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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Pinkertons for the New Gilded Age

Jason Miller has an informative post on the Blackwater mercenaries at UnCapitalist Journal.

In a time that is roughly comparable to that of the Gilded Age, corporations and the wealthy elite in the United States revel in their virtually unparalleled power and wealth. Labor unions, whose membership peaked at 35% of the hourly wage force in the 1950's, now comprise less than 10% of the US work force. The wealth gap continues to widen to devastating proportions as the middle class slowly disappears. Statistically, unemployment is relatively low, but many of those who are working are under-employed or working multiple jobs just to make ends meet. As the wealthy elite continue to tighten the screws by raising regressive taxes and lowering progressive taxes, lowering wages and benefits for the working class, off-shoring jobs, and cutting social programs, the threat of riots and social unrest becomes real. Hence the Bush Regime's moves to lay the foundation for declaring martial law and the rising fortunes of companies providing private military forces, like Blackwater.

Blackwater provides an interesting solution to the Bush Regime’s dilemma in satiating its desire to employ martial law covertly. Despite their Social Darwinism, America’s leaders prefer to maintain the illusion of "democracy and freedom" to keep the masses pacified. Just as they did in New Orleans, the federal government can now utilize the paramilitary employees of a company such as Blackwater to replace the overt presence of the US military. Rumsfeld, Chertoff, and company demonstrated that they can deploy a domestic military presence “under the radar”, enabling them to side-step potential public backlash and legal challenges.

Of course, the regular military's always there for backup (helpful advice to the occupied populace of NOLA, or any future American city under privatized martial law: don't off any Blackwater robocops if you're allergic to white phosporous).

Blackwater mercs are heavily recruited from Navy Seals, Marine recon, and the like. There are even some elite veterans from Pinochet's armed forces. Miller didn't mention the Atlacatl Battalion, but surely they wouldn't neglect such a reservoir of expertise. Makes you wonder why Blackwater doesn't just have its people trained at the School of the Americas, and cut out the middleman.


Blogger Paul said...

Posts like these are why I would never consider myself a free-market booster, Kevin. God forbid the truly elite fighters around the world be hired to take anti-capitalists out (not that it probably hasn't been going on since the dawn of time).

January 04, 2006 3:07 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

But please remember, Paul, that without the state's enforcement of special privilege, there wouldn't be great concentrations of wealth to hire such thugs in the first place.

January 04, 2006 3:59 PM  
Blogger colorless green ideas said...

ok, here's why i am only a part-time libertarian (the other part is spent as a progressive):

"without the state's enforcement of special privilege, there wouldn't be great concentrations of wealth to hire such thugs in the first place"

this statement, which is a basic anarchist/libertarian (the non-vulgar kind) tautology, certainly makes sense, but it leaves out an assumption, basically it should say this:

"without the state's enforcement of special privilege, there wouldn't be great concentrations of wealth ... and it would be impossible for another institution/entity/individual/etc to fill the void, absent the state, enforcing special privilege in a different way"

that's it, so if there's no state then there's automagically no equivalent body, and no possibility for the creation of such an illegitimate beast?
that's where i check out. certainly throughout history the state has colluded with powerful interests to rig the game against the common people, but equally certainly warlords, and other despots, without the benefit of a "state" (just large armies) have done the same. i think there is some truth to the cliche "might makes right", however immoral that is, which is why we grant the state a monopoly on "might".

the idealist in me still cherishes the thought of a libertarian society, but the pragmatist side is more interested in a progressive state.

January 04, 2006 5:37 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

Good point, CGI -- the last thing I would like to see is the kind of arsenal that our military possesses in private hands. Individuals can have all sorts of wacky reasons for killing others, but at least with the military there are checks and balances of some sort. For that reason I come down on your side of the argument.

For example, those who know more than me about the following are encouraged to comment/correct as necessary, but it seemed to me Yugoslavia was better off under Communist Tito where he obliged everyone to play nice with each other. Similarly, many women could have been saved the experience of having acid thrown in their faces had the Soviets defeated the Taliban Afghanis.

