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
- Name: Kevin Carson
- Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
C4SS Fundraiser: One More Day
As Director Brad Spangler says, if we don't raise enough money by the end of the First Quarter to pay our expenses through December 2010, "our operations are going to have to be cut back." I've already voluntarily cut back my writing pace as my part of an effort to scale back out output to fit our income. But my income from writing is occupying an increasingly important place as a source of livelihood for me right now, and I've cut back to about the minimum I can afford to get by on. I've been signed up for a $20 monthly subscription of my own, but if we don't settle into a reliable and consistent income stream soon I won't be able to keep paying $20 out of nothing.
So I'm watching the outcome of this fundraiser with interest.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Thaddeus Russell. A Renegade History of the United States
Unlike many dissident histories of the United States, which attempt to portray racial minorities, sexual subcultures and subordinate classes as “worthy victims” in terms of the social mores of the white middle class, Thaddeus Russell celebrates the kind of people that your parents may have warned you about: the low-down, no-count, not-respectable people. You know, the folks who “never amounted to anything”—and neither would you if you didn't steer clear of them.
Against the austere “republican virtue” of the “Founding Fathers” as we usually encounter them in public school American history classes, Russell juxtaposes the urban populations of the colonies and the taverns that served them. Those bluenose marble gods were obsessed with “license,” “luxury” and “degeneracy of manners” with good reason, if you look at the taverns that stood on just about every street corner in the towns of British America. There you could see the rabble kicking up their heels and drinking at just about any hour, see blacks and whites dancing (and “dancing”) together, and hear the f-word being shouted with wild abandon. To a large extent the sumptuary laws of the early republican period, with their goal of encouraging Spartan simplicity and self-control, were a social engineering experiment by “Founding Fathers” who regarded the population of their country with horror.
Russell works from a considerable scholarly apparatus on the topic of the artificiality of whiteness, and focuses in vivid detail on the ways of European ethnic minorities like the Irish and Italians before they were officially incorporated into the white race.
He prefers the “unworthy” to the “worthy” victim: freed slaves who didn't want to internalize the WASP work ethic, gays who didn't want to create respectable mirror-images of the monogamous heterosexual nuclear family, and blacks who didn't want to march quietly and decorously in suits with Dr. King.
Russell makes it clear he wouldn't like to live in a society composed mainly of the kind of people he celebrates—a sort of Hell's Kitchen writ large, as he sees it: “No one would be safe on the streets, chaos would reign, and garbage would never be collected.” But the Mrs. Grundys and Comstocks, the Carrie Nations, are “enemies of freedom.” If their instinct to regulate and “reform” weren't resisted, we'd be as miserable as Huck Finn in the Widow Douglas's drawing room. Even people who regard themselves as “conventional” and “middle class” enjoy a range of freedoms—freedoms that are part of what they now consider a normal lifestyle—that would never have existed without the constant struggle of the “no-counts” against respectability.
Throughout the book, Russell expresses a general distaste for social engineering and paternalism of all kinds. This comes through clearly in his picture of New Deal hero Rex Tugwell. Tugwell was fully immersed in the managerialist culture of the Progressive Era, eugenics and all, and lost himself in totalitarian utopias like those of H.G. Wells. He saw the planning regime instituted during WWI as an opportunity to turn the U.S. into “an industrial engineer's utopia.” His dream under FDR was to replace “the dead hand of competitive enterprise” with central planning, and turn America into a big factory.
Although Russell is a writer of broadly libertarian sensibilities, I was unable to pigeonhole him into any specific stereotyped libertarian orientation of right or left.
He expresses a generally friendly attitude toward the market (“...the market economy has always been a friend of renegades and an enemy of moral guardians.”). And he attacks left-wing criticisms of the “culture of consumption” (like Stuart Ewen's Captains of Consciousness) in the sort of language readers of this blog would normally associate with right-wing defenses of corporate capitalism at Mises.org. But he implicitly treats “market” as equivalent to “cash nexus” (for example, he contrasts “the market” to the subsistence lifestyle of isolated farmers who lived by self-provisioning and barter).
On the other hand Russell discusses workplace culture and work discipline in terms that are most decidedly not right-wing, making it abundantly clear his is not the kind of libertarian analysis that would appear at Mises.org. He describes, in the kind of friendly language we would normally associate with E.P. Thompson, the culture of “St. Monday” that wage employers found so objectionable in the eighteenth century. And he treats attempts by the Radical Republicans of the Reconstruction Era to overcome “shiftlessness” and impose a culture of “patient, honest work” on freed slaves as morally equivalent to the sumptuary laws of Revolutionary era bluenoses. Take, for example, this exhortation from Clinton Fisk's Plain Counsels for Freedmen:
Now free labor does not imply that you may perform your work irregularly, carelessly, and dishonestly; and that your employer must put up with it, and say nothing about it. When you were a slave, it may have been your habit to do just as little as you could to avoid the lash. But now that you are free, you should be actuated by a more noble principle than fear.
