Respecting the "Left" in "Left Libertarian": C4SS and the Litz Affair

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!

Several members, including me, felt that this position did not incorporate our interests as local activists. We work with radical left organizations that have very material experiences with informants and police harrassment. Seeing friends from these groups go to jail is not unheard of. William Gillis's friend is getting railroaded. Here in Richmond we have a guy who was framed by the police because they got sick of his work with CopWatch. Occupy Richmond has been surrendering cell phones before entering planning meetings because local activists have been raided under suspicious conditions lately that imply surveillance is occurring. Security culture is on everybody's lips -- especially with Occupy raising stakes.

While I don't want to speculate too obscenely, I'd say there are also people in C4SS who come from more of an LP or philosophical libertarian background (I'm one of them). While many of them understand the above concerns, others refused to take them seriously. I think that's because this fight isn't on the ground, shoulder to shoulder, in the streets for them. Instead, it's abstract; it's theoretical. For some of them, debating the libertarian ethics of this -- was she really coerced? OK, let's have a pedantic debate about coercion! -- is the most material concern. That's because they're not wondering whether their activism will send the cops knocking down their door. This is all on the internet and is therefore inescapably ephemeral, as is the vaguely articulated strategy to turn this scenario around and use it against the government.

What people in the latter group need to realize is that the people in the former group have a lot at stake. When we are asked to abide a snitch in an organization that we promote to our activist friends -- many of whom are skeptical of us, not because of who we are so much as the label we attach to ourselves in solidarity with other left libertarians -- we can't help but wonder if, at the end of the day, the Center for a Stateless Society is another bourgeoisie, privileged libertarian group that only uses the rhetoric of the Left to appeal to it, not to join forces with it in common cause.

If the Center wants to incorporate itself into the larger leftist activist movement resisting corporate capitalism, the police state, etc. then it must consider the gravity of the struggle that's local and on the ground. It can't ask members who are working in their local communities to compromise themselves. What I found really troubling was not that people disagreed with me on how to handle Stacy, but that those local interests that matter to activists like me were so easily dismissed. It implies that this disconnect I've experienced for years between my politics online and my life offline has not been resolved. It implies that this is still abstract and theoretical for some of my friends at the Center.

If we can't reconcile our polemics with our actions then we cannot be effective and credible. I know my life has become much richer by working in my community and testing those ideas I have been exposed to by many of my online comrades. Let's ensure that the Center does not make itself irrelevant to our struggles and allies at home while it continues to do very fine work in the media.

Written on Saturday, May 12, 2012 | Tags: c4ss, snitches, activism, leftism