Kevin -

You also make a good point, but before that privilege becomes eroded you will see these same thugs be employed to ensure that will never happen. I remember a while back you had a Chomsky-related post on the futility of counting on the state to minimize itself, but all that might that CGI talked about will still be there; it will be used to either promote/defend the society you believe in or destroy/prevent it. For that reason I have the sneaky suspicion that all these changes will ultimately be brought about by better leadership, as opposed to whatever nonviolent non-statist methods the left-libertarians believe.

January 04, 2006 7:49 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

KC, your comment there at no. 2 only describes the situation actually obtaining in the modern world, not a general rule. In the past, whenever someone managed to get a vicious circle started he could use his control of force and of wealth synergistically, to boost his own position until he ran up against someone better at it than him. Of course, this was the beginning of how modern states emerged.

Here's a case in point: the latter stages of the Middle Ages, when cash economies were coming back, led to the rise of magnates ("over mighty subjects") who between them made the state itself less powerful; they used the system of Bastard Feudalism, otherwise known as Livery and Maintenance.

Depending on just where the balance of power fell, and how short term exploitative it was in various groups' interests to be, this could be either better or worse for ordinary people. By and large it was worse, but that is possibly because it was also a time of transition, which tends to encourage short term exploitation anyway.

Anyway, the point I want to make is that the privileges might not be from the state but maintained via the power base itself, by the magnates themselves, de facto whether de jure or not.

It might be worth your while reading up about "adulterous", i.e. unlicensed, castles of the earlier part of the Middle Ages. It was a sort of anarcho-libertarian approach, but only for people who had castles. The Sire de Coucy could defy ("diffidate") his liege lord and get away with it if he wanted to, but not everybody could.

January 05, 2006 12:37 AM  
Blogger Vache Folle said...

I might add that the increasing militarization of "civilian" police agencies renders posse comitatus all but moot.

It matters that it is the apparatus of the state that the elites employ for their benefit. The relative "legitimacy" of the state permits elites to wield force much more cheaply than would be required if they had to garner or compel the acquiescence of the people they seek to dominate. Moreover, the forces they use are paid for by the very people against whom they are deployed, whereas private retainers must be paid for out of the would be lord's own purse or booty.

The absence of a state that enforces and maintains systems of privilege would not necessarily entail the emergence of non-state institutions to perform the same function. The systems sustaining privilege are neither necessary nor inevitable

January 05, 2006 7:14 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


What you're talking about, though, sounds like a reemergence of the state under another name. When any individual or grouping is capable of controlling the use of force over a geographic area, and using what amounts to a taxing power to subsidize some at the expense of others, that's a state.

To the combined arguments of CGI and Paul, I'd argue that one of the reasons for a post-state society in the first place is a fiscal-input crisis by which the state can't appropriate enough resources to keep up with the subsidized consumption demands of a centralized state capitalist system. Couple that with the likelihood of popular disaffection from centralized power and the emergence of local alternative institutions, and it might be pretty hard for any would-be exploiter to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.


What you're describing under Bastard Feudalism, though, is essentially what I'd define as a state, without the legitimizing functions of a king.

January 05, 2006 7:26 AM  
Blogger Black Guile said...

Yes, there is the necessity of countervailing institutions to phase out, to supplant and eventually to prevent the State.

This is why, historically, anarcho-syndicalism has been the most successful (not saying much) wing of the anarchist movement. Broad-based, non-bureaucratic industrial unions willing to repel coercion by force if need be.

Similar bodies (the French 'mutuelles', radical worker self-help groups) were the inspiration for Proudhon's 'mutualism'. I can't quote chapter and verse of Tucker, but I think he had similar ideas in mind.

January 05, 2006 12:45 PM  
Blogger colorless green ideas said...


Yes well, that was entirely my point.. it matters not what you call it. it is my belief that in the absense of a legitimate state (ie: quasi-democratic institution, at least somewhat accountable to the people), an illegitimate state will fill the void, based on historical precedence.

this is why i view statments such as: "without the state's enforcement of special privilege, there wouldn't be great concentrations of wealth ... in the first place" to be pretty much meaningless.

as far as the humpty-dumpty post-state society vision goes, honestly, i share that with you, i guess i'm just less optimistic. first, those counter-institutions are not all that strong in most places. second, people seem to only be disaffected from centralized power when it is not helping them. third, given such a fiscal-input crisis, i see military lockdown as more likely than state collapse.

January 05, 2006 4:29 PM  

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