermine the wage-slave system?
32. Ridicule businessmen — every chance you get. Also: bankers, cops, lawyers, priests, professors, doctors, scientists, politicians, bosses, and weather forecasters. Do not defer to anyone in authority. Professionalism is another way they have discovered to destroy self-reliance, competency, and autonomy in the general population. We can hardly do anything for ourselves anymore without having to consult an expert first.
33. Reject Robert’s Rules of Order. Robert's Rules, written by a retired army general in 1876, have become deeply embedded in popular culture in the United States, to the extent that they are often automatically taken as the bible for how groups should behave in meetings. They are like an external law, imposed on us from above. People forget that they can write any rules they want to for their meetings, or have no rules at all. Robert's Rules give far too much power to the chair. They encourage parliamentary maneuvering. They are stifling and rigid. They can quite easily be used by skillful manipulators to defeat the collective will. We need to invent more flexible and democratic, less centralized procedures for organizing our collective assemblies, procedures which allow for much more chaos, spontaneousness, interruptions, talking out of turn, quick trial votes, arguments, and different procedural options for discussing issues. It's definitely time to rule Robert out of order.
34. Do not deposit your money in corporate banks. Instead, seek out a cooperative bank. If there is not one handy start one. It is perfectly legal at present. (Non-profit banking cooperatives will most probably be stopped through legislation if the trend becomes pronounced.) Corporate banks use our deposits to strengthen the corporate world and weaken the autonomous community world. It is loopy for us to voluntarily hand over our weekly earnings for them to use against us (and then pay them to do it).
35. Try not to fall into debt (unless it is a life or death matter). Personal debt is one way capitalists have invented to yoke us to their world. It is extremely effective. Capitalists at present depend heavily on this mountain of debt. It would clearly hurt them if people began to opt out of it. Being in debt keeps our noses to the grindstone, makes us more afraid of losing our jobs, reduces our flexibility, and makes us blue. It is simply crazy to voluntarily give our rulers this leverage over our lives.
36. Consider declaring personal bankruptcy, if you are heavily in debt. This is a smart move if you have nothing. If you have something it is a question of whether you are willing to live without those things that will be seized, in order to get unyoked from the usurers and re-appropriate some wealth. If millions of people start taking advantage of this law it will probably be taken off the books. In the meantime it might be used to shed debts and get out of the credit card sink-hole.
37. Leave school as soon as possible. Compulsory education ends in most states at the age of sixteen. That’s when we should leave school. For more than a century and a half the working class has bought into the idea that education is a way to improve our lives, and if not our own then the lives of our children. This worked for some in the core countries for a while. But even in its heyday it was always overrated, because upward mobility faces severe structural limitations (i.e., there are only so many jobs at the top). By now, schooling has long since lost any liberatory value. Instead it has become a key institution for pacifying and indoctrinating the working class. It teaches obedience, punctuality, and passivity. It is a disciplinary tool. It destroys autonomy, curiosity, spontaneity, initiative, and creativity. It perpetuates ruling class values and points of view. It puts blinders on the population. It enforces hierarchy and ranking. It is foolish to voluntarily enter this system. Leaving school does not mean we give up learning. It means we will actively assume responsibility for educating ourselves. The following five points also pertain to schooling.
38. Ignore grades. Do not attach any significance to grades. Just do the minimum work needed to get barely passing grades in order to get through the compulsory years mandated by the state. Grades in the school system are similar to wages in the factory system in that they induce competition among ourselves rather than solidarity, and trick us into striving for the approval of the authorities. It is an attitude that serves capitalists well later in the workplace.
39. Reject credentialism and certification. I saw a friend once burst into tears of joy when she was finally awarded the doctorate degree. This is how deeply capitalist values have penetrated into our personalities. It’s true that this was also a personal triumph against considerable odds. Nevertheless it shows that we have bought into the belief that we are better, more accomplished people if we receive the stamp of approval from the state. The idea of earning degrees is thoroughly reactionary. To seek credentials, to seek to be certified, by the government, is shameful.
They have linked this certifying system to the occupational structure. Schools are training camps and screening (weeding out) centers for the corporate world. If you can tolerate 12, 16, or even 20 years of school perhaps you won’t do too badly the rest of your life as a professor, an executive, a banker, a lawyer, or a priest. Even for ordinary working class jobs in offices, schools are screening centers. If you can’t take the discipline, the regimen, of schools, you won’t be able to take the office regimen either. If you can’t stand being graded, reprimanded, organized, punished, or insulted in school you won’t like these things in the workplace either.
If we absolutely have to get credentials to survive in the labor market, we should nonetheless never take pride in having “earned a degree.” Degrees should be regarded just like taxes, the draft, jury duty, or drug testing: onerous rules enforced by the government, something to be avoided wherever possible or minimized where not.
It is perhaps a little late for this advice. Capitalists themselves are abandoning schools and so-called public education, because they no longer need very many educated workers. They will be perfectly happy to leave millions, billions of people wallowing in ignorance. People are weaker that way. So our rejection of schools must absolutely be accompanied by iron determination to become a knowledgeable, skilled, highly educated people. But we can’t do this by going to school. We must do it on our own, with friends, neighbors, and comrades.
40. Don’t go to college. For all the reasons discussed above, going to college is an absurd idea. No one is forcing you to. So don’t do it. The years can be used to better advantage elsewhere. It makes absolutely no sense to voluntarily give them another 2, 4, 5, or 8 years to work you over. Don't be seduced by the idea that you are bettering yourself by getting a degree, or that you are achieving something and being successful. Success has nothing to do with getting certified by the state. That may be their definition of success but it is not ours.
41. Engage in intensive self-education. Seek out knowledgeable people in the opposition movements and get them to prepare readings lists, hold seminars, or give lectures. Form study-groups. Read and study constantly. Read the alternative press. Watch videos and listen to tapes made by radicals. These things can be done with the time and energy saved from school. Obviously, this can be carried only so far. If you want to become a marine biologist or a brain surgeon, you probably have to go to school. But even here many ways can be found to partially disengage from the schooling system. There are often ways to establish competency independent of school certification, through tests or actual job experience. For some skills, like carpentry, you can go to a trade school (which requires less time) or become an apprentice.
The point is to stop seeing school as a place where we can learn. The great bulk of materials we are required to study there are detrimental to our health and well-being. Even purely technical subjects are riddled with ruling class values and prejudices. By rejecting schools we free ourselves from this illusion, free ourselves to begin to acquire the kind of knowledge we need to destroy capitalism, save ourselves, save the planet, and establish “freedom and justice for all.”
42. Support the Unschooling Movement. Unschooling is a nascent tendency among some anarchists and anti-authoritarians. It is an attempt to break free from schools and to begin in the here and now to work toward the long-standing radical objective of reintegrating learning and life.
It must be distinguished however from Home Schooling, which is a predominantly Christian Fundamentalist movement. Home Schooling is still schooling, and is a very reactionary and authoritarian movement. Unlike unschooling, where the objective is to enhance learning and freedom, home schooling, as practiced by Christian Fundamentalists, seeks to restrict learning and freedom. It seeks to prevent children from learning about the world, and about how other people believe, and to shield them from the perceived evils of liberalism and secular humanism. It is a system for indoctrinating dogma. What they are really denying their children is access to, and participation in, the long struggle humans have waged, from the dawn of history, for knowledge and freedom. The Christian Home Schooling movement has its own bookstores now, and its own textbooks and videos. They have even written weird, completely mythological, histories of Western Civilization. Their offense goes far beyond merely insisting on teaching creationism, and a literal interpretation of the Bible. They have launched a full-fledged attack on all Enlightenment values.
I feel so sorry for these children, especially in an already locked down society like the United States. They are forced to spend their entire childhoods cooped up with their parents in a house somewhere, or perhaps with the grandparents or a neighbor now and then. To me, it seems too much like being in prison for the first eighteen years of your life. Most children the world over are still free to run and play outside. But not in America, which has got to be the most terrified nation on earth. Home schoolers never escape the supervision of their parents. They can’t even change one set of adults for another, by going to school. They don’t have moments of free time and space while walking to and from school, or riding the bus, or hanging out in the school halls or yards with friends away from teachers. Many have church activities, but these are still within a very closed social environment. More rarely, home schoolers may get to join in nonschool and nonreligious community activities. This is good, and is about their only relief from an otherwise suffocating existence. Basically, home schoolers spend their entire young lives under the never blinking eyes of parental authority. And this is exactly the way Christian Fundamentalists want it. They don’t believe in freedom for children, but discipline. Their commitments are to dogma not knowledge, theocracy not democracy, patriarchy not equality, faith not inquiry, obedience not rebellion, and dependency not autonomy. Is it any wonder that so many of these children grow up with horribly repressed, mutilated, and truncated psyches? Little Peoples Liberation is perhaps the most neglected part of the revolutionary struggle for freedom.
I don’t know what the legal status of unschooling is. I suspect though that if you unschool your children you’re breaking the law. Home schooling however is legal in many states. Parents have to meet certain criteria. So the state still has a hand in it. Nevertheless, it is a way of getting largely free from state controlled education. Perhaps unschoolers could sneak under the radar using the home schooling laws (if they are even worried about being legal). Unschooling is obviously hard for a single family to do, and works better for several families joining together, and better yet for a neighborhood or whole community. It is a way of taking charge of our own education. Learning is better done, and is more fun, outside schools.
You may be asking why we should give up all the resources of “public schools”— libraries, gyms, pools, classrooms, computers, art supplies, workshops, playing fields — only to scrounge around with practically nothing in our homes and neighborhoods. Here’s why. Public schools are not public at all and never have been. They are system schools, ruling class schools. Capitalists have controlled the school system from day one. Even on the local level school boards are almost invariably conservative, and are made up of the wealthier members of a community who support the status quo. Recently, even corporations and the military are being allowed to invade schools big time. Getting public control of the existing school system is like getting control of factories, offices, hospitals, or the government itself — no strategy yet tried has ever succeeded.
But persons who work in schools and colleges should definitely be creating employee associations, with an eye to taking over these institutions. If we could seize them it would obviously be better to do so, than to start from scratch elsewhere. But seizing schools, colleges, and universities, will, I believe, prove to be a task of the same order of magnitude as seizing corporations, and will probably happen at about the same time. I doubt if schools can be democratized in isolation from everything else, any more than hospitals can. And even if we seize them, we are still faced with the fact that the institution of school is per se a very bad idea.
In the meantime, it is better to give up the resources in order to be free to teach our own values, acquire knowledge we need, reshape knowledge, even technical knowledge, to our own purposes, and generate an autonomous culture.
Two Caveats. (a) Recently a complication has emerged. Christian Fundamentalists, allied with the extreme right wing of the Republican Party, are trying to destroy public schools. Religious schools are a step backwards even from so-called public schools. So this campaign has to be fought, which I guess is another contradiction in the life of an anarchist. (b) Unschooling may sound like an insane idea, and completely off the wall, to children in impoverished nations in the South, as well as to children in ghettoes in the North, who are struggling to get into school, not out of it. For example, Palestinian children (and their families) make great sacrifices in order to attend school. They are trying to escape ignorance, and going to school is about the only opportunity they see to do so. So this recommendation about unschooling may not be as applicable in those situations as it is, I believe, in the United States.
43. Don’t recycle.Don’t spend your life trying to clean up the mess capitalism is making of the earth. Spend your life destroying capitalism. Recycling was a bum trip from the very beginning. We’re suppose to spend hours and hours of our free time sorting the garbage, taking papers one place, taking cans another, taking bottles another, all the while the factories are producing millions of tons of new trash every day, more than we can ever possibly clean up. Why not stop them from making trash?
By now recycling has become a big business. It could never be profitable of course if the recycling entrepreneurs had to pay workers to go out and collect the trash. So, very cleverly, they have recruited armies of naive environmentalists to collect the trash for them, free of charge, and bring it voluntarily, on their own time, to the factory gates. The entrepreneurs then turn this raw material into profit (with a little help from wage-slaves of course).
Recycling will undoubtedly be a normal and integral part of everyday life among free peoples. But not now, not while it’s being used to derail us from our true task of replacing a profit-oriented death economy with the life-sustaining activities of free peoples. So jump off the recycling merry-go-round.
44. Don’t wear a suit. It has been customary for a long time for working class families to dress up for special occasions in their ‘Sunday Best’. Dressing up has meant dressing like the ruling class — suits and ties for men and fancy dresses for women (now there are suits for women too). If you look at pictures of workers from a hundred years ago, for example the hundreds of men gathered in Union Square in New York City to hear Emma Goldman speak, they’re all wearing suits. There are many such pictures. But over the past century, especially with the decline in church attendance, workers have been abandoning suits. We should finish the job and explicitly reject suits. Suits are the uniforms of businessmen, politicians, and bureaucrats, the world over. There is no point in our aping them.
It’s possible this tactic could become outmoded though. It seems there is a trend in some corporations to require workers to come to work in suits, while the executives drift in later in casual wear. Like in the sixties when we grew beards as a sign of protest, only to discover a short while later that executives were growing beards too; beards thus lost their symbolic value.
I’m not too worried though about the ruling class changing its dress code anytime soon. Can you imagine a State of the Union address where they all aren’t in suits? So don’t wear a suit. It’ll be good for your soul.
45. Do not play the lottery. Every dollar we spend on the lottery is like a gift to the ruling class. It’s like saying “Here, take my money and use it to enslave me.” The lottery is a thoroughly evil institution. The fact that millions of us spend money we can’t afford on lottery tickets proves all too vividly that they have turned our brains to mush. We are just being fleeced. Even worse than the enormous financial rip-off is the enormous psychological rip-off — this illusory slim hope that we will win and be able to escape our misery. The lottery is just another little weapon they have invented to neutralize us, disarm us, and prevent us from taking real, direct, effective action to stop our exploitation, meet our needs, and create for ourselves satisfying lives and communities.
Maybe some general comments are now in order about the above proposed tactics. Please note that all of them are things that can be started right now by all of us as individuals or as small groups. They don’t require us to build vast national organizations (let alone international organizations, something which is once more being frequently called for given the latest surge in the globalization of capital). They don’t require vast resources, guerrilla fighters, or extraordinary bravery. They don’t require us to give up our lives for a cause or deny ourselves the pleasures of life.
On the contrary, they require us to start creating enjoyable, quality lives. They don’t require us to be super intelligent, widely read, or highly educated. They don’t require us to adopt a party line or have a correct consciousness. They don’t require us to spend our lives building bureaucratic organizations like unions or parties. They don’t ask us to petition the state. They don’t require us to work for changes in legislation. (In fact, a good rule of thumb is that if a tactic requires changes in legislation drop it.)
You may notice also that many of the items listed above are designed to stop the ruling class from controlling what we think. This is in many ways the front line of the war. There are no longer any historical conditions, and haven’t been for a long time, which prevent us from building a new social world. It is the consciousness-controlling weapons they have deployed against our minds that prevent us. They have managed to erase, for example, practically all knowledge of former anti-capitalist struggles. Instead they fill our brains with sports and media trivia. A top priority of an opposition movement must be to counter and neutralize these weapons so that we can learn to think for ourselves again.
Several of the items listed above are acts of resistance, for example, not voting, not watching tv, not going to college, not becoming a boss, not cooperating with the police. It is necessary and important to reject, refuse, and break with a host of small practices which support capitalist relations. It is mainly through such acts of resistance that we can generate an opposition movement and a counter-consciousness.
Many of the items are intended to weaken and subvert the government and corporations. The first and easiest step toward weakening a government of course is simply to withdraw our support and declare our opposition. After that we can start finding dozens of concrete ways to subvert it, including all those listed above. For example, we can increase our demands on the government, asking for more and more and more. After all, the wealth is ours. We can demand far more than the government can ever deliver. This puts their system under stress and opens up avenues for us to take action elsewhere. We can support the tax resisters league, a strategy which can’t get very far as long as a government is strong enough to impose heavy fines and prison sentences. But perhaps it can lay the groundwork for later tax resistance on a massive scale. We can support draft resistance movements, and in general, discourage anyone from fighting in their wars. We can oppose corporations. We should join every anti-corporate campaign we hear about. We can try to destroy their credibility, expose all the tax breaks they get, expose all the government subsidies they get, show how they never have to pay to clean up the messes they make, and show how they buy the legislators. Once we have gotten over the idea that the government is ours, we can think of a hundred ways to weaken and subvert it.
