"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant." ~ John Stuart Mill
Why Not Reclaim the Left? Redux
My credo is: “If you don’t piss off somebody by noon each day, you’re not doing much.”
So when my debut article for Strike The Root--“Why Not Reclaim the Left?”--appeared June 18, I expected it to stir things up. After all, I’d applauded Justin Raimondo’s recent call for libertarians to abandon the right-wing and get back to their classical liberal roots on the Left. I’d resurrected the late Murray Rothbard’s controversial proposal from the 1960s that we build alliances with willing anti-statist socialists and maybe . . . just maybe . . . someday reclaim the Left for libertarianism. I knew there’d be resistance to these ideas, from both Right and Left.
I just didn’t quite expect the vitriol my article generated.
STR’s own forum was pretty quiet. There was some brief, calm discussion on the e-list of the Movement of the Libertarian Left. I also received plenty of personal e-mails. Many posed thoughtful questions. Others offered gracious disagreement.
Then I got an e-mail from someone with the screen name “anarchist.” I initially thought that was a good sign. But it was written like one of those ransom notes made up of pasted words and letters clipped from old newspaper headlines:
thought you might want to know that we are on to your schemes… you fake leftists will be exposed for the corporate fascists you are! go away and stop your racist goosestepping pretending to be a real left movement!
My secret pen pal then directed me to Infoshop.org, a website for socialist anarchists. Someone had posted my article there. And beneath it ran 47 pages of online give-and-take, most of it from outraged anarcho-nasties.
Wrote one: “What a f*****g offensive article! … Cooperate with ‘anarcho-capitalists’? F*** that!” Wrote another: “I’m tempted to suggest that such arrogant attempts to parasitically feed off our movement should be firmly and politely told to ‘f*** off.’”
Wrote still another (and I won’t fix the typos): “I would rather take my changes with Reno and Gates than deal with corporate fascists like the god damned ‘anarcho-’ capitalists. Anyone who worships Ayn Rand and the all mighty dollar$$$ is a no ally of ours! they can rot in hell!” Janet Reno? Bill Gates? Hmm.
In addition to this twaddle, there was plenty of misrepresentation of the market anarchist position: “The ‘anarcho’-capitalists are the ones that want each capitalist to provide his own small army and police force to crush his own workers directly.” Others displayed no grasp of the magnificent history of American individualist anarchism: “…the damn Libertarians appropriated the word libertarian and created a lot of confusion in North America. Now a few Libertarians want to call themselves anarchists as well.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum, the Infoshop.org message thread about my piece was being discussed at Anti-state.com. It wasn’t too encouraging. One writer remarked of the Infoshop folks: “These left-commie types seem like some real pussies to me. What they are talking about needs a ‘movement,’ where everyone agrees to all be pussies…” Wrote another: “What a bunch of idiots. They can’t get over their emotional cult crap…”
At least the hostility had moved away from me personally. Now right-wingers and left-wingers were duking it out over who are and are not legitimate anarchists!
However, in the middle of this anarchist version of a soccer riot, cooler heads did emerge. Not many. But enough to satisfy me that, yes, perhaps a viable libertarian alliance with the Left ispossible.
Here’s an example from the Right:
“If you really want your ideas to spread the only way for that to occur is through open communication. Socialist anarchists have a lot of common ground with market anarchists: they are (mostly) anti-gun control, anti-drug war and rabidly anti-State. In today’s pro-Bush, pro-war environment you’ll be hard-pressed to find many individuals who share those beliefs.”
“This whole idea [of building alliances with the Left] has merit, because one must look for recruits for the cause of liberty wherever you can find them, just like Murray Rothbard did. … Young, energetic minds may be the best place to look for recruits for the cause of liberty. Many middle-aged right-wingers may be too busy trimming their lawns and chasing around with their kids to soccer games. I often make the mistake of trying to reason with middle-aged Republicans. Most of the time, I'm wasting my time and breath.”
