I am a long-time and enthusiastic supporter of the Center for a Stateless Society. Its steadfast advocacy for a society free of privilege has been both heroic and unique. One of the aspects I find most compelling is the sense in which it has popularized left libertarian ideas in the wider leftist movement, including all kinds of anarchists, socialists, communists, anarcho-syndicalists, greens, and other radicals. Indeed, many of us have become involved with a wider circle of friends, comrades and collaborators than we ever could by clinging to more conventional libertarianism.
So the revelation that C4SS staff member Stacy Litz served as a police informant for months comes as quite a shock to all of us. She is responsible for snitching on several of her fellow libertarians to escape jail time. The extent to which she attempted to mitigate the harm of her actions is unclear. None of us know for certain what we would do in her situation, and we can all have compassion for the horrible dilemna in which this person was placed -- even as we regret and condemn what she chose to do.
The Center released a statement reflecting the decision to non-judgmentally but resolutely remove Stacy from her position. The debate that brought about that decision was very contentious. Some members pushed to keep her, arguing that cutting anybody the state flips sends two messages: (A) if you make a mistake, you cannot rehabilitate yourself, and (B) the state has only to flip people to break our movement. Theories were advanced that we somehow throw this back in the government's face and turn it into some kind of PR coup. We're not going to let the state tell us who we can and can't work with!
Gary Chartier talks about the need to free oneself psychologically and emotionally before one can even free others. This dovetails with my thoughts on an inwardly-looking anarchism, one that sees society at large as only one half of the project. We need to become balanced people before we can effectively advocate for the balanced society that is amenable to voluntarism. Gary even goes so far as to identify love as the ideal basis for anarchist activism.
It is so gratifying to see this maturity of thought from the anarchist sector I consider my closest allies. Let this powerful presentation start the conversation on how we prosecute this next era of the struggle against privilege. If this presentation is representative of the topics discussed at the recently concluded AgoraI/O conference, then I really missed out, and will be there with bells on next year!
Effective activism means understanding the nature of our many problems
A core problem with contemporary leftism as it is often pursued is that it has no sense of the boundaries of its project. Casting it in the most reasonable light, it tends to make the entire world and every person's soul its political mission. After correctly identifying thought systems that lead to undesirable consequences, leftists often try to frame their activism in terms of "abolishing patriarchy" or "ending racism". Because they believe these thought systems are at the root of the problem, it is natural to assume an attitude of attacking them.
Much like wars on victimless crimes, these attacks must be directed at people, since the ideas only exist in the mind. Individual human beings are often rejected in totality rather than merely rejecting their bad ideas. After all, individuals are sovereign within their own minds, and there is little power to force the adoption of values onto another (setting aside the countless problems with using force). The only real non-violent sanction one has against the beliefs of another is ridicule and withdrawal, which the left certainly employs often.
The question the alternative left poses to the mainstream and/or orthodox left is not whether these strategies are just - certainly, the defense of free association is a vital liberal tactic for non-violent social discipline. Sacrificing free association utterly endangers liberalism. Rather, its critique centers around the effectiveness of the tactic. Rather than a universal application of leftist ideology to every aspect of life, a lighter touch is suggested - not to let bad ideas and practices off the hook, but to better inculcate values conducive to sustainable social progress.
It's been almost two years since mutualist Shawn Wilbur left the Alliance of the Libertarian Left. While I hated to see him go, his stated reason for the departure was unimpeachable to my mind. Wilbur felt he could neither articulate what brought the Alliance together nor see any way in which the disagreements within the Alliance were able to be overcome. How could the Alliance accomplish real work without real consensus? In what sense are we allies if we have fundamental disagreements that merely get glossed over?
At the time, Allies were debating the proper reaction to an inflammatory essay that had been written by a non-left libertarian. This debate turned into a crisis: one left libertarian denouncing the other as out of bounds and beyond the pale. As all parties stood their ground, things digressed into nasty insults and accusations that mainly exhausted us. It got to be surprisingly ridiculous, but what surprised me the most was the fact that, of all people, Wilbur - the one who likely understands the historic trajectory of this movement more than anybody else, and therefore would have the most to say about where all this is headed - was the one to leave.
Among Wilbur's arguments, as I understand them, was the absence of any way to resolve the dispute to everybody's satisfaction. The Alliance had always been a vague and inarticulable one, grounded in shared tendencies but no shared principles that had ever been made clear, let alone binding. Add to that the concept of ALL being a place where "we all agree to disagree" and you have the basis for neither ideological commitment nor ideological boundaries. Personal attacks were all anybody had, because there was no shared premise of alliance, and I imagine Wilbur couldn't see the point of continuing to associate with such a meaningless brand. If all we were going to do was be an online club of likeminded malcontents, why bother winning this fight?