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Toward a Better Agitation

The libertarian has a better grasp of true class struggle, of overcoming state oppression, and of the conditions for social improvement.

"I endorse Austro Libertarian Magazine 100%" —Tom Woods

Toward a Better Agitation

The libertarian has a better grasp of true class struggle, of overcoming state oppression, and of the conditions for social improvement.
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I awoke to the obnoxious sound of a notification on my phone; an email, which informed that the new issue of Jacobin Magazine had been released. A dedicated reader and subscriber, because one must know thine enemy, I quickly opened it up and began my morning with the presence of the newest and freshest socialist strategies piercing through my cornea.

I do it so you don’t have to.

The issue was one mostly of strategy, of a case being made on behalf of a Bernieite political future. More generally, it was on what Bernie Sanders means to the socialist movement and how the spirit of his politics must be leveraged into the future to bring forth a better, more socialistic society.

Future articles will interact with the more interesting and intellectual content within the document. But for now, a few thoughts on Their Cause.

Embracing, of course, the neo-socialist agitation of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, they offer a reflective rejection of the social democracy that has proven itself futile against what they conceive to be the corporate domination of Washington that has infected not only the GOP (that’s a given), but also the Democratic Party. They point out a clear difference between Bernieism and the social democracy of Elizabeth Warren who, despite some socialist friendly rhetoric from time to time, is really just a soft Neoliberal (for the unaware, Neoliberalism is the meaningless scare word used by the left to oppose anyone to the right of where they stand).

Contra this social democracy, it is time to push head long, according to Jacobin and the far left, for democratic socialism. Warren is just not good enough– she contributes merely to the continuation of “reform capitalism,” an effort to tinker here and there with the more systematic problems of capitalist exploitation of the working class. No, instead of Warrenism, the time has come for Bernie Sanders and the true radicals.

Or, in their words:

Elizabeth Warren’s political tradition is the left edge of middle-class liberalism; Bernie Sanders hails from America’s socialist tradition. Don’t confuse the two.

But it’s not just merely the theory of their ideals that attracts the far left to Bernie– it’s not just how each conceive of what a better world would look like. It’s also baked into their respective strategies. Warren, they warn, is at heart a moderate; when push comes to shove (and it literally will, apparently) she will be happy to settle for any progress toward a more leftist centrism. Bernie, however, will push to the end. In this way, it’s not just about Bernie. It’s about the spirit of Bernie; what Bernie represents in the struggle against Western capitalism. Again, from Jacobin’s newest issue:

Imagine: President Sanders is sitting in the Oval Office, and the streets are thronged with climate change protesters. No longer is a steep carbon tax the most radical policy on offer — nationalizing fossil fuel companies has crept into the mainstream discussion. All things equal, we could expect Sanders to not just slide into the political space opened up, but to agitate for its further expansion to barnstorm around the country for transformative action, urging the movement on. A President Warren would certainly favor climate change legislation. But given her political proclivities, we could expect her to be less willing to galvanize a mass movement.

Their strategy, they correctly understand, must be radical. There’s no settling, no compromising with the other corporate-sponsored politicians of the right and center-right. Politics, in their view, needs a complete reconstruction– it needs to agitate as a mass movement storming Washington and weeding out the rich, the capitalists, the monied elite which seeks to profit at the expense of the working class. In order for the Capitalist Powers to be dismissed from society, we need a Washington run by the socialist masses. The takeover of the Federal government, the implementation of hundreds of Bernies and Ocasio-Cortezes is the path forward.

In one of the featured essays of the issue, A Plan to Win Socialism in America, there is a description of the ideal scenario:

The other scenario involves a working-class movement and its president going to war with Congress (not just the Republicans but most of the Democrats as well), the Supreme Court, and recalcitrant state legislatures; adopting a strategy of dissensus rather than consensus; and demanding that undemocratic obstacles to necessary social change are swept out of the way.

This necessarily means imagining our agenda on a federal level as involving more than just parliamentary action, and more than one electoral cycle. One key tool must be the use of appointments to federal positions and executive action to enable labor and social movement assertiveness. The Trump administration has showed that an executive branch alone can quickly reverse key policies of its predecessor. The incoming administration should do the same, while appointing radically pro-labor nominees to the National Labor Relations Board and Department of Labor, and similarly ambitious environmentalists to departments dealing with energy and climate change issues. The administration should immediately take all possible actions to regularize the status of undocumented immigrants and dismantle the internal enforcement machine.

The Libertarian Strategy

As I have discussed in numerous places before, it is a fool’s errand for us libertarians to pack our bags and fly to Washington for the Big Fight.