The heart of the proposed strategy however is free association — in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our households. This is how we can defeat them. You may think such associations will not be able to destroy capitalism, but you’re wrong. There is great power in association. The capitalists will be scared out of their wits if the country starts to be covered with associations, in every neighborhood and at every workplace. Naturally, they will be scared only if these associations start taking direct action to monkey-wrench the system and re-appropriate power and wealth. If all we do is gab, or throw a block party once a year, or throw a Christmas party at the office (one big happy family), they’ll have nothing to worry about. The enslaved populations of the capitalist world have been rendered harmless precisely because our traditional associations have been destroyed and we have been reduced to the pitiful condition of living as isolated individuals, or as small nuclear families.
It’s time to start associating again, this time not because of tradition, but because we know that’s what we want. These associations will have to be defended, obviously, because they are going to be attacked viciously. Our main fighting and militancy should be saved for defending the new social arrangements we are creating and not in attacking capitalist institutions directly. We must not forget that practically the entire world is embedded in capitalist relations and we are dependent upon these for survival. If we destroy capitalist relations and structures before we have created for ourselves alternative means of survival we will die. So the emphasis has to shift to building the new world we want, and then to defending it from attack, all the while we are trying to abandon, gut, and vacate capitalist premises and practices.
This proposed strategy has been criticized for not being very militant, for withdrawing from confrontation with corporations and the state. This is a mis-perception I think, probably caused by my rejection of so many traditional tactics, like demonstrations. But clearly, there is no way that we could create the free associations we want without confronting ruling class power.
Another question raised about the proposed strategy is whether it actually adds up to the defeat of capitalism. Do the forty-four tactics, most of which are about what not to do, really do the job? What is the mechanism? How will capitalism actually be defeated? It's true that many of my recommendations are about what not to do. They are mostly about building an opposition culture. But the crucial first three, about setting up workplace, neighborhood, and household associations, are positive steps, as are other ideas scattered throughout the list, like setting up cooperative banks, community land trusts, worker-owned businesses, neighborhood health clinics, local currencies, and so forth.
But the decisive event in the overthrow of capitalism will be the shift of decision-making power from national legislatures and corporate boardrooms to neighborhood assemblies and worker-controlled projects. It is inconceivable that this could happen all at once everywhere. It will obviously be a gradual process, but one which nevertheless could take place within a definite historical time period. First the assemblies have to be created and defended. Then more and more decision-making has to be taken away from capitalist institutions (government, corporations, schools, etc.) and returned to local bodies. This will be slow at first, in scattered locales. But the process could gather momentum, as it spreads to more and more communities, so that later on, as capitalist structures begin to implode, the transfer of power and wealth back to home assemblies could be rapid and massive.
Having just reviewed steps that we can take now to begin gutting capitalism helps us realize how very advanced the final steps are, and how completely impossible it is to accomplish them now, without decades of preparatory work. Capitalism will have to be thoroughly weakened and on the verge of collapse before any of these final steps can succeed. The century-old demand by revolutionaries that workers “seize the means of production” is thus seen to be completely unrealistic. This is the last thing we do, not the first. By the time we are in a position to do this, victory will be assured. By the time we are able to do this we will already be acting on a daily basis through our new social arrangements; we will already have reconstituted society.
In any case, four of the final ways to gut capitalism are: (1) seize the land; (2) seize the factories, shops, and offices; (3) seize our residences; and (4) stop paying taxes. Without taxes governments collapse. To weaken a government to the point where it is no longer capable of collecting taxes or defending property is our task. If we can succeed at this, seizing the land and the means of production and reproduction will seem anti-climactic.
As a final gesture we should demolish the great architectural symbols of capitalism. Blow them up — the fortress-like banks, the domed capitol buildings, the great ugly skyscrapers. We might keep one or two, as museum pieces, as reminders of the nightmare world that once haunted our every hour. We’ll keep Manhattan, but evacuate it, blow up the bridges and tunnels leading into it, and seal it off. Then we can stand across the river and look over at it in wonder that we could ever have tolerated a ruling class that could have built such a horror. It will be a mausoleum for our darkest age.
1. What can neighborhood associations do? Plenty. As already pointed out, the mere fact of their existence, the mere fact that people have assembled, strikes a terrific blow at capitalism because by assembling we start overcoming the isolation and fragmentation upon which capitalism so much depends. Capitalists abhor all human relationships not fractured through commodity exchange and its supporting structures (e.g., hierarchical ties to government, corporations, schools, hospitals, landlords). Witness the continuing assault on marriage and family ties, kinship being the last great reservoir of non-commodified relationships.
Neighborhood associations can begin conducting the war against capitalism. There are many ways to do this. They can: work closely with any employee associations in the neighborhood; encourage the establishment of cooperative households; encourage the establishment of worker-owned businesses; establish a neighborhood-controlled fund in order to have some resources to do things with; start to negotiate agreements with other neighborhoods; endorse and encourage all the various ways of gutting capitalism enumerated above; start a building fund for a Meeting Hall to be constructed as soon as money is available; begin to prepare themselves to become Home Assemblies with full decision-making power for self-rule; work out discussion and voting procedures within the Assemblies; become skilled at working cooperatively and democratically; organize cop watches; try to make our neighborhoods safe; organize steps toward more self-sufficiency in electricity, heat, and food in the neighborhood; regenerate community; reestablish self-reliance in dozens of small ways instead of depending on state programs; organize resistance to corporate destruction in the neighborhood; sponsor dances. The list goes on.
2. What can employee associations do? Plenty. Ditto the remarks above about the revolutionary significance of simply assembling. Employee associations can begin conducting the war against capitalism from within workplaces. The waters are murkier here however because of 150 years of disastrous union practices. So first of all there must be no outside bureaucratic organization, no salaried union officials, no dues, no union halls, no secret midnight motel meetings between corporate executives and union officials. Employees will struggle for the space, time, and right to meet at work, and until then we will meet in our homes or in other co-opted spaces. Not a dime will be spent on union officials, offices, or buildings. Secondly, no contracts. The fight must be conducted on a day by day basis. No promises. No deals. We want to get more and give less. That’s the sum of it. Our objective must be to work toward the day when we can seize the shop or plant, take it over, run it ourselves, establish a self-managed project, and stop selling our labor-power. But this is the long term aim. Our immediate aim is to demand more while working less. This will put a crimp in the rate of profit, in the accumulation of capital, and hence in capitalism itself.
For the millions of shops with thirty employees or less, one peer circle will cover the whole operation. In larger plants there must be several, or many, peer circles, probably following the departmental lines of the enterprise. For example, in a newspaper plant with 1000 employees, there will be roughly 40 peer circles (taking 25 as the average size). Printers, engravers, artists, editors, truckers, mailers, compositors, bookkeepers, photographers, and secretaries will all coalesce into peer circle meetings.
Imagine how corporate executives will shake in their boots when they realize that their entire work force has organized itself into independent autonomous groups, that these groups are meeting, are communicating with each other, are discussing what happens at the plant, are generating demands and strategies, are planning direct actions, and are implacably hostile to management. Imagine how the ruling class as a whole will go into shock when they see entire cities covered with thousands of such groups in every factory, office, and store.
Employee associations must recover the knowledge that we are being ripped off, that capitalism is a system of theft, and that things don’t have to be this way. They must recover the knowledge that we have created this wealth and that it belongs to us. They can endorse and support in many ways the steps enumerated above for gutting capitalism. They can establish ties and cooperate with the neighborhood associations near their workplace. This is an essential step, for although traditionally syndicalists have thought that workplace councils alone could destroy capitalism, I believe that workplace struggles must be combined with the establishment of neighborhood Home Assemblies (decision-making bodies). Together with household associations we thus have a three-pronged attack which can succeed.
Needless to say our autonomous employee associations will be violently attacked. Every effort will be made to destroy them or else co-opt and neutralize them. Make no mistake about this. This is no picnic we’re planning.
3. What can household associations do? Here the objectives are more limited. First of all we want to try to reduce the cost of housing, and secondly to relearn how to live cooperatively and communally in extended groupings. We need to keep in mind how we’re being fleeced. First of all the capitalists, as bosses, seize part of the wealth we have produced in unpaid wages. Then the capitalists, as government bureaucrats, seize a huge chunk of our wealth in taxes. Next, capitalists, as landlords, seize another huge chunk in rent. Finally, capitalists, as merchants, through monopoly control, seize yet another huge chunk with inflated prices. After this savage assault, there’s little left for everything else.
So household associations are a vital part of our war to destroy capitalism. Getting control of housing is not as central as controlling the workplaces but it is still vitally important. We must be moving toward the day when we can seize these residential properties.
Let’s review what they have done to us when it comes to residential living arrangements. They destroyed the dense warren-like residences of our peasant villages and medieval towns. They have forced us instead to live in single family houses or apartments. Then within each of these individual or small family dwelling units they installed a loudspeaker so that corporations and the state can talk directly into our homes (but we can’t talk back).
Over the centuries many steps have been taken to further guarantee that we will not associate with our neighbors (actually the whole of bourgeois culture works in this direction). For example, in the small town single-family dwellings of nineteenth century America there were front porches. In twentieth century suburban tracts these are mostly gone. No one walks around the block anymore, stopping to visit with neighbors sitting on their front porches. These individualized residences, in addition to destroying association, have a further advantage to capitalists in that they each have to be filled up with commodities. Millions of toasters sold, millions of refrigerators, washing machines, stoves, blenders, fans, beds, lamps, tables, and of course TVs and radios, and now CDs, VCRs, DVDs, and PCs.
Suburbia is surely the most socially destructive architectural development in history. But it has suited capitalists perfectly. That is why they built it, mostly in the last fifty years. In addition to being a depository for the hundreds of commodities capitalists want to sell, each little plot has to be kept up. Maintenance on the house, car, and yard consumes the bulk of the time left over from jobs, cooking and eating, and personal upkeep. The average suburban family spends more time mowing the lawn than it does in civic duties. Capitalists couldn't have found a more effective device for destroying community and depoliticizing the population than suburbia. The atomized household has served them well. Our household associations will be a direct threat to this key feature of capitalism.
4. How can we redress the existing imbalance of wealth between regions? The normal operation of capitalism over a five hundred year period has produced poor regions and rich regions, most notably, on a global scale, between rich northern countries and impoverished southern countries, but also internally within nations, as for example between northern and southern Italy. My scheme of an association of democratic autonomous neighborhoods has been criticized for not providing a way to redress these imbalances. Each neighborhood must start where it is, first by stopping the ongoing extraction of wealth, and secondly by trying to recover some of the wealth already extracted. My critics want a much more rapid and forceful redistribution of wealth from rich to poor regions. This presupposes the success of either social democracy or Leninism, that is, a strong central government in radical hands with the capitalists out of the picture. This has never yet happened, nor is there any reason to believe it ever will happen. So this hope they have of redressing the imbalances rapidly by force is unrealistic. Associations of free peoples however could undoubtedly take strong measures to level things out and to lift their impoverished members.
5. Provincialism versus Universalism. Some years ago I presented this scheme at a friend’s class at the University of Massachusetts. The black students present immediately objected to the idea of community control, saying that they didn’t want to be under the heel of a bigoted, racist majority in some small town. They had in mind I guess the role the federal government has played in enforcing civil rights in the South. But just think a minute. National governments are no less likely to be racist than local governments. In fact these students were grossly misjudging the amount of protection they have received from the government. If anything, capitalist governments are the main creators and upholders of racism.
But there is a larger issue buried here. What right does any national elite have to impose its values and beliefs on any local community? What right do secular people have to impose their beliefs on religious people? What right do fundamentalist Christians have to impose their beliefs on everyone else? What right do the Sandinistas have to impose their culture on the Miskito Indians? To ask these questions is to answer them. None. No one has any right to impose their way of life on others. Freedom means the right to live, act, speak, believe, associate, as we choose.
This whole debate between localism and cosmopolitanism, or universalism versus particularism, is a false one. It has arisen only because we have been living in hierarchical societies for at least 4000 years in which the ruling classes have usually pretended to speak for everyone. The bourgeoisie especially has been insistent that its views are universal, timeless, and true for everyone. If, instead of class societies, we had been living all this time in a world made up of associations of democratic autonomous communities, there would be no question of anything being universal. There would only be those values or beliefs adhered to by greater or smaller numbers of communities. We should not let abstract debates like this stop us from gutting capitalism and getting free. We will be able to solve ethical questions about our relations on a case by case basis as we come to them.
6. How do we get back the wealth already stolen? It’s not difficult to imagine the re-appropriation of wealth as long as we’re talking about material things. We can seize land, factories, equipment, houses, and goods. What is puzzling is how we can seize the accumulated corporate assets deposited as credits in the banks of the world. But perhaps this puzzle is not as difficult as it seems. This money represents claims on labor and goods. If it cannot be exchanged for these it is worthless. If we can contrive situations where this exchange can be blocked, then in a sense we have re-appropriated this wealth, by freeing ourselves from its future claims on our labor and products. Such a situation would exist if governments collapsed and with them the international monetary system. The money would be worthless then. But if this happened the savings of working class people would be lost also. So we have to invent less catastrophic ways to render the money of the ruling class worthless. We also have to start getting our wealth out of ruling class banks and currencies and put somewhere safe. Further, we can create local currencies, reestablish barter in some cases, and have different kinds of currency for various purposes. Also, if we can establish a measure of self-sufficiency, there may be times when we can simply refuse to sell (our labor or products) in exchange for their currency. So if we can seize everything material, and then render their credit worthless, we will have gotten everything. Most of that paper wealth is an illusion anyway.
7. Meetings. My nastiest response to those who don’t like meetings is that they should get out of the radical movement because they don’t belong here. But of course this is too harsh. After all, we are 500 years deep in bourgeois culture. The bourgeoisie doesn’t like meetings — or assemblies, congregations, associations, communes, tribes, gatherings, festivals, jubilees. They hardly even meet themselves, except in their boardrooms and parliaments. (They do love “organizations” though.) For persons who have spent their entire lives in individual pursuits it is understandable that they would find meetings tedious, even unbearable.
There is another point of view however. Meetings are occasions when our true nature as social beings finds expression. It is through meetings that we will be able to create a new social world shaped by human intelligence. In our new civilization meetings will be natural and normal events in our everyday lives in our households, projects, and neighborhoods. They will be joyous occasions, or at least enjoyable occasions, not the drag they are now under very inimical conditions.
But it is a long way from here to there. One look at my scheme must make even the most gregarious radical blanch. There are peer circle meetings galore, as well as household-wide and project-wide assemblies, plus the meeting of the Home Assembly itself. But this looks worse than it is. The project and household meetings will be just a regular part of running the household or project, like washing the dishes or keeping the books. As for the Home Assembly, how often will we have to meet once things are set up? The real trouble about meetings is not then, after we have won, but now, when we’re fighting a war. How can anyone who is working full time at a job find time for an employee association, a household association, and a neighborhood association? There are not enough hours in the day. Obviously, we won’t all be able to fight on every front. We’ll have to split things up. Remember also that many millions of us are not employed full-time. And what if we didn’t devote so much time to the culture industry? Consider also that if we stopped wasting so much time and energy on strategies that fail we would have a lot more time and energy to build associations that can destroy capitalism. Consider also where we might take our pleasure. Couldn’t it be an intensely pleasurable experience to demolish a ruling class whose practices are responsible for millions of deaths, stunted children, a polluted planet, decimated species, and worldwide misery? Wouldn’t this yield personal satisfaction at least equal to that of going to a ball game or concert?
So let’s first get rid of capitalism through our associations and then give ourselves time to decide whether a way of life built on frequent assemblies is pleasurable or onerous.
8. Thinking Strategically. There is a long-standing and widespread confusion in radical social thought about whether consciousness is determined or not (variously known as the base/superstructure problem, the subject/object duality, the relation between being and consciousness). A critic of my strategy said that it presupposed an already existing, widespread, anti-capitalist consciousness. And since he didn’t believe such a consciousness existed at present, where was it going to come from? He went on to say that perhaps if capitalism started to collapse, and the survival of large numbers of people were at stake (actually the survival of hundreds of millions of people is already at stake), perhaps then the strategy would catch on. The implication here is that radical consciousness is produced by historical conditions. This is a false way of looking at things. It leaves out the free, creative response people can make to their circumstances.
Fortunately, there is a clear way out of this muddle: think strategically. My critic did not seem to be aware that he was talking about history rather than acting in it. This is always the case with those with objectivist leanings. They are always standing outside history looking on, rather than making history as an active participant. When we have a project, when we are trying to do something (goal-oriented action), then this whole false dilemma of subject/object evaporates. We look at what we have to work with and what stands in our way and we take it from there. And where did we get the idea for this project? We created it, out of the blue.