Russell's treatment of Freedmen's Bureau propaganda is quite similar to—say—E. P. Thompson's treatment of Wesleyanism in The Making of the English Working Class. And the Freedmen's Bureau writers for whom he reserves such mockery sound almost exactly like Puritan commentators complaining of the large number of holy days celebrated by English peasants, or Methodists complaining about “St. Monday.”
Perhaps more suggestive, he equates such calls, in language very much comparable to his attacks on the cultural Left's criticisms of the “culture of consumption,” as an attempt to impose bourgeois sensibilities on people who value leisure and autonomy. He argues, in response to such attempts to inculcate the “work ethic,” that there is “nothing natural about a life devoted to labor.” And he celebrates Freemen's resistance to attempts to impose work discipline. For example one northerner managing a confiscated plantation, in attempting to impose northern ideas of work discipline on black sharecroppers, was thwarted by their demands to—as they did under the old owner—“take their guns into the field and stop their work whenever a game animal happened by.” Russell also celebrates both organized strikes and informal work stoppages—simply taking a holiday when they considered it necessary for their health—against employers by freedmen all over the South. Likewise the wildcat strikes during WWII, which were generally in response to speedups and mandatory overtime.
The same is true of his treatment of the white working class's resistance to the imposition of work discipline in the early days of the factory system. “When the first factories were built, with their regimented work rules and long hours, many of the white people employed in them proved to be terrible workers.” Russell writes, in a clearly favorable tone, of the high rates of turnover by workers discharged for acts of petty disobedience in a New England textile mill, and of attempts to institute an Americanized version of “St. Monday.”
It's clear, also, that Russell is no conventional right-wing defender of the prerogatives of employers (“after all, you chose to work there!”) of the sort that you typically see in mainstream “libertarian” circles, from the fact that he takes the Freedmen's side in attempts by employers to mandate regularizing their slave marriages as a condition of employment.
I think Russell, in rejecting left-wing analysis of the “culture of consumption,” throws the baby out with the bathwater. In stressing the left-wing critics' areas of commonality with bourgeois paternalism and prudery, he neglects the extent to which the rise of the “culture of consumption” was itself part of a deliberate strategy of imposing work discipline by corporate capitalist elites. Capitalist ideologues of the post-WWI period, in their praise for the effects of consumer culture on the working class, used language very much like that of their counterparts two hundred years earlier who proposed the Enclosures as a remedy for “Saint Monday.” It's ironic that Russell, who celebrates American workers' choice of leisure over work and attacks left-wing critics of mass consumption for their alleged “elitism,” ignores the relationship between the two issues. Corporate elites of that period deliberately and explicitly promoted a mass consumption economy as a way of preventing the choice of leisure over work, and undertook a project of cultural engineering to equate the consumption of store-bought goods with “Americanism” and “respectability” and to equate homemade with “old-fashioned” and “rural.”
Although Russell repeatedly alludes to arguments in writings like Captains of Consciousness, that the culture of consumption was imposed from above, he never addresses any of the actual evidence presented in them. The paper trail of commentary by the propertied classes, expressing their desire to impose work discipline through “easy monthly payments,” is as voluminous as that of Enclosure advocates two centuries before.
Although Ewen et al no doubt had their puritanical side, they also had a great deal to say about consumerism as an instrument of social control of the very sort that Russell generally finds so abhorrent. In focusing so strongly on one aspect of their work at the expense of the other, I think he does them a disservice and overshoots into the same one-sided faux populism as the right-wingers at Mises.org. The left-wing critics of consumer culture have at least as much in common with Russell as they do with the bluenoses of the 1770s.
In celebrating the liberatory aspects of the consumer revolution, I believe Russell neglects the extent to which consumer culture undermined autonomy. Specifically, he neglects the extent to which the ratio of wage labor to a given unit of consumption is itself a contingent matter. To the extent that high costs of marketing and distribution, brand name differentiation, and planned obsolescence reflect a business model toward which the state artificially tipped the balance, they artificially inflate the costs of a given quality of life. Consider, for example, the quadrupled costs of brand-name package dry goods, compared to virtually identical generic bulk goods, as described by Ralph Borsodi in The Distribution Age.