They are mobilizing to Washington– they are putting the full force of their passion against capitalism into the power of the central state; its legislature, its executive, and its judicial branches. To be clear, a complete socialist takeover of the power center of American society, is the precise method that was pursued, and achieved, by the Keynesian-Monetarist-Interventionist elite of the 20th century. Taking over governments has long been the means toward social domination– it is hard to dominate society on the market like that, because everything is voluntary. Businesses do not have subjects, they have customers. And so, those who saw an opportunity for power, social and economic, pursued power in the state. And they did it. They won.

Now it’s the socialists’ turn, allegedly.

But can the libertarian possibly win this battle? Hardly. How do the theoretical doctrines of ethics and economics overcome the passions of the Bumper Sticker class? Upon a quick reflection of the masses, we realize that they are prepared to vote themselves into the economic devastation that would be brought forth by the socialist plans.

Winning Washington is not where our focus should be. While we have a long way to go, the United States is too large, too disunited, too much in tension with itself to completely control from Washington, especially if there is a growing trend against “consent.”

The more we decentralize, the more we nullify, the more we secede… the more we can neuter the whip that the far left seeks to yield. Rather than fighting for Washington, a simple– or not so simple, I suppose– turning away will do far more damage to the socialist cause than throwing on the gloves and entering the ring. Politics is a popularity contest, and when you have the anti-rich foaming at the mouth to plunder the wealth of those who have produced the material world around us, it’s very difficult to rationally convince them to come back into the light.

In order to do this, we must agitate against the central state itself. We must convince those around us that the rich –qua their wealth alone– are not the enemy. The enemy is the state that directs resources away from their natural owners and into areas of production and consumption that have nothing to do with the actual preferences of consumers and investors on the market. The enemy is the state that tears apart families and communities and the natural and spontaneous order of a non-politicized society.

Under libertarian class analysis, the true oppression/victim distinction is between those who are members of the state, including net recipients of taxpayer money, on one side and those in the private sector on the other. That is where we need to take the agitation: Washington isn’t our hope because Washington is ripping us off.

Rather than lighting the torches and preparing for battle over control of the swamp, the libertarian ought to spread the word: decentralization is hot right now. Fake it ’til we make it.

Because eventually, the various communities and societies that are currently under the strong arm of the state will realize that socialism is nothing more than angst as public policy; it is nothing more than delusions of grandeur without a rational means to attain the ends it claims to seek.

It would be better to render the socialist takeover of Washington completely ineffective by virtue of its having little implementable power. Like high tax rates with so many loopholes that no one pays them (the true story of the high tax rates during the postwar era), we are open to an obnoxious agitator in Washington that has zero power over the localities and communities it seeks to dominate. Our method then, our strategy, is to ignore the central state en masse.

In the strategy essay of Hans Hoppe, we find the promise of decentralism described as such:

This implies that a central government cannot possibly enforce its legislative will, or perverted law, upon the entire population unless it finds widespread local support and cooperation in doing so. This becomes particularly obvious if one imagines a large number of free cities or villages as I described them before. It is practically impossible, manpower-wise, as well as from a public relations standpoint, to take over thousands of territorially widely dispersed localities and impose direct federal rule on them.

Without local enforcement, by compliant local authorities, the will of the central government is not much more than hot air. Yet this local support and cooperation is precisely what needs to be missing. To be sure, so long as the number of liberated communities is still small, matters seem to be somewhat dangerous. However, even during this initial phase in the liberation struggle, one can be quite confident.

It would appear to be prudent during this phase to avoid a direct confrontation with the central government and not openly denounce its authority or even abjure the realm. Rather, it seems advisable to engage in a policy of passive resistance and non-cooperation. One simply stops to help in the enforcement in each and every federal law. One assumes the following attitude: “Such are your rules, and you enforce them. I cannot hinder you, but I will not help you either, as my only obligation is to my local constituents.”

Consistently applied, no cooperation, no assistance whatsoever on any level, the central government’s power would be severely diminished or even evaporate. And in light of the general public opinion, it would appear highly unlikely that the federal government would dare to occupy a territory whose inhabitants did nothing else than trying to mind their own business. Waco, a tiny group of freaks, is one thing. But to occupy, or to wipe out a significantly large group of normal, accomplished, upstanding citizens is quite another, and quite a more difficult thing.

Once the number of implicitly seceded territories has reached a critical mass, and every success in one little location promotes and feeds on the next one, it will become inevitably further radicalized to a nationwide, municipalization movement, with explicitly secessionist local policies and openly and contemptuously displayed non-compliance with federal authority.

This is how we render the socialist movement ineffective over the long term. This is how we win. Washington is not the answer. Your neighbors are.

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CJay Engel

Creator and Editor of Austro Libertarian. Lives in Northern CA, runs several businesses, spends time with his family, and reads as much economics and political theory as possible.

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