Marx pointed the way, long ago, when he wrote in the The Eighteenth Brumaire, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.” Unfortunately, this has been a difficult insight for radicals to absorb. They tend to forget about the first five words — “Men make their own history” — and instead remember only that our actions are circumscribed by the past. Even one of my favorite body of theorists, now coming to be known as Autonomous Marxists, but which I always called Anti-Bolshevik Communists or Western Marxists, is guilty all too often of writing about the working class from the outside, rather than from the inside as strategists for abolishing wage-slavery.
The funny thing is that this deterministic approach is only applied to the working class, never to the ruling class, even by radical intellectuals. It is considered utopian for workers to imagine how we want to live and to set about creating such a life. But no one would ever think to say that the lawyers, plantation owners, and merchants who gathered in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 couldn’t do that. There is hardly a radical intellectual alive who doesn’t hold to the idea that we can’t say much now about the shape of the new society we want, and who doesn’t subscribe to the Marxist ban on utopian thinking (which has done enormous damage to the anti-capitalist struggle). But they would never even think to say that about the constitution writers of 1787. For who can deny that not only did these gentlemen write down in detail a description of the institutional structures they wanted, but they went on to set them up, and succeeded beyond their wildest dreams in shaping the social life of a whole nation for the next two centuries.
Let us finally, please, at long last, have an end to all the talk that we are nothing but the pawns of history. We cannot be only that even if we wanted to, but as long as we believe that we are, it hurts our chances for freedom. We must become conscious actors on the stage of history. This is the only way we can defeat our rulers, who act this way as a matter of course, everyday, in doing the business of running and defending their empire. They constantly monitor opposition to their project, which is to accumulate capital, and take steps to counter it. They don’t agonize much about whether they are historically determined or not. In this instance, and only in this instance, we should take a tip from them. We have to if we want to survive. We have to start taking charge of our own lives. So remember: Think Strategically.
9. Federation and other delusions. Anarchists have long deluded themselves, with the idea of federation, that they have solved the thorny problem of how they can have both direct democracy and large scale organization at the same time. It's a pat formula they repeat, ritualistically – "federated at the municipal, regional, national, and international levels." It's a grand illusion. Federation obviously creates a hierarchy, by using delegates (i.e., representatives) to form smaller and smaller decision-making units, further and further removed from the neighborhood. But this idea is garnished, to make it more palatable, with three other illusions – (a) mandated delegates, (b) instant recall, and (c) the separation of policy making from administration. I believe all three ideas are flawed and are incompatible with direct democracy, and hence with anarchism, self-government, and autonomy.
The notion of a mandated delegate is a mirage, because as soon as a meeting convenes, everything is open. The discussion of the issues redefines those issues. Sometimes the change of only one word in a proposal can completely change the proposal's meaning and impact. In short, I do not believe that delegates can be mandated. There is no way delegates can avoid exercising their own judgement on the issues once the discussion gets under way, no matter how detailed their instructions were. So the idea that mandated delegates preserve the decision-making power of the neighborhood assemblies is an illusion.
So also with the idea of instant recall. For recall to work the people back home would have to be following the discussion as closely as if they were there themselves. They would have to have detailed, current knowledge of the issues as they were unfolding in debates among delegates. Even if everyone back home were watching the conference live on television (an impossibility), in order to exercise recall they would have to convene themselves, in their home assemblies, and debate whether or not a delegate had deviated from the mandate far enough to warrant recall. But of course, if they are going to do this, and if they have this kind of intimate knowledge of the issues, and this kind of communication system, they might as well be making the decisions themselves, directly, without bothering to go through the hassle of setting up conferences of delegates. A moment's reflection shows that the whole idea of recall is ridiculous, but it has been repeated uncritically for decades by radicals.
Similarly with the idea of the separation between policy making and administration. Anyone who has worked on a project knows that all kinds of decisions have to be made constantly. It can be the most mundane decision, but have profound policy implications. But unless a decision happens to come under scrutiny, and is discussed and aired, it may not be clear what its policy implications are. In other words, it's next to impossible to separate purely administrative decisions from policy decisions, because almost any so-called administrative decision may be shown to have policy implications. The distinction is a false one. It is another illusion, a way of convincing ourselves that we still have a project based on direct democracy, when we do not.
In this essay I have adopted the practice of treaty making as a way of avoiding hierarchy and delegated authority. Delegates from various neighborhoods will get together to hammer out agreements. But these agreements will then have to be taken back to the neighborhood assemblies for ratification. The draft of a treaty may go back and forth between the home assemblies and the delegate conference for a long time. It will be a cumbersome process. But it will be real democracy, direct democracy. Each neighborhood will keep all its decision-making power, rather than delegate it.
If this proves unwieldy and too impractical, then it might be better to simply admit that we can't have pure direct democracy, and that we have to combine direct democracy with some form of delegated authority, in which case we ought to be examining social arrangements based on representative democracy. But I'm not willing to concede this. It would mean giving up on the possibility of autonomous communities and genuine self-rule. It would mean relinquishing our decision-making power. I reject, as undemocratic, the transfer of this power to representatives or delegates. I believe it will be possible for neighborhoods to negotiate all the treaties they need, and to keep all the power in their own hands.
We need to remember that the endless legislative work of contemporary parliaments in bourgeois democracies is mostly concerned with conflicts generated by capitalism itself, either to manage the class struggle between the rulers and everyone else, or to manage the conflicts within the ruling class. But in a free society, how much legislative work will there be? How many times will we have to negotiate a treaty to establish a telephone network or sewage system? Once the capitalist dynamic has been abolished (the struggle of all against all), and cooperation and mutual aid put in its place, there will be considerable, even extensive, stability and continuity in social arrangements. Passing legislation is not going to consume our entire lives.
10. Individuality and Privacy. A couple of persons objected to my sketch saying that it stifled individuality and privacy. One of these comments came from someone whom I knew to be a fanatic individualist, so I didn't pay it much heed. But the other one came from a radical friend who said that he would not like to live in the kind of society I had imagined. Too cloistered, too claustrophobic. He too said that it would destroy individual privacy and individuality in general.
I have been puzzled by these comments. One of the main radical objections to capitalism is that it prevents individuals from realizing their maximum potential. Wage-slaves are not free to, nor do they have the resources (especially time, but also material wealth) to really be all that they could be. Capitalism in fact is not made up of individuals, but of an elite-mass. Those of us in the mass part of this duality are atomized, alienated, isolated, separated. We are mere units, commodities. We are not persons, unique and individual, in the true sense. Our strongest links are to those who are oppressing us, to the bosses, bureaucrats, and bankers. We're lucky if we manage to salvage a few family relations, and a circle of friends and acquaintances. Even if we have extensive personal contacts and memberships in a variety of voluntary organizations, we are still acting as atomized, alienated non-persons, not as true individuals. People who bemoan the 'end of the individual' have got it just backwards. Individuality has yet to be achieved. It is a goal of the revolution. It is possible only among free peoples. It is impossible among wage-slaves. Individuality, like freedom itself, is a social achievement, not an personal characteristic.
Capitalism gives only the illusion of individuality. If you have money, you can go anytime, live anywhere, do anything (as long as you don't try to live cooperatively, that is, or reject capitalism). The seemingly endless choices offered people by capitalists are possible only within the hierarchical and elitist framework capitalists have established. Choices outside that framework are savagely eliminated. So ultimately, the choices we have, no matter what our interests, are like the choice we have between Coke and Pepsi – it is no choice at all.
A true, rich individuality could only be achieved by a self-governing people, an autonomous people. Each person would be deeply embedded in a multitude of social relations, a rich matrix of ties to other persons, each of whom was an equal member of a cooperative, self-governing community. It is only through such ties that true individuality can emerge, not in this pitiful pretense of a life we have now.
As for privacy, we should be careful not to confuse privacy with isolation, forced isolation. Remember, one of the worst punishments dealt out in prisons is solitary confinement. I would happily trade a little privacy for a little conviviality. And I'm not worried about autonomous neighborhood, workplace, and household assemblies not allowing me to be me. I will for sure have more personal space there than I do here. Won't others in those assemblies want to have room to grow and express themselves? Won't they want to free up time, space, and resources to permit the wild explosion of creativity made possible by our victory, by our emergence finally into the 'realm of freedom'?
11. Territories. If nation-states disappear from the earth, with their territorial boundaries, and if land is decommodified so that no piece of land is defined any longer as property with a title which is registered with the state to facilitate its being bought and sold, will there still be other territorial boundaries left? Will cities, towns, villages, and neighborhoods have territorial boundaries? Cities and towns in the United States are at present incorporated by the state, giving them distinct territorial boundaries. These boundaries establish the territory within which the authority of the city or town government holds jurisdiction, for things like collecting taxes, exercising police power, enforcing city ordinances, and providing services. Without larger states to incorporate them could cities and towns have territorial boundaries? Would neighborhood assemblies draw territorial boundaries? I suppose they could, but it wouldn't be wise to do so. Would it make any sense to say that a neighborhood owns and controls the land upon which it lives? I think not. The concept of ownership, certainly with regard to land (and the mineral deposits under it, the air over it, and the water and vegetation on it), will disappear along with the decommodification of land.
Many physical things do have boundaries of course. Buildings have walls which separate the inside from the outside, and fields have perimeters or edges. The boundaries of highway, telephone, water, sewage, or natural gas systems might be established by tracing out the roads, phone lines (or satellite links) or the pipes. Does the wind have boundaries, or sunshine. Well, some areas get more of these than other areas, so questions might arise as to who gets to use the sunshine and wind where it is most abundant. This is now becoming clear with wind power. It is now being said that there is enough wind power in the American Midwest to supply electricity for the entire nation. If ownership can be claimed to the land over which this wind blows hardest, then even wind can be turned into a commodity, and it is.
I suppose even a river could be said to have boundaries, marked by its headwaters, tributaries, mouth, and delta. But since, in a commodified world, water runs through artificially defined territories imposed upon the land by social definition, there often arise struggles over water rights. Who has a right to use the water (and even how much can they use)? These questions have to be worked out socially and politically. Within the social arrangements proposed in this essay these questions will be worked out by negotiation among neighborhood assemblies. With the abolition of property rights, usage rights will take their place. Property of course is a social definition too, rights to which have been written into law by the ruling class, to facilitate capital accumulation. But usage rights could just as well be settled in our directly democratic neighborhood assemblies.
If a swimming pool or a gymnasium exists in a certain area, who will get to use it? If there are to be any restrictions on usage at all, then usage rights could be determined by membership in the Home Assembly nearest to them, or by the treaty that had been negotiated for the construction and maintenance of those facilities, and not by residence in a certain territory defined by boundaries drawn by home assemblies, since no such territorial boundaries have been drawn.
Similarly with the construction and maintenance of all systems that cut across large areas of land, like roads, railroads, telephones, sewage, water, natural gas, oil, cable, and so forth. These will be built and maintained by inter-neighborhood treaties worked out by the assemblies. To construct such systems usually requires the disruption of the land and those living upon it. Traditionally, under territorial governments (governments which claim a monopoly of force within a certain territory), the land needed for these systems has simply been seized, through their claimed so-called right of "eminent domain". Under anarchy, in the absence of such authoritarian governments, all these questions will be up for discussion and debate, and mutually agreed upon settlements.
Underground minerals pose an especially hoary problem, because their extraction often involves severe damage to the surface land and displacement of anyone living there. If military might cannot be brought to bear to evict the traditional inhabitants of that land, then what? Hard negotiation. If a neighborhood is setting on top of a newly discovered rare mineral which practically the whole world (of autonomous, democratic communities) claims it direly needs, then what? Hard negotiation. Cooperatively, democratically fashioned agreements. Mutual Aid. Sharing.
This question applies to our system of Home Assemblies too. If each neighborhood has a Home Assembly, based on direct, face-to-face, democracy, over whom will the decisions of the Home Assembly have authority? My solution is to claim that a neighborhood is defined socially, not by territorial boundaries. That is, the decisions of the Home Assembly apply to the participants of the Home Assembly. The neighborhood is defined by membership in the Home Assembly, not by where a person lives. Naturally, broad and flexible definitions of membership will be needed, which will cover active members, as well as inactive members, guests, those with leaves of absence, temporary members, and so forth. For example, non-participants, like children, senile seniors, or the mentally impaired, who live in households comprised of persons in a given Home Assembly will be covered by the decisions of that Home Assembly.
By and large, members in a Home Assembly will tend to live in the same geographical area. But since there are no territorial boundaries, membership in Home Assemblies may be somewhat jumbled in certain areas. That is, households existing side by side may belong to different Home Assemblies. Also, certain Projects located in the geographical area where most members of a Home Assembly live, might be controlled by inter-neighborhood treaties, rather than by the decisions of the Home Assembly it happens to be next to geographically. Which Projects and which Households fall under the jurisdiction of which Home Assembly is defined socially therefore, by participation in the Home Assembly, and not territorially. Some projects might be staffed by persons from different Home Assemblies (neighborhoods), but still be under the jurisdiction of a particular Home Assembly (the majority's Home Assembly probably). That is, even though a Project may be somewhat mixed, it need not always therefore be governed by an inter-neighborhood treaty. Households, however, I would think, would not be mixed. Members of a particular household would tend to belong to a particular Home Assembly, and would thus fall under the jurisdiction of that Home Assembly. But even with Households there will surely be a need for considerable flexibility, as regards membership.
This is why I argue that anarchism (true communism) can only be socially defined and has no territorial base.
12. Identity. All that agonizing Marxists have suffered, for nearly a century now, over the Nationalities Question was so pointless. They could have saved themselves a heap of trouble if they hadn't excluded anarchists so completely from the political and intellectual arena. There is definitely a problem here, but not the one they have perceived. Quite obviously, there is a nationalities question only when there are nations, or more precisely, nation-states. If there is a Russian Empire, and within its boundaries exist a multitude of distinct peoples with unique languages, cultures, histories, and traditions, how can these peoples be free and self-determined and still be subject to the authority of the national government? Well that's not hard. They can't be. If Ho Chi Minh and the communists are in power in Hanoi and are setting policy for the whole country, what happens to the tribal peoples in the hills? If the Sandinistas are in power in Managua, and setting policy for all of Nicaragua, what is the nature of their relations with the Miskito Indians on the Gulf Coast? Or what about the Basques and Spaniards, the Quebecois and English Canadians, the Scots and the English?
These are all non-issues under anarchy, which is a world full of autonomous, communal peoples. If there were no ruling class, then there would be no pressure on local peoples to give up their own languages, ethnicity, and cultures in favor of those of the ruling class. There would be no King's English to be imposed on the lower orders to facilitate more efficient administration. There would be no national religion. There would be no hegemonic culture. Under the communists in China, distinct ethnic groups have been disappearing faster than ever before, as a national, homogenous culture is imposed from Beijing. Regional dialects are disappearing from an already fairly homogenous country like the United States. Similarly the world over.
But if every neighborhood, village, or small town were self-governing and autonomous, then what reason could there be for them to give up their own language and culture? Unless they just wanted to, because they wanted to assimilate for example (but to what?), or simply to learn a second language, or adopt certain items (ideas or things) because they liked them. But they would be under no compulsion to do so. They could change or stay the same, as they chose. Under such conditions, it would even become possible again for new ethnicity, languages, and cultures to emerge, rather than disappear, which is about all they've been doing lately.
But wouldn't essentially the same problems reappear on the neighborhood level? They would, but with a difference. It's unlikely after all that every neighborhood or village will be homogeneous (or stay homogenous). Even if they begin homogenous, new identities can emerge almost overnight to split them. A good example was the emergence in the late sixties of gender as the primary identity for millions of young women the world over. An identity which had not been especially salient suddenly became so. I suppose something similar could happen in a decentralized world.
But on the neighborhood level, in self-governing free communities, the question of identity takes on an entirely different cast. How so? Because of the already achieved equality of power and wealth. Much of the struggle of blacks has been to get the same civil rights everyone else had. Women have sought equal rights under the law and equity in pay and work loads. Old people have wanted to live in dignity and independence, and not be shoved off to die in some holding pen. In autonomous neighborhoods based on democratic decision-making, cooperative labor, and shared wealth, all these things would be theirs as a matter of course. It's hard to see how identity politics, as we have known it this past quarter century, could even exist under anarchy. Identities in the neighborhood that would exist, would surely exist, would devolve into the standard difficulty of majority/minority relations. There will be minorities on just about every issue. But will these minorities be based on race, gender, age, or language? I doubt it. They will be political or philosophical minorities.