In dismissing criticisms of the culture of consumption for their alleged puritanism or elitism, Russell neglects the extent to which increased dependence on wage labor for a higher volume of waste consumption also reduces the bargaining power and increases the precarity of working class life. It's a hell of a lot harder to engage in spontaneous work stoppages of take off for Saint Monday, when you're one paycheck away from being evicted or having the repo man take your car and washing machine.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Sean Gabb. The Churchill Memorandum
Although I don't write about it much, I'm an alternate history geek.
I've got a whole shelf of them, ranked according to what genre fans call the "Point of Divergence" (POD). Among my favorites are Harold Waldrop's Roll Them Bones, which starts from the premise that Rome lost the Second Punic War and Mother Carthage inherited the Hellenistic culture of the East, and Poul Anderson's short story "In the House of Sorrows," which posits that Jerusalem fell to Sennacherib and that the fall of Rome and the Dark Ages occurred without the Church to preserve classical culture and literacy.
My favorite of all time is probably Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch. In that story our own timeline is the result of historical engineering, undertaken by scientists from the original timeline in order to avert the catastrophe in which their history culminated. In the original timeline, Columbus' life's work was traveling among the royal courts of Christendom whipping up support for a new Crusade to smash the power of the Turk and liberate Constantinople and Jerusalem.
With the discovery of the New World delayed by almost a century, a Mesoamerican people managed to supplant the Aztecs (much as the Persians did the Medes) and reinvigorate their dying empire. They expanded to incorporate a people far to the northwest whose smiths were quickly advancing from copper smelting to working with iron, and another people on the Caribbean coast who were developing the first true ships built on a keel. Equipped with firearms and gunpowder, whose secrets they tortured out of the first shipwrecked Portuguese crews.
But the most popular points of divergence, by far, are the American Civil War and World War II. The Churchill Memorandum, by Libertarian Alliance Director Sean Gabb, falls under the second heading. In his alternate timeline, Hitler died in a car wreck in the Spring of 1939 and was succeeded by Goehring.
Goehring quickly instituted a revisionist version of National Socialism. Among the more unlikely "revisions" was the announcement that the general hostility toward the Jews was all a "misunderstanding," and that National Socialism properly understood opposed only the big international financiers -- who were no longer a threat in any case.
During the Polish crisis Goehring and Chamberlain sewed up a stable peace which amounted to a de facto condominium between Germany and the British Empire. The pact guaranteed the independence of France and the Low Countries, in return for a free hand in Eastern Europe. Stalinist Russia and Japan, as second-rate powers, rounded out the balance.
The main unknown was the United States, which the Germans feared would tip the balance toward the British Empire. Hence the Chamberlain-Goehring agreement included a secret codicil, key to the cloak-and-dagger plot, which guaranteed geopolitical stability by removing America as an independent force in world politics. The British arranged the assassination of FDR, followed by a succession of other presidential assassinations, finally resulting in a coup which established a sort of deranged fascist regime under Harry Anslinger (just Google the name). America at the time of the story's setting was an authoritarian hellhole, completely withdrawn from the rest of the world.
At the time of the setting, twenty years after the POD in 1959, Nazi Germany's government pursues what we would regard as a neoliberal agenda, with Mises and Hayek dominating the Cabinet. Britain is under a Conservative government, with what would be regarded as relative economic freedom in conventional politics (although without such obviously central prerequisites to genuine economic freedom as a land reform based on thoroughgoing attention to the principle of justice in acquisition). As a result, technology has advanced at a much faster rate in the Empire than it did in our timeline. Casette recorders and cheap home energy generators are common, and electric cars have mostly replaced the IC engine. That old alt hist standby the airship makes its appearance as the primary means of long-distance travel -- quite plausible, given the unlikelihood that jumbo jets would ever have come into existence absent a superpower arms race. Germany is a sponsor of the Jewish Free State in Palestine against Britain's protectorates in the Arab world.
The plot centers on a scheme by Harold MacMillan and Communist Party chief Michael Foote to track down and publicize the Churchill Memorandum, and thereby expose the secret skullduggery between Goehring and Chamberlain which is at the foundation of the geopolitical order. Their hope is that public outrage in Britain will lead to a rupture with Germany, that a revanchist movement in America will lead it to reenter world politics on the side of the new Labour coalition, and that Britain will be thrown into the arms of Soviet Russia. With the British war against Germany that is likely to ensue, in alliance with Russia and America, MacMillan and Foote intend to restore the "progressive" course of history which was thwarted by Chamberlain.