Now, here’s a cool-headed comment from the Left:
“I think that all anarchism that is consistent…is for the free market. That is, if you think that people should be allowed to do their own thing, live their own life, and make their own decisions, then you believe that people should be able to choose to use money and work wage-jobs if they want, regardless of how disgusting you personally view that behavior as being. If you believe that groups should be autonomous and self-managing, then you believe that groups can choose to live ‘capitalistically’ if that is what they choose. All of this is a free market. … I think that hierarchical relationships and money-based relationships have indeed been discredited, but I think that forcefully ‘imposing non-hierarchical relationships’ does nothing to solve the problem or eliminate hierarchy itself.”
Here’s another Leftist comment, which unfortunately confuses radical libertarianism with the Libertarian Party, a common problem:
“I concur with those who suggest there are possible points of unity with the Libertarians (a libertarian-Libertarian alliance?). Guns are one. Self-sufficiency, for many Libertarians, is a real important issue.”
And now, let me share a final post from a socialist anarchist visiting Anti-state.com. He had inspected both Infoshop.org on the Left and Anti-state.com on the Right and determined that “e-forums are almost always dominated by the very dumbest of all groups, and you must sift through the crap to get to the well-reasoned and thoughtful postings.” He concluded:
“And perhaps that is what this little survey of the two sites…tells us, if we didn’t know it already — the Left-Right dichotomy is worse than useless and its rotting carcass is inhibiting the growth of a truly liberatory interweaving of anarchists who have essentially the same vision of the world. AND it is keeping those same anarchists tied down to the corpses of the Left and Right, respectively, which are quickly and pungently decaying.
“We have a post-Left faction that is strong and growing, and it seems that you folks are in dire need of a post-Right faction with the same goal of freeing yourselves — and, by extension, us — from the stench of those corpses.”
Post-Left faction? Those tricky anarcho-bastards! Justin Raimondo and I are busy urging libertarians to move leftward, and here are anarchists on the Left moving beyond the Left to . . . what?
Well, a quick run back to Infoshop.org was enlightening. They offer a webpage devoted entirely to dialogue on future directions for anarchism--“Anarchy After Leftism.” From the page’s introduction:
“…anarchists face a future where the traditional Left is no longer a player on the chessboard of politics. With the freedom to articulate our vision and its practice in everyday resistance, anarchists need to figure out what is next. … What are post-Left anarchists? In the words of Jason McQuinn: ‘Post-left anarchists want to see anarchists define their own autonomous movement, theory and activities free from the deadweight of overidentification with the left.’”
Whew. An anarchism neither Right nor Left! My mind boggled. But I was also suddenly reminded of an essay written more than 20 years ago by the great Karl Hess, the speechwriter for Barry Goldwater who joined the New Left in the late 1960s, then fashioned his own Left Libertarianism. The essay is called “Anarchism without Hyphens.” Allow me to quote briefly from it:
“[Anarchists] spring from a single seed, no matter the flowering of their ideas. The seed is liberty. And that is all it is. It is not a socialist seed. It is not a capitalist seed. It is not a mystical seed. It is not a determinist seed. It is simply a statement. We can be free. After that it’s all choice and chance.
“Anarchism, liberty, does not tell you a thing about how free people will behave or what arrangements they will make. It simply says that people have the capacity to make arrangements.
“Anarchism is not normative. It does not say how to be free. It says only that freedom, liberty, can exist.”
I’m not backing off my assertion that radical libertarians should now turn to the Left. I believe that despite knee-jerk resistance and distrust, alliances can be made successfully on an issue-to-issue basis, and especially on the anti-war front. And I believe libertarians can eventually retake the Left.
But longer-term, I think we must pay close attention to this new post-Left anarchist faction. I think they may have the right idea. Take a discriminating look around Infoshop.org. Find a copy of Hess’s “Anarchism without Hyphens” (it appears in his autobiography, Mostly on the Edge) and use it as a measure of where we should be heading. Because socialists aren’t the enemy. Capitalists aren’t the enemy. Our enemy is the State. And only in working for a truly anti-authoritarian, pluralistic world can socialists and capitalists come together. Without the State, there is no reason voluntary collectivist communities can’t coexist peacefully next to voluntary individualist neighborhoods.
And imagine what a grand time that will be!