One reason I'm so committed to deliberative assemblies is that they seem to me to offer us our best chance of overcoming distinctions that are extraneous and irrelevant to cooperative decisions. Through a process of discussion, we can discover whether these distinctions really matter to any given issue. If gender is relevant to a particular issue, it can be factored in. If it is not, it can be factored out. Open discussion in small assemblies will enable us to unravel this. We can come to see whether race, gender, ethnicity, age, intelligence, beauty, articulateness, or what have you, is actually relevant to and has a bearing on, any given issue in dispute which is up for discussion and decision. In this way reasoning can be brought to bear on our collective lives. Our divisions will come to be based more on different takes (political, philosophical, theoretical) on the issues, than on givens such as race, gender, or ethnicity. Our identities will come to be based more on what we believe, rather than on the color of our skins, the language we speak, the sex we are, the nation we reside in, or the age group we're in. In the long run, that is.
In the short run we still have identity conflicts. Naturally, we hope that the horizons of human tolerance for difference will keep expanding, and that many current conflicts over race, gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and so forth, can be eventually resolved (assuming the destruction of capitalism that is) through general changes in cultural understanding and increased tolerance. But on the world scale, certainly, there will always be differences in cultural identity, and rightly so. The more the better. After all, who wants to give up their own culture, race, language, or ethnicity? Hopefully, these differences will not only be tolerated, but cherished.
Nevertheless, not all identity conflicts can be resolved by increasing tolerance. What if a community of people emerged with the conscious identity of murderers and thieves, as perhaps has actually happened with the Mafia (and has certainly happened with the capitalist ruling class, muted only by its absurdly transparent ideological dissimulation)? Is anyone going to argue that killing and stealing are really okay and that this identity has a right to exist? Would any community tolerate murderers and thieves in their projects, households, and assemblies? Wouldn't they take steps to reform such people, or if that fails, to constrain them or even expel them from their ranks?
But could they be expelled from the neighborhood? Probably. Freedom to associate implies the freedom not to associate. Otherwise this freedom is meaningless. I don't see how the right to expel persons from a neighborhood could be abolished and still have a social arrangement based on free association. And remember, there is no higher authority to impose laws to resolve the conflict in favor of one or the other side
Free association provides a way out of this muddle for many identity conflicts short of outright crime. New identities and lifestyles are emerging all the time. Identities are not fixed, immutable, eternal. They appear and disappear like everything else. So people with shared beliefs and practices can form communities and live together, and leave others alone to live as they please. No one is stopping them. The world is a big place. There is room for everyone. It is only as the cancer of imperialism, and the nationalism that it has spawned, has metastasized to all corners of the globe, that the world has started to seem crowded.
We cannot expect, though, that every time a serious disagreement emerges in a neighborhood, a bunch of people will just pack up and leave and establish a new neighborhood elsewhere or move into another neighborhood where people already share their beliefs, or at least tolerate them. This kind of split will be feasible only in rare cases. Gender conflicts, for example, obviously cannot be solved, on the social level, by one sex moving out and forming a new neighborhood, not if the human species is to survive that is. Living in distinct neighborhoods is certainly a solution for many existing differences though, since for the most part we already do. So we're back to the recognition that disagreements are inherent in the human situation, and to the unending contest, therefore, over whose values, perceptions, and projects will win acceptance and prevail, and whose will be rejected and fade away.
Where intractable conflicts persist, I believe the solution lies with the principle of free association and shows the beauty and genius of this way of arranging our social life. Under free conditions, will any group be able to impose its way of life on others? I suppose some majorities in some neighborhoods might try. But how far will they get? Wouldn't they need bureaucrats, police, superintendents, and lawyers? And where are they going to get these? Furthermore, could any minority in a neighborhood be denied participation in projects, households, and the assembly? Could they be denied their fair share of the cooperatively produced wealth? They couldn't. Not and have the neighborhood still remain a member of the association. I don't deny that this is a very thorny issue.
The long running debate in Israel over "Who is a Jew?" is an illustrative case in this regard. Certain orthodox Jews want a Jewish state peopled by Jews like themselves. This certainly excludes Palestinians and Christians. It also excludes even secular Israelis, that is, citizens of the present state of Israel, who may once have been practicing Jews, in the religious sense, but no longer are. Are these secular Israelis Jews? Does Jewishness spring from citizenship in a Jewish state or from religious beliefs and practices only?
There is no solution to this dilemma within the framework of a territorial nation-state. Those who insist that a secular Israeli state solves the problem are simply missing the point and opting for one side in the dispute, for citizens rather than Jews. The problem is the state itself, with its citizens, and not its particular definition, whether secular or religious. The Jewish question can only be solved under anarchism, as the late-nineteenth century socialist Bundists in the Ukraine and the Polish Pale, who were opposed to Zionism, realized. Unlike Marx, who thought the solution to the Jewish Question was the disappearance of the Jewish identity in favor of a more universal human identity, these Jewish communists knew that their freedom could never be achieved by the ownership and control of a territory. They knew that they had to be free to live as they pleased – no matter where, and no matter what their identity – even as Jews.
True communism (that is, anarchism) can never be geographically defined, but only socially. It has no territorial boundaries. Getting rid of the state of Israel (and all states everywhere) would free up the whole region (and the whole world) for an abundance of diverse, democratic, autonomous communities. Jews and Palestinians could live side by side, in their neighborhoods and villages, peacefully, as they had done for hundreds of years before Zionism and the State of Israel came along.
Under anarchism, diversity rules, not sameness. But diversity does not mean that every tradition will exist side by side in every neighborhood (although many neighborhoods might move a ways in this direction), but only that there is room enough for every tradition to exist somewhere. People who speak the same language will tend to live together. People with strict religious practices and eating regimens will tend to live together. People who share a history and a culture will tend to live together. Families will tend to live together. In this, there is sameness. But that the world will continue to possess thousands of languages and identities, rather than one imperial language and identity, is diversity.
13. More on Projects. Project is a term I selected for any activity undertaken by more than one person, that is, all cooperative activities in the community. I picked this term because I want to overcome several unfortunate distinctions, most importantly, the distinction between economic and non-economic activities. The category of economic stems from capitalism, and makes no sense outside that system. I also want to overcome the notion of civil society (which traditionally refers to all activities outside both the state and the economy/work). This distinction will also collapse once the state and capitalism are gone, obviously. A variation of the civil society idea is that of voluntary associations (as opposed to employment or civic duties). There will be no such thing as a voluntary association under anarchism, because all associations will be voluntary, and there will be no separate sphere labeled ‘the economy’ which you are tied to by force, on pain of starvation.
Thus, any activity that a group of people decides to undertake, under anarchism, whether it be a chess club, a farm, a machine shop, a research project, a volleyball team, a restaurant, a theater, a daycare center, an orchestra, a debating society, a film festival, a factory, will be on an equal footing with all other projects. Some people argue that of course the necessities of life come first. But I doubt if any neighborhood will be so stupid as to starve itself or leave itself homeless and without clothes, in order to have a symphony orchestra or a good swimming pool. But who defines, after all, what is really essential to life? Even within the realm of bare necessities there is certainly a lot room for variation in emphasis. Some neighborhoods may want to settle for beans and rice in order to have resources to make beautiful pottery or music, considering these things essential to their well being. Other neighborhoods may prefer to have high cuisine rather than expensive cultural activities.
The point is, though, that if an activity requires resources, this project will have to be discussed and decided upon by the neighborhood, and the resources allocated to it. There will probably also be, I would think, general resources earmarked and set aside by the community to enable individuals and groups to take initiatives to establish certain kinds of projects and preliminary experiments, without a formal decision or endorsement by the Home Assembly. Otherwise, creativity and initiative might be stifled. Naturally, there will be no vast accumulation of wealth by individuals, like there is now, so that rich people can do any damn thing they please without having to seek anyone's endorsement or approval. This is precisely one of the main reasons the world is in such a mess. But I would hope that any neighborhood would be wise enough to build in plenty of mechanisms to facilitate and encourage individual and group initiatives in launching new projects.
14. More on Peer Circles. Peer Circle is just a phrase I invented to take the place of the more traditional radical term ‘council’, as in workers' council, which mostly comes out of the anarcho-syndicalist tradition and is quite closely associated with it. That's one of the reasons I wanted a new term, because I want to get away from the idea that the revolution is just about seizing "work" (what we have to seize is decision making). Workers councils have appeared in just about all revolutions, in factories and offices, sometimes in universities and government agencies, and in a few cases in the countryside too. What happens is that workers inside a factory assembly themselves into councils (these are then "federated" within the factory), and they seize the facility and run it themselves.
In my scheme, the Peer Circle is really a central social form, perhaps even more so than the Home Assembly, because the Peer Circle is where the real, face-to-face discussion can best take place. It is strictly a deliberative assembly though. It's sole purpose is to examine and discuss the issues and vote to establish policy (within the project or household, not for the neighborhood as a whole, which is done in the Home Assembly). It is not a social gathering for any other purpose.
So this Peer Circle, or deliberative assembly, thus conceived, should not be confused with what has come to be known as an Affinity Group, which is a common form in the contemporary movement. Affinity groups, as I understand them, have been formed primarily to enable people to take action, as for example in street demonstrations, and for that purpose friendship and trust are needed. For this purpose, eight members is thought to be a good size. But eight is way too small for a good face-to-face discussion in a deliberative assembly. Here the needed qualities are not trust and friendship but critical and creative thinking, skepticism, rejection of both tolerance and intolerance in favor of a fierce independence of mind, enough minds to formulate differences, disagreements, and policy alternatives, all of which of course are essential aspects of freedom and democracy, and of sound policy formation. The best small group democracy that I have personally participated in usually had around twenty to twenty-five participants, sometimes as many as forty, or as few as fifteen. But if only eight were present, the meeting was pretty much dead in the water.
I had originally pictured the Peer Circles as coalescing together to form the Home Assembly, but I later dropped that idea, since votes are to be taken individually in the Home Assembly, not by Peer Circle. That is, a Peer Circle will not vote as a unit. There was the additional problem that in Inter-Neighborhood projects, Peer Circles would be made up of members from different neighborhoods, from different Home Assemblies. So as presently pictured, Home Assemblies are constituted by individuals living in the neighborhood (with the complication that the neighborhood is defined by membership in the Home Assembly, not by residence within a bounded territory).
Peer Circles, as I conceive them, are a way to break down large Projects and Households into smaller groups of approximately 25 people (but they could range from two to forty if necessary) in order to have better face-to-face discussion and direct democracy decision making. As an example, let's take a large hospital with a staff of 250 persons. We have doctors, nurses, orderlies, lab technicians, radiologists, secretaries, bookkeepers, janitors, pharmacists, and so forth. It would make sense I think for the Peer Circles in the hospital to be organized along the lines of the division of labor, but this need not necessarily be the case, if another way seems preferable (by floor, by department, for example). As I picture it, most of the discussion and decision making will take place in these smaller groups. Votes will be taken within Peer Circles, but tallied across all Peer Circles in the Project (that is, the entire hospital staff). Tallying the votes will be easier now that we have computers, but certainly could have been done adequately before we had them.
For this system to work, a way will have to be found to set the agenda in a democratic way, according to the principles of direct democracy and the non-delegation of authority. And this has always seemed to me to be a pretty severe obstacle to overcome, although I think it can be. What is to be discussed, the issues to be decided, are of course crucial matters, and are often the most politically charged ones. Setting the agenda cannot be left to a delegated body, but must be decided upon by everyone. But assuming that this problem can be solved, the hospital will be self-governed by this network of Peer Circles. As I picture it, Project-wide meetings (of, in this case, the entire hospital staff) will be much less frequent, say once or twice a year, as opposed to more frequent meetings of Peer Circles (say once a week).
But further discussions have caused me to recognize something. If we got very skilled at face-to-face direct democracy decision making and became competent at exercising these skills in larger meetings (which of course I hope we do), then the hospital might be self-governed more by meetings of the entire 250-member staff, rather than by the smaller Peer Circles. This would undoubtedly require more frequent project-wide meetings. Originally, I had thought the project-wide meetings would set basic policy for the project, with the Peer Circles dealing more with day to day affairs. But it might be possible to make all the necessary decisions (on matters which require collective resolution) in more frequent, say monthly, project-wide meetings.
This might be especially true of smaller Projects. A Project with only 25 people obviously doesn't need to be broken down into Peer Circles. This might hold true also for Projects with 50, or 100, or 150, if the meetings skills are there. I think I still prefer though, in Projects larger than 25, to have Peer Circles, because the airing of issues, and face-to-face discussion, can be done so much better in smaller groups (provided of course that these groups are linked up into a network, are considering basically the same issues, and have access to all the information they need).
Conversely, if we became skilled at making decisions quickly and democratically through a network of Peer Circles, perhaps we could dispense with the larger Project-wide meetings. I tend to believe though that the larger meetings would continue to be valuable and necessary in that they would expose members to a greater variety of opinion in a way that couldn't be done through even a very good communication system among Peer Circles.
As I see them, Peer Circles will be a person's main link to the deliberative process, the place where they most frequently engage in self-government, decision making, discussion, debate, and so forth. In some projects, such meetings might even be daily, or every other day, or twice weekly, or weekly, depending on the situation. These meetings will become just a normal part of the project's activity, like any other function, like bookkeeping, cleaning, or ordering supplies. They will not be seen as something separate. In our currently existing hierarchical society, decision making is separated out from those who are actually doing the work. All these decisions are made by the administrators, managers, bosses. This is why it will seem strange for us to be doing this work, why holding meetings will seem unusual, extra, outside the work itself. But of course, decision making is an integral part of the work, and always has been. It's just that we haven't been doing it ourselves. So once we do start doing it ourselves, it will become natural and easy, just a normal part of our daily routine. It seems unlikely, also, that Peer Circle discussions will be strictly limited to those issues immediately relevant to the Project, but possibly might widen into discussions of issues currently being debated in the neighborhood at large.
There is some ambiguity about the relations between Peer Circles, Households, and Projects. A Household might be considered a Project of course, but I've separated it out because of its distinctive residential character. This is where we live after all, and where many of our loved ones, friends, and family members live, where we sleep, where we eat most of our meals, where we take some of our recreation, where we might have been educated (if we grew up in such a Household), where we get basic medical care, and so forth. Whereas Projects are activities we go out to. Except of course for those persons whose main Project is in the Household, such as teachers, cooks, or nurses. (I'm obviously talking about the larger, expanded Household I've described in this essay, not a single house co-op). So it would be onerous, and just too much, if persons who go outside the Household to participate in Projects (most persons), are expected to participate in a Peer Circle in that Project as well as participate in a Peer Circle in the Household.
In my projection therefore, only persons who do not go outside the household for a project, but who stay in the household on a daily basis, will form Peer Circles in the Household. This way, everyone will be a member of just one Peer Circle (leaving aside the problem of persons who work in two or more Projects outside the Household). This way, any given person will have their fairly frequent Peer Circle meetings, to self-govern their Project, an occasional Project-Wide meeting, an occasional Household-wide meeting, and the Home Assembly (neighborhood) meetings (which also will be fairly infrequent, except right at the very beginning when the new social forms are being established and the basic agreements hammered out).
This may seem like a lot of meetings, especially to persons embedded in the currently dominant extreme individualistic outlooks and behavior patterns. We have never been a self-governing people, so we are frightened by the prospect, frightened by the effort it will take to make decisions collectively, because this work has always been done for us, by our rulers. For the most part, we presently lack decision making skills. We also lack confidence in our ability to assume responsibility for governing our own lives, and we perceive the time and energy needed to do this as a burden, rather than as liberation. The false distinction between work and leisure is deeply ingrained in us, a separation made possible only in a hierarchical society where the basic framework is established by the rulers, so that when we are not at work we are free to do our own thing, as long, that is, as doing our own thing does not challenge in any way the established order.
I argue though that once we get going, and get things set up, and have improved our meeting skills, we will be able to reduce both the length and frequency of these meetings. Plus the meetings themselves will become easy, enjoyable, fun. They will be social occasions, convivial occasions. They will become just a normal part of our lives, like eating, or sleeping, or playing, or studying. Plus our disagreements will become less critical and momentous. With our basic lives secured, through cooperative labor and mutual aid, our disagreements will not often be a matter of life or death, as they are now, under capitalism. It will not often be the case, as it is now, that a wrongly chosen path will lead to a life-threatening catastrophe. It is because our lives are currently threatened and insecure (and have been for a long time), it is because our lives are under direct attack by our rulers and we are forced into a vicious fight for our very existence, that everything seems to be so urgent and serious. This extreme tension carries over into everything we do, and into our meetings too. If there were no oppressive ruling class, the social world would be a much calmer place.
A calm social world is a ways down the road though. For now, and especially as we attempt to set up our assemblies, we are going to come under attack, much more so that we already are. They will try to bust up our assemblies. They will try to coopt them. The authoritarians among us will be trying to get them to "federate" into national structures. But this is nothing new. The ruling class has been attacking everything we've tried for the past five hundred years.
15. On the matter of the size of Households and Home Assemblies. A critic of my proposal said that my size estimates, for households and neighborhood assemblies, were way off. She thought that 25 would be more appropriate and realistic for households (not 100-200), and 250 for Home Assemblies (not 1000-2000). I don't think the size of Households really matters all that much. The size of these can vary a lot, as far as I'm concerned. You will recall though that by Household I mean a really extended grouping, not a single family residence or even a housing cooperative. I picture it more as a mini community. I want it large enough for it to make sense for it to have a birthing room, machine shop, recreational facilities, laundry, and communal kitchen. I start from what I envision might be built from scratch, namely a large complex of buildings, all interconnected, with the above mentioned facilities, and living quarters for different kinds of family groups. I am picturing something like a small manor in the Middle Ages, or one of those large households in Greece or Rome, with the large courtyard surrounded by family rooms and workshops. I recently visited a large Convent in Oaxaca, which was built like this, with communal, residential, and work rooms built around a courtyard. It surely houses at least 200 people, probably more. But of course we will not be building from scratch, or at least not very much, not at first. It will be a matter of combining existing structures. The existing physical plant will probably determine, for the most part and for the foreseeable future, the size of households.
Twenty-five people is not at all my picture of the kind of Households I have in mind. You could house 25 people in a large house. One large apartment building has a lot more than 25 people. Perhaps size is not the key question though. Rather, it's what a household does. Is it large enough to assume educational responsibilities, basic health care, building maintenance, some recreation, child care, communal cooking, workshops, and so forth? I had envisioned these expanded Households as a way of rearranging, in the long run, our everyday residential lives. But these residences would not correspond to families or even extended families. From this point of view, I don't think 100 to 200 is too many. But of course, because of the absence of the appropriate architecture, we'll probably have to start with much smaller households. This doesn't affect my scheme seriously one way or the other.
The question of the size of the Home Assembly though probably represents a more serious issue. A size of 250 is more like a block association, than a neighborhood assembly. The smaller the neighborhood assemblies are, the more of them there will be, and the fewer resources each one will control, making more inter-neighborhood agreements necessary. My figure was set by what I thought was the upper limit of possible democratic decision making all in one room. New England Town Meetings can be quite large, and they work okay. I once lived in a mid western town that had a very large auditorium, built in a circular manner, which held nearly 6000 people. I have personally participated in business meetings in this building (filled to capacity), conducted in a democratic fashion, using Robert's Rules, but nevertheless with lots of participation by lots of people, lots of debate, a thorough airing of the issues, done in an orderly way, with everyone following along, and with the votes taken. This is probably the upper limit though, as regards size. I don't want meetings this large. But I can imagine meetings of 1000, 1500, or 2000 working quite well, especially given that there will be great advancements made in decision making skills. It's possible that the image that has been emerging lately in the global justice movement, from the Direct Action Network and other groups, of small affinity groups using so-called consensus decision-making, has taken us in the wrong direction and clouded our vision of how more permanent deliberative assemblies will work.
My critic seemed to think that even 250 was too large. She argued that "When you have a group this size, certain people begin to completely dominate the discussion, while everyone else listens." But this can happen in a group as small as eight just as well. The eradication of informal hierarchies is not really related to size (at least up to a certain point). A lot of good work is currently being one on precisely this — on the nuts and bolts of deliberative assemblies; on explicit procedures and practices needed to avoid informal hierarchies and to ensure direct democracy. With improved meeting skills (direct democracy skills), we will be able to block authoritarian patterns from ever emerging, both in very small groups and in much larger meetings. The biggest problem with large home assemblies now is that we simply don't have the physical facilities for them. And until we do, we'll probably have to start with smaller assemblies. But I see no inherent difficulties, from the standpoint of democracy, or lifestyle, in larger assemblies, and I see a number of advantages. But I'm not trying to engrave anything in stone. I doubt if there are any hard and fast rules on these questions. I can imagine communities arranging themselves in any number of ways.
All that is absolutely essential, to my mind, is that we be self-governing, through deliberative assemblies, based on direct democracy, with no authority delegated to representatives, with inter community needs being met through negotiated treaties. The main reason for wanting to avoid delegating decision-making power to representatives, is not that people thereby hand over their power to others and create a decision-making elite, although this is bad enough. It is not that they are thereby no longer "autonomous individuals", for there is no such thing. Rather, it is that they bar themselves, by this action, from participating in the discussion of the issues. They forfeit their natures as thinking persons, and instead hand over this function to others.
16. Organic versus Deliberative. One critic of my scheme complained that it "had too many institutions," and "was bureaucratic." What she wanted was an "organic" society, implying, I think, that direct democracy is bureaucratic. On the contrary, direct democracy, in small face-to-face assemblies, is precisely the antidote to bureaucracy, not its manifestation. Bureaucracy occurs when people abandon their meetings in favor of electing officers or representatives to make the decisions. There is thus created a decision-making elite.
Actually, my image of a new social world is beautifully simple, compared to other things that are being proposed, like Michael Albert’s convoluted scheme, or other proposals for federated structures of workers councils, and certainly compared to what exists now.
The call for an organic society shows, I believe, a resistance to making things explicit, that is, to conscious deliberation as a way of making decisions and setting up social arrangements. There are even philosophers who reject the very idea of a deliberative society because they think it is too rational, and they do not believe humans are rational animals. My critic perhaps was simply objecting to the idea of having meetings at all, and thought of these as bureaucratic, a criticism which probably reflected her orientation toward individualism. Many contemporary anarchists like to keep decision making informal. Things are just suppose to happen, organically. In my experience, most such informal processes have embedded, hidden hierarchies.
Traditional, archaic societies were "organic" in a sense, but they still had rules, norms, and customs, since humans are intensely cultural creatures who require customs (rules, norms, laws) in order to live. It's just that these customs had grown up over long periods of time, and had become embedded in "tradition" — traditions which were nevertheless enforced by real live persons in the present; that is, most archaic societies tend to have informal hierarchies, although in general they are more egalitarian than the social forms which replaced them. Given our stage of history, the interconnectedness of the world, the speed of change, and so forth, there is no way we can return to the organic societies of the past which lived according to customs built up slowly over centuries. Our only choice is whether someone else will determine the customs by which we live, or whether we will do it ourselves. If we do it ourselves, we will need deliberative assemblies. I just don't see how we could arrange our social lives without them.
This critic also felt that my scheme was "too cold" and suspected "that it had been conceived by men." I had thought that at least one thing the feminist movement of the past quarter century had succeeded in doing was eradicating the stereotype that men are rational whereas women are emotional. Apparently I'm mistaken. I complete reject the false duality of reason versus emotion. Everyone has both reason and emotion whether they like it or not. It's possible that she meant something else by cold, but this seems the most likely interpretation. She was probably referring to the deliberative aspect of the proposed social forms, to the fact that people assemble together to make decisions. She might have mistakenly thought that this involves only reason, whereas in fact any argument made in an assembly in favor of or in opposition to a proposal inevitably involves emotion. It's not useful to think in terms of reason versus emotion, in my opinion. Moreover, her desire that people "discuss their feelings and be very emotionally close" may not be as progressive as she thinks, given that mainstream culture is riddled with psycho babble, sensitivity training, encounter groups, and endless counseling, most of which functions to keep our attention focused on our own inner psyches, and on the flaws in our characters, rather than on the structures of power and wealth that are oppressing us.
17. The Threat of Individualism. I believe there is no greater threat (other than capitalists themselves) to the success of the revolutionary movement for freedom than the rampant individualism that seems to be everywhere, including inside the anarchist movement. This threat is far greater than that posed by the fast vanishing remnants of the now thoroughly discredited Leninist Vanguard Party, or other authoritarians. It’s not surprising, but deeply disturbing and disappointing, that this virus has infected our movement. Rugged Individualism, after all, is a hegemonic trait of American culture. You would think though that anarchists would know better. But many don’t. They have fallen victim to the Myth of the Autonomous Individual. They have embraced, as their own, the very thing that has been imposed on them by capitalists — the world of atomized and alienated individuals. They have not managed to escape the individual/society duality. Both these terms are mere abstractions. There is in fact no such thing as an individual, anymore than there is such a thing as a society or collective. Humans are intersubjective creatures. We are deeply social and cultural animals. We come into being and exist through interaction with others like ourselves. Our language is also intersubjective and cultural. We could not even live, or talk, without culture. But individualists do not see this, or else deny it. What they see is a world full of completely separate autonomous individuals, individuals who can go their own ways, and do their own things, independently of all others if necessary. They think that each person is the ultimate ‘authority’, and is “sovereign.”.
This explains why they hate meetings. Crimethinc has written, in their widely distributed pamphlet, Fighting For Our Lives, “Don’t sit endlessly in meetings, meeting about when you should be meeting to discuss how to conduct your next meeting.” Decisions taken in meetings infringe on the “sovereignty” of the individual. For these people, democracy is a dirty word. They believe that since there are no gods or masters each of us can make our own rules and do whatever we want. There is no morality other than the one each person invents. They think that “the root of anarchism is the simple impulse to do it yourself.” It’s hard to think of anything further from anarchism than this. Anarchism has been a cooperative endeavor from the get go.
Jason McQuinn, founder and editor of the magazine, Anarchy, has written: “The anarchist idea has an indelibly individualist foundation upon which its social critiques stand, always and everywhere proclaiming that only free individuals can create a free, unalienated society.” This is not true. Classical anarchism recognizes that any freedom that exists for anyone is a social creation. Thus the idea that there can be such a thing as a “free individual” is nonsensical. His confusion is apparent. He sees the ‘individual’ and ‘society’ as separate things. He evidently thinks that first you must have an aggregate of these ‘free individuals’, who will then set up a free society. This is not the way it works. He remains trapped in the false abstractness of the individual/society duality.
The New Left had a strong current of individualism, which got labeled ‘anarchist’ at the time, because of the prevailing Leninist orthodoxy. The New Left was chock full of people who believed in the maxim: “do your own thing”. This was not anarchism though, but liberal individualism. Individualism and authoritarianism are two sides of the same coin. The New Left was eventually rent asunder by the collision of these two wrong-headed tendencies. There was also a genuine anarchist current in the New Left, but it was poorly articulated, and went largely unnoticed.
This individualist current in the contemporary anarchist movement seems to have trouble handling abstractions. In addition to not getting past the abstractions of individual/collective, they have gotten hung up on at least four others: civilization, organization, work, and the left. They have launched vociferous attacks on all four of these abstractions. It is one of the most idiotic things I’ve ever witnessed. The damage and confusion being caused by these campaigns is truly unforgivable. I hope someone does a job on all this nonsense soon.
18. Civil Society. This concept has a long history, beginning at least with John Locke and Adam Smith, and moving on down through Hegel and Tocqueville to contemporary writers like Benjamin Barber and John Keane. It has gained prominence lately because of its use by the Zapatistas and by global justice activists.
I don’t like the concept and never use it. Nor am I inclined to adopt it just because it has become fashionable. An idea like this could only have emerged in an already fairly well developed capitalism, wherein governance had been seized by politicians and bureaucrats, and work had been separated out from the rest of life and labeled ‘economic’. What was left over was called ‘civil society’. And this is still explicitly recognized by contemporary civil society theorists, like Barber for example, who writes that “there is a place for us between big government and commercial markets.” He simply accepts, as a given, the continued existence of the state and capitalism.
Some people claim that the concept is being used differently now by global justice activists, but my reading of essays and documents from this movement does not persuade me they’re right about this. I see precious few direct attacks on the state. It seems to me that most of these activists are closer to a liberal like Barber and simply accept the distinction between state and civil society (a dualism the abolition of which is one of the objectives of the revolution).
But why use an abstract term like civil society at all? Why waste time arguing over its meaning? There are ways of expressing ourselves, in the best communist and anarchist traditions, that are far superior to this. Why not use these? Better yet, why not just simply describe concretely, in everyday language, the social forms we want and then set about creating them?
19. Courts, Crime, Rights, and Law. In my 1970 “Draft Constitution for our Post-Revolutionary Society” (which is included in my Selected Writings), I envisioned local courts composed of about twenty persons, selected by lot from the community, with limited, non-repeatable terms of service, with no professional judges, no professional lawyers, and no superior regional or national courts, and of course, no supreme court. I still think that this was pretty much on the mark.
We have to realize that questions of crime, law, and rights will take on a completely different character in an association of democratic, autonomous neighborhoods. There is no such thing as an objective definition of crime. There is no such thing as a universal law. There is no such thing as an inalienable right. So these matters are in fact conceptually the same as majority/minority disputes within Home Assemblies.
In fact, the Home Assembly might simply adjudicate disputes itself, or at least some disputes. I can also imagine however that a number of Home Assemblies might strike an agreement to convene a court to do this. I can even imagine a regional court convened in this fashion. This would have the advantage of putting some distance between the neighborhood where the dispute took place and the persons who are judging it. This can be helpful in some cases. The point though is that the Home Assembly will define what crime is and how to deal with it. It’s the same with “law” (if there is any), and human rights.
Take for example the notion of so-called International Law, a phrase that we have heard incessantly in recent years. International Law is actually just the collection of treaties that have been ratified by various governments, like the Geneva Protocols, the Nuremberg Judgements, the treaty on torture, or on land mines. But in the absence of a world government with police and armies, the treaties have no teeth, except morally. So governments ignore them at will, even governments which have ratified the treaties. Does the idea of a ‘law’ have any meaning in the absence of the means of violence (arrests, imprisonment, fines, executions, armed invasion) necessary to enforce it? Oddly enough, this situation is comparable to the one that will be faced by an Association of Home Assemblies.
Take another example, the so-called Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document, whose primary author was Eleanor Roosevelt, was adopted by the United Nations, and thereby became, according to the US Constitution, the law of the land in the United States, as it similarly did in other member states. As it happens though, it is totally incompatible with capitalism and its partner for life, the system of nation-states. So the Universal Declaration is universally ignored by all governments.
To get another bead on this let’s consider the question of animal rights, children’s rights, and gay rights. In recent decades minorities have mobilized to argue and agitate for these rights. In the case of children and animals, since they can’t argue for themselves, it is a group of adults who are asserting these rights for them. In any case, others, probably the majority in each case, ridicule the notion that animals, children, and gays and lesbians have rights. So it’s clear that the assertion by someone of a right is a political struggle between those who want it and those who deny it.
This is true even for something like murder. Capitalists obviously don’t believe they are criminals when they murder, and they engage in the practice on a massive scale – assassinations, bombings, starvation, death squads, slaughters, poisonings, and so forth. They advance arguments justifying these actions. They have also not considered it a crime to kill workers in their factories and mines. But now we have a world wide movement which is trying to define these actions as crimes. An international court has been established, by a treaty, to judge these cases. Of course it has no enforcement powers, but it will nevertheless be able to bring some pressure to bear. (The USA, naturally, has refused to sign on.) But leaving capitalists aside (who are so abominable it’s sickening to even have to consider them), it is commonly thought that anyone has a right to kill in self defense. This too however is disputed by committed pacifists.
The point is that all these things – crime, law, rights – come down to a struggle between some people and others, between minorities and majorities. And this is the way it will be in our Home Assemblies. There will be no government, no supreme court, to decide the issue, picking one side or the other. We will have to work it out ourselves.
I’m not sure how much of the vast canon of law built up over the centuries by governments and their courts will prove useful to free peoples. I suspect very little. I would hope that whatever rules we feel we need to make to govern our lives together will be kept to the absolute minimum, and be made as simple as possible. The problem of gaining compliance with them is no different than getting compliance on any other decision taken by the Home Assembly, and we can follow basically the same procedures. It’s not a separate category, or a big mystery. Communities have been doing these things for centuries.
20. Further Studies. Most urgently needed is a full-scale scholarly critique, drawing on both theoretical and historical works, of representative government, in defense of direct democracy. A few books and numerous web sites are labeled ‘direct democracy’, but by this is meant referendums and television voting, not face-to-face, participatory decision-making in local assemblies. For such a central concept to be so poorly fleshed out and defended, theoretically, is embarrassing. It would make a good project for someone.
The same can be said of the idea of abolishing money. This has long been a central tenet of anarchist thinking, but there is virtually nothing of substance written about it, that I know of, although a group in France has recently organized to pick up on the work of Marcel Mauss in order to explore the ins and outs of a gift economy. This is also embarrassing, and would also make a good project for someone.
Equally urgent, in my view, are better answers to the question “What Do We Want?”. Fortunately though, at long last, a lot of good work is being done on this topic. The scheme I’ve outlined in this essay, for how we might want to live, is of course one person’s contribution to this effort. More are needed. I hope to do a more thorough survey of the various attempts to imagine anarchy soon. Many of the books now appearing however are written by progressive populists, global justice activists, and others who are not exactly on the same page as anarchists, although such books contain many useful ideas and insights. I will mention two: Trent Schroyer, editor, A World That Works: Building Blocks for a Just and Sustainable Society; and William F. Fisher and Thomas Ponniah, editors, Another World is Possible: Popular Alternatives to Globalization at the World Social Forum. I list all such books I am aware of, as of 2004, including the few specifically anarchist contributions, in my bibliography on Emancipatory Social Thought.
A lot of work is needed on decision making procedures for our assemblies, on majority rule for example, and consensus voting, and other techniques. I have included a recent, brief essay on these matters in my Selected Works.
Beyond this there are numerous other topics that need attention. I briefly survey thirty-one of them in a document I wrote in 2000, called “Some Possible Topics for a Workshop on Anarchism.” This paper is also included in my Selected Writings: 1969-2004.
1. Expanding the Autonomous Sphere – Andre Gorz. (See for example, Critique of Economic Reason, Verso, London, 1989, 250 pages.) It is necessary to distinguish the strategy I have been describing from one proposed by Andre Gorz which sounds similar in many ways but isn't. Gorz has done a lot to refocus our attention on the liberation from work, and for this he must be thanked. But I cannot agree with the solution he advocates. Gorz divides the social world into heteronomous and autonomous spheres. He wants us to get more and more time free for the sphere of autonomous activity but he wants to keep, indefinitely, the heteronomous sphere, the sphere of economic calculation, "the sphere of economically rational commodity activities," in other words, the sphere of capitalism, which he now however calls industrialism. Thus Gorz has abandoned any desire to destroy capitalism completely, he just wants it to control less and less of our lives. He wants us to start spending less and less time in waged work until it becomes a negligible part of our lives. With the rest of our time we can do whatever we want, but his description of this "autonomous activity" sounds suspiciously like the leisure activities in a commodity culture, or even worse, like subsistence labor. Unlike my proposal, which also calls for pulling time, energy, and wealth out of capitalism, he does not seek to eventually destroy capitalism, but rather leaves it intact together with the state, which will administer a "social wage", another feature of his plan. At a time when capitalists are busy dismantling the welfare state, it seems somewhat misguided to pin ones hopes on a state administered guaranteed annual income. Nor does Gorz face up to the fierce resistance capitalists will put up to anyone trying to escape wage-labor. Keeping millions of people unemployed or on dole (if they're lucky) is an essential feature of the wage-slave system, and always has been. Gorz's proposal presupposes therefore that radicals have gotten control of the state apparatus and have succeeded in instituting shorter hours, and a whole array of other proposals, including a social wage. It will never happen.
Gorz characterizes proposals like mine as "fundamentalist anti-modern or pre-modern." He thinks they are nostalgic, and seek to return to pre-capitalist times. But the desire for an association of democratic autonomous neighborhoods does not mean that these neighborhoods will be completely self-sufficient (or even mostly so), isolated and separate, like manors or villages in the middle ages. They will not be autonomous in the material sense; they will be autonomous in that no one will govern them. They will be self-governing. There will obviously be enormous networks for interchanging goods, probably more than there are now, but this circulation will serve human need not capitalist greed. And it will be intelligent. We won't be eating lettuce and tomatoes shipped in from across a continent. Things that can be grown or made locally will be. But people in the south will still want to eat wheat and potatoes and people in the north will want to eat avocados and bananas. The association of autonomous neighborhoods we are talking about is not a regression; it is an advance. It represents a higher level of civilization than will ever be possible under capitalism. People seem to think that if it weren't for the profit motive humans would never do anything brilliant, never invent labor saving machines, never produce more than they immediately need. This is absurd. Capitalism is now nothing but a fetter on the creative genius of the human species. The so-called wonders of capitalism will look positively shabby beside the truly marvelous creations of free peoples.
2. Libertarian Municipalism – Murray Bookchin. It is necessary to distinguish the strategy I'm proposing from the libertarian municipalism of Murray Bookchin. (See Janet Biehl, The Politics of Social Ecology: Libertarian Municipal, for an exposition and references to the relevant Bookchin texts.) Bookchin's hostility to workplace organizing goes way back. Already in his 1968 essay, "The Forms of Freedom," published in Post-Scarcity Anarchism, he sketches his rejection of workers councils, in preference for popular assemblies. But at least in that essay he still recognized that workers councils are a "revolutionary means of appropriating the bourgeois economy". But over the years, this role for workers has disappeared. In the essays on libertarian municipalism, beginning in 1985 (although most of the themes were present much earlier), work, workers, and workplaces have all but disappeared, and his strident rejection of anarcho-syndicalism has intensified. A recent essay, published in Left Green Perspectives (No. 41, January, 2000), reasserts once again his belief that worker-managed workplaces and cooperatives cannot be part of a revolutionary strategy. The whole stress is on getting Popular Assemblies. But he wants to do this by winning elections in local municipalities!
I do not believe that we could turn the existing town governments into assemblies based on direct democracy even if we won the elections (and I do not even believe in elections). They are too intimately linked with state and federal bureaucracies. I think we have to bypass the existing municipal governments and strike directly for neighborhood assemblies. But this by itself would never succeed. It has to be combined with the struggles for workplace assemblies and household assemblies. Mine is a three-pronged approach. You have to fight for direct democracy and self-rule everywhere (even in the existing multitude of voluntary organizations and non-profit corporations). The Home Assembly will be the supreme decision-making unit, but it cannot just be created out of the blue, separately from, and in isolation of, everything else (the rest of social life).
In Bookchin's proposal it is not clear at all how these liberated municipalities are even going to get control of "the economy" (a category which I reject by the way), although that is an objective of his plan. He never any more mentions seizing the means of production at the point of production. Production is to be taken over by towns. But he never explains how. He rarely talks much anymore, in his strategy writings, about cooperative labor as a foundation for a free communal life (although this theme is of course present in his earlier theoretical writings). Nor does he talk much anymore about abolishing wage-slavery. He rarely talks about money, markets, or trade. Domestic democracy, and hence reproductive freedom, is not part of his strategy either.
One reason, among others, why he rejects workplace struggles is his long-standing identification of the proletariat with just industrial workers. It is surprising that such an erudite man could have made such an elementary error, but there it is. Naturally, if the working class is now just a tiny minority operating the rapidly disappearing industrial factories, rather than a class that encompasses practically the entire population of the planet, then there obviously can't be much of a role for it in making a revolution.
This body of work by Bookchin is very long on philosophy but short on concrete details. The actual proposal is usually summarized in one short paragraph, enmeshed in pages of theorizing. It's a heavy theoretical load to hang by such a thin thread. Here is a typical example from "The Meaning of Confederalism":
That's it! Then back to the philosophizing. Back to expositions on the meaning of citizenship (a concept which is perhaps too closely tied to the nation-state and representative democracy to be any longer usable). And this is thought to represent direct democracy. My apologies, but I don't think so.
On the other hand, a lot of his philosophizing is very useful in clarifying the meaning of decentralized social arrangements. He is certainly correct to focus on the local popular assembly as the cornerstone of a free, democratic, autonomous social life. Moreover, most of the limitations of a strategy based solely on worker-managed workplaces, which Bookchin calls attention to, are correct. In and of themselves, worker-owned workplaces can never overthrow capitalism. Thus, seizing the means of production can never lead by itself to the overthrow of capitalism either, or to the establishment of a new social world. We also have to seize decision-making power in general away from the ruling class and relocate it in our neighborhood assemblies, abolish labor as a commodity, and get out of markets based on commodities made for profit.
Bookchin has thrown out the baby with the bath. It is so sad that such a scholarly anarchist, with his voluminous writings, and widespread reputation and following, could have latched so doggedly upon this badly flawed strategy, one that could never succeed in a million years.
3. An Imaginative Utopia – Bolo'Bolo. This is a marvelously creative work (by P.M., Bolo'Bolo, Semiotext(e), 1985, 198 pages). It shows what can be thought up by an anarchist with a vivid imagination. Everyone who is interested in building a decentralized world of free communal peoples should read this book.
This said, we're forced to recognize that this scheme is riddled with contradictions. It is based, typically for an anarchist, on federation. Yet somehow this doesn't constitute hierarchy in p.m.'s view. In addition to the Bolo (neighborhood), p.m. projects these other units – towns, counties, regions, and the world. There are assemblies on each of these levels with certain powers and responsibilities. P.M.'s assumption that these assemblies will not get out of control is a little too facile for my taste. For instance, on page 149, p.m. writes: "A planetary assembly and its organisms can only do what the participating regions let them do." Well, in this scheme, lower level assemblies and bolos do control the resources, so maybe this will be true. But still, it worries me.
This book is perhaps best described as a detailed account, in advance, of customs and traditions that might evolve over a long period of time in an anarchist culture. But to present them like this, all at once, out of the blue, by fiat as it were, makes them seem almost as if they have been legislated. Bolos will do this. Bolos won't do that. Every traveler will be granted three days hospitality by any Bolo. No one can be expelled from a Bolo. Damages caused by fights (an accepted way of resolving personal conflicts) must be paid for by the contestants. Inside Bolos, there can't be any rules – yet the whole book is loaded with rule after rule, many of which would most probably have to be enforced somehow. But how? We're going to have state-of-the-art hospitals, advanced communication systems, well-kept roads, all maintained by compulsory labor if need be (that is, if there aren't enough volunteers) – each Bolo supplying a certain number of compulsory labor hours every year. Hold on a minute. Can't we do better than this? I certainly hope so.
There is also the flaw that, in p.m.'s view, our current misery is caused not by capitalism, but by the Planetary Work Machine. This is a novel way of saying it, I guess, and is refreshing for a while. But ultimately, it is unacceptable. It reduces our understanding and causes us to misidentify the enemy. It's foolish to jettison the knowledge gained from centuries of scholarly analysis of, and militant resistance to, the historical social order known as capitalism, for the sake of a few poetic phrases. Let's face it. We live under capitalism, and there is no getting around it.
4. Realistic Utopias – Ralph Miliband, Daniel Singer. Here are two brilliant, committed radicals, both highly educated and deeply knowledgeable, but who nevertheless suffer a failure of imagination when it comes to getting out of capitalism and getting free. They can't seem to shake loose from the nation-state. Their cases illustrate the profound tragedy we suffered when marxists drove anarchists out of the revolution, and succeeded in keeping them out for so very long, for over a century. Both men come from strong marxist backgrounds, although certainly neither of them could be considered an orthodox marxist; indeed, they each have done a lot to create a radical politics relevant to our own times. Even though marxists themselves believe that communism is a stateless society, that idea has receded so far into the background that it has no current relevance for them in their anti-capitalist struggles. As a consequence, the best they can picture is a 'realistic utopia' (a phrase used by Singer), by which they mean a utopia that can actually be achieved given present conditions. And for them that means working through the state. Which is what these two radicals propose.
Ralph Miliband, in Socialism for a Sceptical Age (Verso, London, 1994, 221 pages), presents an admirable summary of the case against capitalism (chapter one), and an equally admirable summary of socialist aspirations in general (chapter two) – the struggle for democracy, equality, and social control over the economy – ideas which most radicals can agree with. But then the problems begin, the most important of which is that Miliband still believes that these ideals can be achieved in a state. He thinks completely within the nation-state framework. He is well aware of course of the historical failure of social democracy in Europe. In fact he analyzes for us of one of the most striking recent examples of such failure, the government of Mitterand in France. Mitterand came to power with widespread public support, respectably radical intentions, and a majority in the government. He got nowhere. His program of reforms was blocked, by capitalists, by the ruling class. He was thwarted. So Miliband is aware of the intense resistance that capitalists can throw up against any serious attempt to change the system, and of the many weapons they are able to deploy. But he doesn't give up on the strategy. He still thinks it is possible for socialists to win control of a government through elections and then use the state to overthrow capitalism and establish socialism. He devotes one long chapter, "The Politics of Survival" (chapter six), to discussing various things that a socialist government might do to ward off attacks by the ruling class, stay in power, and get to socialism. (Communism, in the original sense, as a stateless society, seems to have disappeared from his vision.)
Daniel Singer's recent book, Whose Millennium? Theirs or Ours? (Monthly Review Press, New York, 1999, 295 pages), advances similar themes. But for him it is not merely possible to use the state, but necessary (although he does keep the traditional, ultimate goal of dissolving the state, eventually). A state is needed to fend off the capitalists' "terrible attack, including flight of capital, trade restrictions, boycotts, and possibly, more violent means," which is sure to come. A state, controlled by radicals (communists, socialists) is essential to defeat this counter-revolution and engineer the transition from capitalism to socialism.
These are completely unrealistic strategies. They are not realistic utopias, but pipe dreams. It has long puzzled me how some revolutionaries can continue hanging on to the two stage strategy – first capture the state, and then establish communism by abolishing the state (and capitalism) – in the face of the overwhelming failure of this strategy, through nearly a century of experience now, first in Russia and Eastern Europe with Leninism, then in Western Europe with Social Democracy, and finally all over the colonial world in National Liberation Struggles. These long historical struggles have proved beyond any doubt that it is impossible to get to true communism, that is to a stateless society, that is, to anarchism, by getting control of a state. What does it take to discredit a strategy? Why don't we be really realistic, and admit that we have no choice but to try another approach?
5. Utopistics – Immanuel Wallerstein. In this new book, Utopistics: Or, Historical Choices of the Twenty-first Century (The New Press, New York, 1998, 93 pages), Wallerstein offers some modest proposals for a different social world. Wallerstein coined the word utopistics because he wants us to remember that he is not proposing utopia. "Utopistics is the serious assessment of historical alternatives, the exercise of our judgment as to the substantive rationality of alternative possible historical systems. It is the sober, rational, and realistic evaluation of human social systems, the constraints on what they can be, and the zones open to human creativity. Not the face of the perfect (and inevitable) future, but the face of an alternative, credibly better, and historically possible (but far from certain) future." In this light, Wallerstein proposes several things: (1) "...the erection of nonprofit decentralized units as the underlying mode of producing within the system." These are non state controlled nonprofits, like nonprofit hospitals have traditionally been. (2) With regard to equal access to education, health care, and a guaranteed lifetime income, Wallerstein says that "It should not be difficult to place all three of these needs outside commodification, to be provided by nonprofit institutions and paid for collectively. We do this now for such things as water supply, and in some countries, libraries." (3) As for preserving the environment: "We must require all production organizations to internalize all costs, including all costs necessary to ensure that their productive activity neither pollutes nor uses up the resources of the biosphere." There are a couple of other ideas, like for "a truly democratic set of political institutions," and like keeping money out of politics so that there will not be "financial imbalances between competing points of view".
Are these proposals really historically possible? Wallerstein has done as much as anyone to analyze the two stage strategy and to show why it failed, and how it could not have succeeded. He is also aware that we face a terrible enemy. "The privileged are inevitably better informed and thereby socially smarter than they have been. They are also far wealthier, and they have far stronger and more effective means of destruction and repression than they ever did before." So aren't they going to try to block these proposals from being adopted? And how will that be countered?
Elsewhere in this small book, he records his observation that a deep-seated rejection of state structures is now a world wide phenomenon. Some years ago, in an essay on strategy, he recommended placing unmeetable demands on the state and "overloading the system", and ceasing "to be terrified at the political breakdown of the system." Here in these utopistic proposals he doesn't actually say that a state would be needed for them, but he doesn't say it wouldn't be. But wouldn't the capitalist nation-state have to be abolished before you could internalize production costs or have a guaranteed lifetime income arranged through a nonprofit organization and paid for collectively, or have production done mostly in nonprofit enterprises? Isn't the very distinction between a profit and a non-profit corporation a legal artifact of capitalism itself?
And "a truly democratic set of political institutions" can mean almost anything. It describes my proposed social arrangements, as well as many others. Are we going to try to keep bourgeois democracy but cleanse it of capitalists? If it's true that the world's peoples are in the process of rejecting state structures, like he claims, then isn't the proposal for a world of autonomous communities actually more realistic, more historically possible, than his utopistic ones? Isn't anarchism implied in his call for "the erection of nonprofit decentralized units as the underlying mode of production"?
6. A Cooperative Commonwealth – Frank Lindenfeld. ("The Cooperative Commonwealth: An Alternative to Corporate Capitalism and State Socialism," Humanity and Society, Volume 21, Number 1, February 1997, pages 3-16). This is a short essay, but it nevertheless manages to capture, in refreshingly concrete terms, the main themes of the cooperative movement. Lindenfeld believes that the seeds of a cooperative commonwealth are already present in the existing worker and consumer co-ops, community development financial institutions, and barter networks. These need to be increased in number. Then they should "forge linkages ... to form second order co-ops and federations." "As networks of cooperatives and democratically managed organizations proliferate, they may reach enough of a critical mass to transform the entire society into the cooperative commonwealth ...." But this will not happen without "a broad scale coalition of anti-corporate people's political organizations. Such a political thrust is needed to challenge the entrenched power of the transnational corporations and open them up to democratic control by their employees, as well as to modify the legal and tax framework to make it more friendly to cooperatives." In other words, we are going to legislate capitalism away! But at least Lindenfeld hates capitalism and wants to get rid of it, and is somewhat aware that there is an enemy out there, with entrenched interests. But he grossly underestimates the power and resources of that enemy. This becomes clear a little later as he begins to enumerate the standard social democratic wish list: "a constitutional amendment to keep corporations from claiming rights guaranteed to material persons"; "an absolute ban on corporate contributions to political parties, political action committees, and candidates"; "the provision of government social welfare benefits such as regional or national health insurance and a guaranteed minimum income combined with a progressive tax system that transfers income from wealthy families and corporations to those less fortunate"; "tax incentives to promote employee ownership and control"; "the charter or continuation of corporations only if they provided for substantial employee ownership and control"; and so forth. Sure, why not? Let's just keep the congress, the courts, the federal and state bureaucracies, and elections, but get control of them through a new populist movement outside the two parties, as is happening already "in the Green Party, the Alliance, the New Party and the Labor party." Then we can change the laws to make a cooperative commonwealth possible, all the while keeping the capitalists at bay with other new laws. Wonderful plan. Except that it will never work!
7. Participatory Economics – Michael Albert. (Looking Forward: Participatory Economics for the Twenty First Century, with co-author Robin Hahnel, South End Press, Boston, 1991, 153 pages.) I suppose we shouldn't expect too much from someone with such bad taste as to label himself a Pareconist (from participatory economics). Albert doesn't disappoint us. The most glaring, god-awful mistake in this scheme is that Albert keeps the capitalist categories of economy, production, worker, and consumer, and proceeds to outline a social order based on these bad notions. For all his talk about vision, not much of it is in evidence here. You would think, following Albert, that the main purpose of life is to produce and consume. This is a highly materialistic Vision he has conjured. It is also individualistic (in spite of councils galore). To his credit, he did try at least to imagine a way out of capitalism, out of commodity markets, out of profit-taking. It's just that he is so far off the mark.
He has each of us making out an annual list of all the goods we think we are going to need in the coming year. We then submit the list to a 'neighborhood consumers council', where the list gets meshed with everyone else's, and then added to similar lists drawn up by the ward council, the city council, the county council, and so forth, on up through state and region to the national consumer council. Similar lists are generated from the production side, from workers councils and regional and industry council federations. (He presumes federation throughout, no questions asked.) All the lists are then crunched through the computers of the Iteration Facilitation Board, where everything is ironed out, resulting in a planned economy, but without planners, according to Albert.
This has got to be the sorriest proposal in the history of utopian literature. Albert uses all the right words -- councils, self-management, participation -- good ideas taken from the radical movement. But in Albert they get morphed into a world-class monstrosity. It's as if he has embraced capitalist society in toto, but then tried to make it participatory. He keeps money, but it is not regular capitalist money, but "accounting money", and works differently, he says. He keeps prices, but they are not regular capitalist prices, but "indicative prices", and work differently. He keeps jobs, but they are now "balanced and complexed". He keeps labor time as a measure of value, but now it's okay because with balanced job complexes, "accounting money income thus equates to real socially average labor hours." He keeps wages, now called remuneration, and bases them on effort. He has an Employment Facilitation Board to help workers find jobs. He has a Household Facilitation Board to help workers find homes. There are also Production Facilitation Boards, Consumption Facilitation Boards, and Updating Facilitation Boards, as well as the above mentioned Iteration Facilitation Boards.
Albert perverted a good radical concept, participatory democracy, which had been refurbished and relaunched by the New Left, by fusing it with the capitalist concept of economics. It is only under capitalism that certain human activities come to be labeled economic and are forcibly separated out from the rest of life, through the practices of wage-slavery and commodity markets. Humans do many things: make love, have babies, grow food, build shelters, make music, make clothes, make beautiful objects and useful things, play games, fashion tools, dream, draw, sleep, talk, write, argue, investigate. Is a symphony orchestra economic? What about a research center, a day-care center, a health clinic, a baseball team? Are these economic? Only in a world of commodified labor, where you have to have a job in order to have an income. Outside such a world, it is completely false to label some activities or projects as economic, to label some of them as production and others not, or to think of anything as consumption. Even worse is to try to build a whole social order on these distinctions and then to think of this as liberation. On the contrary, the reason a revolution is needed in the first place is to get rid of this false separation of work from life, art, fun, dreaming. All in all, Albert's Parecon is nothing short of shameful.
Among the many things missing from Albert's Utopia (or perhaps I should say Dystopia) is any feeling that this is a new civilization we want to create, a new social world, with free association, revived neighborhoods, restored communities, local control, deliberative peoples in assemblies in control of their social lives, joyful living, reintegration of life's many activities, liberation, sanity, cooperation, direct democracy, generosity, mutual aid, discussion, fun, dancing. Instead what we get is the same old tired civilization, except in an even more tedious version. It is still an Acquisitive Society. It is still a world of Products. We are still Actors in an Economy. We work; we get paid; we buy goods; we calculate, measure, bargain, produce, consume. If this is a new world, how come we are still being called Workers? There is a horrible graphic in Looking Forward (page 85). There is a big computer in the center of the picture. Scattered around it, at widely spaced intervals, are individual desks, each with a monitor linked by a cable to the central computer. Behind each monitor sits a person, busily typing in their consumption requests for the coming year. Who the hell wants to live in a society of producers and consumers?
8. Globalization from Below – Jeremy Brecher, Tim Costello, Brendan Smith. (South End Press, Boston, 2000, 164 pages.) Astonishingly, considering that Jeremy Brecher wrote Strike! as a young man, this book is not anti-capitalist. Strike! was thoroughly anti-capitalist, and was written in the tradition of the mass strike theory of Rosa Luxemburg and the Spartacists, and the workers councils theory of anarcho-syndicalists and council communists. In contrast, Globalization from Below does not contemplate the destruction of capitalism, let alone the abolition of the state, not even in the long run. In this book, Brecher and his co-authors have regressed to the mainstream sociological cant of social change, social conflict, and social movements and to the old liberal theory of countervailing power. Sadly, I believe this book nevertheless expresses the prevailing conceptual framework among so-called anti-globalization protesters of recent years.
The following paragraph expresses in a nutshell what Brecher, Costello, and Smith think is going on:
These movements are "composed of relatively autonomous groupings", typically, but not exclusively, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), but also, on occasion, unions, churches, local social movements, intellectuals, and so forth. The authors adopt a phrase from an article in The Economist to describe this phenomenon. They call it an NGO Swarm.
The picture here then is one of masses of people organized into special purpose organizations and single issue campaigns, who network on a global scale, and thus supposedly acquire the power to impose changes on the existing ruling class institutions. "The movement's unifying goal," the authors claim, "is to bring about sufficient democratic control over states, markets, and corporations to permit people and the planet to survive and begin to shape a viable future." "The principal strategy of the movement for globalization from below has been to identify the violation of generally held norms, demand that power actors conform to those norms, and threaten the bases of consent on which they depend if they fail to do so." To think that the State Department, General Electric, or the World Bank can be democratized is too foolish for words. What is not part of this picture is any thought of dismantling states, markets, or corporations and replacing them with authentically democratic social arrangements. (Thankfully, dismantling states, markets, and corporations is, however, in the picture for a significant minority of today's protesters against corporate globalization, although this doesn't seem to have been noticed by these authors.)
This is a startlingly reformist book, and, as with most reformism, is deeply naive. The authors do not fully perceive or understand the true nature of the enemy we face. Having failed to take into consideration the imperatives of a system based on profit-taking, they fail to realize that many of the reforms they seek to impose are incompatible with that system, or that the system, in its current phase, is incapable of accommodating these reforms, without self-destructing, and that consequently, contemporary capitalists will fight these reforms, fanatically, because it is a matter of survival for them.
These theorists of globalization from below however do not perceive this. They think these reforms can be imposed, through protests and the withdrawal of consent. This is where their use of mainstream sociological categories has gotten in the way. Although they use the term global capital occasionally, they are not really aware of capitalism as an historical system, but are rather merely talking abstractly about "established institutions" and "the power of the powerful". They claim that such power "is based on the active cooperation of some people and the consent and/or acquiescence of others." They believe that this power can be challenged by the withdrawal of consent. "Social movements can be understood as the collective withdrawal of consent to established institutions." This may be true on a very abstract level, and in the very long run (although apartheid South Africa survived for half a century after the vast majority hated it). But in the here and now, since they lack any concrete knowledge of what the actual imperatives of contemporary capitalists are (for their continued survival as capitalists), our theorists are led to make wildly romantic demands.
Long lists of these demands are presented in Chapter 6: Draft of a Global Program. They want to "end global debt slavery", "invest in sustainable development", "reestablish national full employment policies", "end the despoiling of natural resources for export", "make corporations locally accountable", "end the domination of politics by big money", "democratize international trade and financial institutions", "establish local control of local environments", "make speculators pay for their losses", "establish a 'hot money' tax", "encourage development, not austerity", "make international environmental agreements enforceable", "make global markets work for developing economies", "transform the production and consumption patterns of wrongly developed countries", "establish a Global Economy Truth Commission", and on and on. All this is going to be accomplished by a global network of autonomous groupings and NGOs, working through existing governments, corporations, markets, and international financial institutions.
I don't think so. An NGO Swarm can not reconstitute society. Nor can it nix capitalism, or even fix capitalism, which is really all it seems to be aiming for. Globalization from Below, as described by Brecher, Costello, and Smith, is a very badly flawed conceptualization of the struggle for liberation.
9. The New Populism – Ralph Nader. (The Ralph Nader Reader, Seven Stories Press, New York, 2000, 441 pages.) Ralph Nader, a nationally known figure for the past several decades, has recently become the most well known advocate of the New Populism, especially since his presidential campaign in 2000. But there are other prominent voices: Jim Hightower, Molly Ivins, Kevin Danaher and Media Benjamin (of Global Exchange), Lori Wallach (of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch), Gore Vidal, and many others. There is now also a twice monthly newspaper, out of Iowa, The Progressive Populist, which publishes columns by many of these activists. There are of course many other publications and writers. But I will take Nader as representative.
There is hardly anything sweeter than listening to Ralph Nader bash corporations. It is so good to be hearing this again, after the long, stifling counter-revolution which settled like an ozone-alert smog over the country for a quarter of a century after 1968. (Jim Hightower's daily commentaries are a special delight too.) Nader has an exhaustive knowledge of American law, the Washington DC scene, and civil, labor, and consumer rights, as well as of the dirty tricks of American Corporations. He is also consumed with an inspiring moral passion. But sooner or later, in almost every speech, he will move on from listing the many crimes of corporate America to praising small farmers, mom and pop corner stores, and the small businesses of main street America. And then you realize of course that Nader is not against capitalism per se, but only against giant corporations and the control they have come to exercise over American life, including the Congress. That's why he keeps insisting that we have to build a new citizen's movement to recover our democracy, to get back to the democracy we used to have.
Nader sees no problem with the US constitution or with the American Republic as it was originally founded. He just thinks that this has been stolen from us, and he wants us to seize it back from its usurpers. And so he ran for president, and joined the effort to build a new progressive party, to recapture control of Congress, and thereafter get money out of politics, reign in corporations and their lobbyists, protect labor and consumer rights, and in general enact the progressive agenda. And that is why he has recently launched, in August 2001 in Portland, Oregon, a Democracy Rising grassroots citizen initiative which he hopes will be able to accomplish all these things.
But there are some fallacious beliefs at work here, among these new populists, including Nader. The most serious false idea is the belief that we can go back to small scale capitalism. We can never go back to small scale capitalism, and this populist desire to do so shows that populists don't understand how capitalism works. The ever increasing concentration of capital is an inherent feature of the system. The big fish eat the little fish. This dynamic stems from the endless, fierce competition among capitalists for markets and profits. It is not accidental, nor merely the result of bad judgement or corruption, that small scale capitalism gave way to monopoly capitalism. Capitalists had to move in that direction in order to survive, and for a system based on profit-taking to continue functioning. So this central plank of the New Populism is based on an illusion.
A second fallacious idea is that we used to have a democracy but that it has been stolen from us, mainly by giant corporations. There was never a real democracy in the United States. It has been a capitalist society from day one. There has always been a ruling class here, starting with rich merchants in the north and the plantation owners in the south, who were later joined in mid nineteenth century by industrialists. Their control has never been seriously threatened, except for a few years during the American Revolution, when the lower classes surged into the arena briefly. The appearance of average people on the stage of history was quickly contained however, and ruling class control was solidified and stabilized in the US Constitution of 1787. So all this talk among populists about recovering our democracy is just another illusion.
A third fallacious idea is that we can fix things by capturing control of Congress. But as I have argued elsewhere in this work, we can never get to a real democracy, that is to direct democracy, by capturing the government. A bourgeois, representative democracy, like the one existing in the United States, will never be able to transform itself into local, autonomous, direct democracies. In fact, the US Constitution was written precisely to prevent such direct democracies from emerging. So if our objective is to establish a real democracy, it makes no sense to build a progressive party to try to capture control of Congress. This is a third illusion afflicting New Populists.
A fourth fallacious idea is that we can restore the welfare state. The vicious, worldwide, sustained, capitalist attack on public welfare, on everything public in fact, is not just because capitalists are evil and greedy (they are that it's true), but because this offensive has been necessitated by the need to maintain profit levels in order to keep the system of capital accumulation intact and functioning. Capitalists had no choice if they wanted to continue living off profit. (They do have a choice of course: they could stop living off profit, ditch free enterprise, and help change the world.) The populist belief that we can somehow restore public welfare, within a capitalist system, is another grand illusion. The Welfare State phase of capitalism is long gone. The only way we can achieve general well-being at this point is to get rid of capitalism completely and build a truly democratic world, one not based on wage-slavery and commodification.This is why, although I enjoy listening to Nader's rants as much as anyone, they are, for me, ultimately disappointing. I know that the reforms he wants are based on a serious mis-diagnosis of what ails us.
10. Further Critiques. I had hoped to add quite a few more critiques to this section, but I must close it off. Perhaps I can continue this exercise elsewhere. I had wanted to include here a much stronger critique of the concept of civil society, using as a vehicle a review of Benjamin Barber’s A Place for Us: How to Make Society Civil and Democracy Strong, and also perhaps, of John Keane’s Global Civil Society? I hope to write a separate essay on this later. For old-style conservative thought (not the current neo-conservative ideology, which is actually closer to fascism), a good book to critique is Robert Nisbet’s, The Present Age: Progress and Anarchy in Modern America; and for liberal thought, John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Good Society: The Humane Agenda. I have issues with Hakim Bey’s T.A.Z. (Temporary Autonomous Zone) as a strategy for revolutionary anarchism. G. William Domhoff’s Changing the Powers That Be: How the Left Can Stop Losing and Win needs to be rebutted. Brian Martin’s Nonviolence versus Capitalism is a good book which develops many of the same themes that I have, although I cannot agree with his proposed ‘demarky’ as an alternative to capitalism and model for a new society. On the positive side, here are three excellent books that are pointing in the right direction: Takis Fotoupolos, Towards an Inclusive Democracy (1997), John Holloway, Change the World Without Taking Power (2002), and Ken Knabb, The Joy of Revolution (1997) (included in his Public Secrets). And so on.
for "An Association of Democratic,
We, as free peoples, have arranged ourselves socially into democratic, autonomous neighborhoods. We are self-governing, through our Home Assemblies. We recognize no authority over us other than our own self-legislation and treaties that we have negotiated with other neighborhoods and voluntarily bound ourselves to. We have negotiated many such treaties covering the distribution of goods, and particular projects like regional hospitals, telephone networks, research facilities, community parks, and large factories, which by their very nature are trans-neighborhood undertakings. In this more general treaty, this General Agreement, we seek to establish a larger Association of Democratic, Autonomous Neighborhoods to stabilize a world composed of free communal peoples and to promote the democratic, autonomous way of life. Neighborhoods which have not founded assemblies for self-governance obviously cannot join the association since only such assemblies can sign the pact.
As signers of this General Agreement, we agree to abide by the following principles and practices:
1. Voluntary Agreement. Signing the General Agreement, by our Home Assembly, is entirely voluntary, but once agreed to, binds us to abide by the principles and practices indicated.
2. The Right to Withdraw. As self-governing neighborhoods, we reserve the right to withdraw from this association, and thus void our promise to abide by its principles and practices, if we come to the conclusion that it no longer serves our interests. This also means of course that we forfeit any advantages that our membership in the association might have brought us.
3. Non-Aggression Pact. We agree never to organize a military force to invade other neighborhoods.
4. Non-Territorial Basis for Neighborhoods. We agree that land is not a commodity that can be bought or sold, and therefore cannot be owned either. That is, we reject the concept of ownership as applied to land (and other resources; see next point). This means that our neighborhoods actually have no territorial boundaries. They are socially defined, through membership in Home Assemblies.
5. Resources Shared. Similarly we reject the idea that natural resources can be owned, bought, or sold. They can only be shared. Thus a neighborhood that is sitting on top of a rare mineral, for example, which is needed by many other communities, cannot be said to own that mineral, or sell it to its own advantage. It can only be shared, through equitable and reciprocal treaties regarding its development and use.
6. Cooperative Labor. Human labor is not a commodity and cannot be bought or sold. We agree therefore that all neighborhood projects and trans-neighborhood projects will be cooperatively and democratically conducted.
7. Treaties. We agree that final decision-making power rests with Home Assemblies. Therefore all trans-neighborhood needs and projects must be met by negotiating treaties with other neighborhoods and not by setting up regional congresses staffed by representatives (or what amounts to the same thing, by sending delegates to regional councils), with the power to make laws that can be imposed on neighborhoods. That is, there is no power higher than a Home Assembly.
8. Treaty Negotiating Facilities. To the extent that expensive communication networks and regional assembly halls become necessary for efficient treaty negotiation, we agree to pay our fair share of the cost of building and maintaining such facilities.
9. Direct Democracy. We agree that our assemblies, in the neighborhood, in our projects, in our households, and in all special interest associations, shall be governed by direct democracy, that is by the face-to-face discussion and voting by all members, without representatives. If, rarely, it is thought necessary that a project be directed by one person or a few, this change, for this particular project and for a prescribed time period, can only be made by the Home Assembly itself.
10. Social Arrangements within the Neighborhood. The commitment to direct democracy and cooperative labor implies at a minimum, besides the establishment of a neighborhood assembly for self-governance, democratically and cooperatively conducted projects, and democratically and cooperatively conducted households. Naturally, there will be considerable variation, from culture to culture, in the actual shape and workings of such social entities. But it's hard to see how a neighborhood could eliminate them altogether and still remain free. In any case, this is the standard to which this Association is committed.
11. Membership in the Neighborhood. We agree, as neighborhood assemblies, to try to strike a balance between the right of others to select their place of residence (to choose where they will live), and our own right to choose whom we will associate with. We agree that, as a general rule, our neighborhoods will be as completely open as possible, while still reserving the right to exclude and expel persons from our assemblies. Naturally, with the disappearance of the buying and selling of land and residential properties, and of universal money, and of the world market, no one could just move into our neighborhoods without first gaining admission to a household, and hence to project- and home-assemblies. They would have no way to feed, clothe, or shelter themselves. We agree to establish traditions of hospitality and admission which are civilized, fair, and equitable.
12. Voting Procedures within Our Assemblies. We agree to invent voting procedures for our assemblies that enhance direct democracy and self-rule in our neighborhood. There is no hard and fast rule, no easy resolution of the majority rule versus consensus quandary, nor any magic formula for majority/minority relations. Consensus voting, which strives for the largest possible majority on any given issue, will probably be the norm (as opposed to simple majority rule). But we will not limit ourselves to this. We will aim for a good mix of consensus, majority rule, and other procedures as seem applicable, all the while realizing that a minority cannot be forced, ultimately, to abide by a majority decision that it strongly opposes. Neighborhood assemblies are therefore obliged in practice to always strive to win a minority's willingness to go along with a decision, at the very minimum. Otherwise there can be no cooperatively undertaken projects. But minorities must also realize that it is a rare occasion when they can simply pack up and leave (or force the majority to leave). The number of instances where we can each go our own way are few in comparison to those in which we must reach collective decisions in order to survive (or to do most anything). So minorities too are under pressure to compromise and reach mutually acceptable decisions. No one ever said that democracy was easy, only that it is the only way we can be autonomous, free social beings, in control of our own destinies, to the extent that this is possible at all in a universe without certainties.
13. The Products of Our Labor. We agree that the products of our cooperative labor are not commodities and cannot be owned, bought, or sold, but will be equitably shared among all members of the neighborhood. Every member has a right to a fair share of this wealth, in return for a fair share of the labor needed to produce it, as defined by the Home Assembly. We recognize the problem of freeloaders and will deal with it through a variety of social constraints, including ostracism if need be, or as a last resort, expulsion, although we do not anticipate that this will be a huge problem. In instances where we produce more than we need we will create networks of swapping and gift-giving with other neighborhoods for the interchange of these goods.
14. Relations with Neighborhoods that Haven't Joined this Association. Our Association is incompatible with a world organized into nation-states. We seek therefore to dismantle and destroy nation-states. The more neighborhoods there are that have joined our Association, the more likely we are to win this struggle. But obviously, this will not happen all at once. There may even be neighborhoods that never join. Naturally, we seek to spread our way of life and protect it from attack. Hierarchy and anarchy are natural enemies. But unlike hierarchy, there is room within anarchy for great diversity. Tribal peoples, for example, may prefer to keep their customary governing arrangements, based mostly on kinship and other traditional forms of authority, rather than change over to deliberative assemblies based on direct democracy. There is no reason these peoples couldn't exist side by side with anarchic communities. Neighborhoods that have not converted over to cooperative labor and self-governance, but which are still embedded in the (hopefully rapidly disappearing) capitalist labor market and commodity culture, also may not want to join. As the world of free communal peoples gains in strength, however, and the world of atomized, commodified individuals weakens, these neighborhoods will be in something of a bind. It will be harder and harder for them to hang on to their profit-oriented culture and practices in a world of increasingly decentralized, democratic, cooperative anarchic communities. Nevertheless, unlike capitalism, anarchy (face-to-face democracy) is not something that can be imposed. But it is something that can be defended from those who seek to destroy it.
What follows is a discussion of the terminology I have chosen to use in outlining a notion of how we might want to live. That is, I faced a naming problem. What are we to call our social creations? It has become something of a dilemma as to what to call the overall social order as well as the specific social bodies within it. I have made the following choices:
(a) Household is a pretty good term, although in contemporary American usage it refers to a much smaller unit, namely the nuclear family. But historically, households have been larger. My usage, for a residential complex housing 100-200 people, is a reversion to and an expansion of the historical meaning
(b) Home Assembly is new, but I like it. Other possibilities were town meeting, community assembly, town meeting, community assembly, general assembly, core assembly, base assembly, neighborhood assembly, parliament, plenum, congregation, conference, senate, convention — none of which seem to fit, except perhaps neighborhood assembly. One problem with the term is that 'home' tends to be associated with household rather than neighborhood. But perhaps this confusion will decline as we get used to it. I like the term Home Assembly because it gives us an identity linked to the Assembly (and Meeting Hall) where we participate in community decisions to govern our social lives. Everyone will be a member of an assembly somewhere. Where we participate in decision making is where our home is. Thus the neighborhood assembly is elevated over kinship or work relations (reproduction or production relations). The primacy of decision-making relations will characterize the new civilization and set it apart from all previous forms of social organization.
(c) Peer Circle is strange, but I don’t like any of the alternatives I’ve come across. The traditional term among radicals is ‘council’, but this term has no general usage elsewhere in our culture and actually has other connotations in popular language. The other possibilities are caucus, bee, peer group, meeting (as in a Friends meeting), or peer meeting.
(d) Project is a good name for the activities we undertake together to accomplish something. We certainly can’t call them businesses, enterprises, organizations, or institutions. I’m quite happy with the term Project.
(e) In the original draft of this essay, I had inadvertently used the term community to refer to the 2000 people constituting a Home Assembly. Community is a very good term, but it obviously cannot be restricted to mean just one 2000 member body. So I had to switch to the term neighborhood, which sounds limited but is more accurate. At least it makes clear that our basic social unit is a small neighborhood face-to-face decision-making assembly. All larger associations are based on this core social entity.
(f) At one point, in order to make the text consistent throughout in relation to the projected gift giving and mutual aid, I had to search through it for the words ‘trade’ and ‘exchange’ and change them to other, usually more cumbersome expressions, using words like distribute, circulate, transfer, and interchange. Trade and exchange are almost exclusively associated with a money economy.
(g) As for what to call the overall social order, none of the usual terms any longer has any clear meaning — democracy, socialism, anarchism, communism. Until a new name emerges I’ve simply been describing it as “An Association of Democratic Autonomous Neighborhoods.” I should add though that I mean direct democracy, not representative democracy, and by direct democracy I do not mean tele-polling or referendums, but face-to-face assemblies. I should also add that the association is based on treaty negotiation among equals, not federation (assuming federated structures to be hierarchical). I must add further that autonomous merely means self-governing and not complete self-sufficiency in the material sense (there will still be interchanging of goods back and forth, through swaps, gifts, etc.). In other words, the phrase is meaningless without further definition. Better to focus then on the concrete social relations themselves, and get them shaped the way we want them, than to waste time defining abstract concepts.
(h) There is also the problem of what to call the strategy itself. I'm sorry to say that I have not been able to invent a good name for it.
While we’re on the question of terminology, I must warn the reader not to be turned off too quickly by the words I use. I choose words with care. It is not by accident or through carelessness that I say “ruling class”, for example. I do it deliberately. I believe this is the clearest way to talk about our situation. If you do not believe there is a ruling class perhaps you have been watching too much television or have taken too many sociology courses. Similarly with other words I use — murderers, thieves, invasion, oppression, exploitation, working class, wage-slavery, empire, lackeys, capitalists. These are not the concepts of a fanatic, although they might sound that way to some who are steeped in the language of the owners of the world. They are powerful and accurate terms which illuminate our situation. It has taken years to rid myself of the mystifying language of the exploiting class.
A quick way to get an overview of left libertarian and progressive populist literature (including an abundance of anarchist and anti-authoritarian items) is to browse through the AK Press Distribution Catalog. This catalog is published annually. The 2004 edition is 215 pages long, printed on letter-sized paper, in fairly small type. The entries are annotated. It is a fairly massive compilation of materials currently available, from many dozens of publishers and activist groups, although it is by no means complete. Its nonfiction section is biggest, but AK also distributes works of fiction, and audio and video materials. They also of course distribute their own, more strictly anarchist, publications. The catalog can be acquired from AK Press, 674-A 23rd Street, Oakland, California, 94612.
I would also like to recommend my own book-length bibliography: Emancipatory Social Thought: A Partially Annotated Bibliography in English for the Libertarian Left and Progressive Populists in the United States. It has an index that will guide the reader to dozens of topics, like the Paris Commune, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the Spanish Civil War, anarchist classics, sustainable agriculture, radical geography, critiques of religion, situationism, council communism, surrealism, utopian studies, communes, the free speech movement, the sixties, the Frankfurt School, workers control, unschooling, critiques of the US constitution, local currencies, to mention only a few. It is by no means comprehensive. I’ve haven’t spent years systematically researching this, but have compiled it mainly from materials ready at hand. I know I have missed many things, am relatively uninformed in some areas, and may not have the latest or best works on some topics. Nevertheless, I have a fairly wide familiarity with the literature of liberation. I hope the bibliography will be useful to those seeking to bring into being a new social world, one without states, capitalism, classes, wages, money, markets, or war, and one without discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, residence, beliefs, intelligence, or looks.
For those who need a leg up now, I’ve listed below sixty seven classics. Some names not included on the list are: Julius Martov, Hannah Arendt, George Sorel, Elisee Reclus, Karl Kautsky, Louise Michel, Jean-Paul Sartre, Dorothy Day, Nestor Makhno, Alexander Herzen, Walter Benjamin, Raya Dunayevskaya, Irving Howe, Raoul Vaneigem, Sidney Lens, Jack London, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, E.P. Thompson, and on and on. With the Internet, it is now relatively easy to find references to works by these authors, either by plugging into the big library catalogs (like the WorldCat), book seller data bases (like Barnes & Noble, or Amazon), or used book networks (like the Advanced Book Exchange).
Next, I list two hundred fourteen contemporary books that I have found especially interesting (beginning in the 1960s, mostly, but with a few older books thrown in) . It is divided into two parts: (a) Forty-nine books that are most immediately relevant to the social philosophy undergirding this book, and then (b) other books I have especially liked, although not necessarily always agreed with (165 titles). Lists like this latter one are obviously rather subjective or personal in nature.
Finally, I provide a brief list (by no means comprehensive) of journals, magazines, newspapers, and newsletters that are worth examining.
Winstanley, Gerrard, The Law of Freedom and Other Essays . (Cambridge Contemporary Works (arranged alphabetically)
Contemporary Works (arranged alphabetically)
(a) Books most immediately relevant to the social philosophy of Getting Free
Arrighi, Giovanni, Terrence K. Hopkins, and Immanuel Wallerstein, Antisystemic
(b) Some other books I’ve especially liked
Ali, Tariq, Bush in Babylon: The Recolonisation of
Iraq. (Verso, London, 2003, 214 Journals, Magazines, Newspapers, and Newsletters
Democracy and Nature (Takis Fotopoulos, editor), Raven (Freedom Press), Social Anarchism, Anarchist Studies, Perspectives on Anarchist Theory
(newsletter of the Institute for Anarchist Studies), GEO (newsletter of Grassroots Economic Organizing), Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, Arsenal (occasional journal of the Chicago surrealists), Arsenal (a more recent journal with same name, also from Chicago), Direct Action, Red and Black Revolution, Organise!, Synthesis/Regeneration, Global Outlook, Covert Action Quarterly, Hightower Lowdown, Industrial Worker, Progressive Populist, Monthly Review, New Left Review, Dollars and Sense, The Progressive, Against the Current, New Internationalist, Toward Freedom, New Politics, Science and Society, Alernative Press Review, Anarchy, Aufheben, Barricada, Black Flag, Fifth Estate, Kick It Over, Match!, Mind Freedom, Northeastern Anarchist, Public Eye, Utopia, Workers Solidarity, Green Anarchy, Slingshot, Left Business Observer, Counterpunch, Midnight Notes, Middle East Report, Nacla (North American Congress for Latin America), Multinational Monitor, Rachael’s Environment and Health Weekly, Adbusters, Rethinking Schools, Baffler Magazine, Ecologist, Labor Notes, Z Magazine, Harbinger, Radical Philosophy, Akwasane Notes, News and Letters, In These Times, Labor Research Review, Our Generation (discontinued), Dissent, the Nation, Corporate Watch, Extra!, Socialist Review, Antipode.
Journals, Magazines, Newspapers, and Newsletters
Democracy and Nature (Takis Fotopoulos, editor), Raven (Freedom Press), Social Anarchism, Anarchist Studies, Perspectives on Anarchist Theory (newsletter of the Institute for Anarchist Studies), GEO (newsletter of Grassroots Economic Organizing), Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, Arsenal (occasional journal of the Chicago surrealists), Arsenal (a more recent journal with same name, also from Chicago), Direct Action, Red and Black Revolution, Organise!, Synthesis/Regeneration, Global Outlook, Covert Action Quarterly, Hightower Lowdown, Industrial Worker, Progressive Populist, Monthly Review, New Left Review, Dollars and Sense, The Progressive, Against the Current, New Internationalist, Toward Freedom, New Politics, Science and Society, Alernative Press Review, Anarchy, Aufheben, Barricada, Black Flag, Fifth Estate, Kick It Over, Match!, Mind Freedom, Northeastern Anarchist, Public Eye, Utopia, Workers Solidarity, Green Anarchy, Slingshot, Left Business Observer, Counterpunch, Midnight Notes, Middle East Report, Nacla (North American Congress for Latin America), Multinational Monitor, Rachael’s Environment and Health Weekly, Adbusters, Rethinking Schools, Baffler Magazine, Ecologist, Labor Notes, Z Magazine, Harbinger, Radical Philosophy, Akwasane Notes, News and Letters, In These Times, Labor Research Review, Our Generation (discontinued), Dissent, the Nation, Corporate Watch, Extra!, Socialist Review, Antipode.
1. Breaking Out of the Cage and Destroying Our Jailers
Return to the opening page of the Strategy for revolution folder.
Return to the homepage of the website.