I've had my issues with Dr. Gabb in the past over his view of the beneficence of the British Empire. Frankly, if our only choice is between benevolent British imperialism and the kind of "liberation" promoted by American Cold War policy, it's a pretty dismal prospect.
But what I find especially appealing about the story -- aside from an afficionado's curiosity about how an alternate timeline turns out -- is its treatment of power. There really are no good guys. The world order enforced by London, no matter how much less of an evil Gabb considers it, is built on betrayal and murder. Chamberlain removed America as an inconvenience, in the process handing over its entire population to totalitarian rule, as casually as most of us would swat a mosquito.
Perhaps most intriguing is the way that, with all the major actors and world powers reshuffled like the bits of colored paper in a kaleidoscope, the lines of political power automatically link them together in the same way that an arc of electricity in a lightning bolt follows the shortest path. In a radically different world, with radically different alignments, political leaders and states nevertheless gravitate toward power just as water flows downhill. This is a universal law of history that seems to hold regardless of which specific figures are in power, so long as power exists at all. So long as political power exists, it will be abused by those who hold it in the interest of aggrandizing their own power.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
We've got about a week left in the current fundraiser, and are just halfway to meeting our target of paying for all writing and other services performed for C4SS through the end of 2010. That means we still need to collect almost $1900 in the coming week to meet the goal.
C4SS readers and supporters have done an amazing job kicking in so far, but we're coming down to the wire. If you value the content we produce, please consider contributing.
Thanks to all who have contributed, and thanks also to those who contribute in the coming days.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Friday, March 11, 2011
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Property is Theft! A Pierre-Joseph Proudhon Reader...
From Iain McKay, principal author of the standard anarchist educational resource An Anarchist FAQ, comes Property is Theft! A Pierre-Joseph Proudhon Anthology. Besides replacing Stewart Edwards' Selected Writings as the definitive Proudhon reader after several decades, it is clearly superior to Edwards' collection. First, instead of Edwards' unsatisfactory approach of compiling snippets of text under subject headings in a sort of Bartlett's Quotations format, McKay's anthology provides complete digests of Proudhon's texts with important passages in unbroken form. Second, this collection includes a wide variety of new texts, many of them translated especially for the present effort. This new anthology may well serve as the definitive reference source for as long as Selected Writings did. This should be cause for excitement and eager anticipation among Proudhon enthusiasts everywhere.
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
Monday, March 07, 2011
We've already got our monthly budget back down to under $2,000, which is roughly what it was before we started falling increasingly further behind on our fundraising goals from one month to the next. As I announced earlier, I've already scaled back my own writing output (from three to two columns a week and from four to two research papers a year) with a view to bringing our activities into line with what people are willing to contribute.
Speaking just for myself, and not for C4SS, it looks like our operations began to exceed people's willingness to contribute in the second half of last year. The present scaled-back level of expenses is probably about what contributions will cover for the time being. So if we can just get through the backlog of unpaid expenses -- with your help -- I think we can get back to running in the black on a steady basis. So please, if you value what we do and have the means and inclination, please give by clicking the widget on any page at C4SS.org.]
Dear Supporters of the Center for a Stateless Society,
Will you please help us keep the Center going? During the current fundraiser, donations have not come in at a pace that can meet our goal by the end of March. That goal was set in order to get us in the financial position we need to be shooting for. We’re revising that goal downward, pushing January pay expenses forward to the next quarterly fundraiser and seeking to build less of a financial reserve.
I just got done paying C4SS staff for all remaining pay that was due for the month of November 2010. What remains, what needs to be covered by the end of this month, are our labor costs for the month of December 2010.
By the end of the first quarter of 2011, I want to get everybody paid for work they performed in 2010. My thoughts are that falling any further behind than that on pay is just simply not right. Either we can accomplish that or drastic cutbacks in our operations will have to be considered.
Research Associate: Carson — $400 (3 weekly articles + 1/3 of 1 quarterly study)
News Analyst: Worden — $200 (2 weekly articles)
News Analyst: D’Amato — $300 (3 weekly articles)
Social Media Specialist: Litz — $320
Media Coordinator: Knapp — $640
Director: Spangler — $120
We also have a domain renewal coming up and we ought to shoot for at least an additional $200, both just to have on hand and as a start on raising money to cover January 2011 pay.
So, I’ve added $2200 to the amount showing that we’ve raised so far on our fundraising widget and made that total our new, revised goal that we basically MUST meet by the end of March.
$1,445 + $2,200 = $3645 [GOAL]
In the three weeks remaining in March, can we raise that $2,200? I believe so.
Please support our work. Click on the “Contribute!” button in the fundraising widget you’ll find on any page of our web site.
Director, Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS)