Wednesday, May 22, 2013


This post is inspired by Andrew Pollack's article in Socialist Action (SA) about "autonomous horizontalism." The article is first in a two-part series critiquing Marina Sitrin, who Pollack describes as "one of the most prolific, visible and eloquent theorists of 'horizonalism' and 'autonomy'." I, being out of the Leftist loop, had never heard of her before, but I have now resolved to read one of her books.

Dr. Sitrin (Ph.D., Stony Brook, in Global Sociology (!?)) has a beautiful webpage (linked above), where the tagline reads "dreaming the impossible." Now that is certainly true, for there is nothing realistic in anything she posts. As practical politics it is all nonsense, and making fun of her is way too easy. That's precisely what Mr. Pollack does.

So I don't know what "autonomous horizontalism" really is, but it comes with a wonderful slogan, borrowed from the Zapatistas: From below, and to the Left. To me it sounds like anarchism puffed up in academic lingo. The core thesis, according to Pollack, is that revolution is OK, but the participants should never take state power. I suppose power corrupts, but as Pollack points out, it's really difficult to visualize the end game without it.

The anarchist's dream, which as a Tea Partier I sympathize with, is that government is evil, and any form of state power is an infringement on liberty. It is precisely this sentiment that leads the Tea Party to advocate for limited, constitutional government. Liberty and the constitution are, in our view, inextricably linked--the constitution was written to prevent tyranny, including the tyranny of the majority. For example, the Bill of Rights are all statements of things that congress cannot do, even by unanimous vote.

Two things separate the Tea Party from impossible dreamers represented by Dr. Sitrin. One is we recognize that government is necessary--an evil necessity to be sure, but very necessary. Countries without governments are not places where you or I would want to live: Somalia, Syria, Central African Republic. Where government fails it is replaced not by impossible dreamers, but instead by street gangs. In existing anarchic societies, people are totally dependent on kin, tribe and neighbors. Secular society is impossible.

The second difference between us and anarchists is the latter regard corporations as evil. In a word, they buy the Marxist myth: we're poor because the rich people stole all the money. Tea Partiers are smart enough to understand that's not true--rich people (excepting crony capitalists or other instances where government extorts money by force) created wealth. Bill Gates made us all richer by enabling the personal computer. Dr. Sitrin depends as much as I do on the Google Guys. These people didn't steal money--they created it. Ayn Rand describes it quite correctly.

There are people who live "off the grid," and as a matter of personal pride don't participate in our technological society. The Amish are like that--they've never paid a cent to Mr. Gates, or even to the electric company. But the Amish are nevertheless forced to pay taxes--government has a power of coercion that even the largest corporation lacks. Corporations make us richer--government makes us poorer. Dr. Sitrin has it half wrong.

While Dr. Sitrin admits to being an impossible dreamer, Mr. Pollack asserts something he thinks is "reality." In reality, his reality isn't any more real than Dr. Sitrin's. The example he gives is revealing:
As I write this, teachers in Greece are preparing for a strike tomorrow (Tuesday, May 14), likely to be followed by another strike on the 17th, and the distinct possibility of solidarity strikes on both days. The government has responded by threatening to impose—for the third time this year—“mobilization” orders, in essence breaking the strike by enrolling all teachers overnight into the military, AND thus making it “illegal” for them to walk off their jobs.
Mr. Pollack suggests that the teachers should take state power--his view of a realistic solution. But it won't work any more than Dr. Sitrin's impossible dream. The teachers are government employees, i.e., they live off the taxpayer. They create no wealth--instead they consume it. The money they earn is confiscated by force from the people who pay taxes. Now the problem is that the taxpayer in Greece--and by extension, the government--is broke. There is no more money. The teachers can riot and scream obscenities at the Troika and break piggy banks all they want, but they still won't get paid.

Their cause is completely lost. Mr. Pollack is just as much an impossible dreamer as Dr. Sitrin. He believes money can be created out of thin air if you just throw a big enough temper tantrum.

There are some fundamental things on which Dr. Sitrin and I disagree--that's why she's a Leftist and I'm a Republican. But on some deeper, moral level, we agree. We both believe that individual liberty is the touchstone for a humane society. We disagree in our assessment of the current situation, and we disagree on what tools to use to make the world better, but I think we both subscribe to the same fundamental concept of liberty. Right and Left we may be, but we're nevertheless distant cousins.

Not so with Mr. Pollack. He doesn't believe in liberty at all. He calls for the dictatorship of the proletariat, which (though he will deny this) will involve the mass murder of millions of people, certainly including both Dr. Sitrin and me. Accordingly he sympathizes with governments in North Korea and Cuba, calling both a step forward for human progress. I'm sure Dr. Sitrin and I agree about North Korea (though she does seem to be a bit fuzzy on Cuba).

So is it a surprise that SA will devote numerous articles criticizing "autonomous horizontalism"? Given the honest unreality of the anarchist project, why do they care? They care because anarchism has become the Leftist movement of the day. It still subscribes to the Marxist meme (we're poor because the rich people stole all the money), but it rejects Leninism in all it's vile forms. Gone are the useless vanguard parties, gone is the obsolete concept of "democratic centralism," gone is the support for regimes like North Korea or Zimbabwe, gone is the evil "dictatorship of the proletariat" language. In other words, for all it's fairy tales, anarchism is socialism for the modern age.

This is totally consistent with the way the modern economy is increasingly organized. Economies of scale are getting smaller and smaller. Big institutions--from car manufacturers to state universities to the federal government--provide less and less added value. It is now possible for individuals and small groups of individuals to generate huge amounts of wealth--witness Google and Facebook. Manufacturing, education, and health care are rapidly evolving into cottage industries, connected by the Internet and governed by the "invisible hand" market.

Leninists--here represented by Mr. Pollack--subscribe to the biggest fairy tale of all. They believe that everything under the sun can be run bureaucratically from some Central Plan. They're for Jack Barnes--Master Of The Universe.

That is not a winning program.

Further Reading:

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