Taking left libertarianism seriously
On the Center for a Stateless Society and the discipline of effective outreach
I hate marketing but I have to admit it is effective. Any serious cause makes an affirmative and considered effort to get its message out. While this is an especially delicate matter when it involves politics, focusing on the strategy of propaganda, outreach, and advocacy as a coordinated effort authentically demonstrates the urgency of one's ideas to the world and one's opponents.
That is why I've been a big supporter of the Center for a Stateless Society ever since Brad Spangler founded it in 2006. Both left libertarianism and market anarchism (a label I try to hold at arm's length) deserve an outlet focused on getting their unique points of view in front of as many eyes as possible. The goal from the very beginning has been outreach and advocacy, to embark upon a coordinated, funded effort to get left libertarian polemics into mainstream outlets to influence policy and public opinion. The emergence of C4SS was a sign that left libetarianism had grown up and wanted to be a player on the political stage, not simply a loose ring of blogs (though those were heady, fun days indeed).
I've written several essays for the Center. The first two pieces I wrote for them were among the hardest writing I've ever done in my life. It turns out that writing for the general public outside the normal cliches of politics has very, very little in common with writing for an expressly radical audience. Couple that with the rules that guide newspaper publication, such as word counts, an emphasis on very accessible diction, and conforming to certain reading levels, and suddenly writing from the heart transforms into a kind of eristic crossword puzzle. However, the finished product was not only something of which I could be proud, but something that felt like an important, unique contribution to the conversation precisely because it was disciplined.
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!
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?