Climbing Off The Bandwagon
by Wendy McElroy
From Volume 1 Number 3 - February 1983
Two politicians, one of whom is an anarchist, have more in common than two
anarchists, one of whom is a politician.
If I persuaded every anarchist in the Libertarian Party to drop out without demonstrating
to them a better method of expressing anarchism, it would not be a victory. As
a Voluntaryist, I not only want to convince them that politics breeds politics
but to induce them to explore and implement strategies consistent with libertarianism.
Because nonpolitical anarchists (excuse the redundancy) are often accused of
gratuitously sniping at the L.P. without offering constructive alternatives,
I want to explain why it is important for Voluntaryism, in its initial stages,
to attack the L.P.
Voluntaryists observe that politics will not bring freedom any more than violence
will bring peace. It is sadly necessary to stress this fact because so many anarchists
have lost sight of it. Anarchists are the natural constituency, the natural recruiting
ground, of Voluntaryism. It is assumed that, just as atheists reject God, anarchists
reject the State, and would welcome a framework of theory and strategy aimed
at delegitimizing and assaulting the system rather than working within it as
the system itself encourages them to do. But anarchists-the supposed bulwark
of opposition to the State-currently spend most of their time exhorting people
to vote and to run for office. Those anarchists who object that no one has the
right to political power, that the purpose of anarchism is to abolish the office,
not merely replace the face behind the desk, are waved aside as 'negative' or
'naive'. However committed these political anarchists are to a far away vision
of the stateless society, from their day-to-day actions there is no way to distinguish
them from any other power seekers.
As a Voluntaryist, I am in the almost comical position of telling anarchists
there is something fundamentally wrong with politics, of explaining that they
cannot be clear steady voices for anarchism while wearing a Clark For President
button in their lapels. It is only after I present a solid theoretical case for
Voluntaryism and answer objections that I can comfortably move on to the myriad
of strategies which will fill the void left by electoral politics. (These strategies
will be examined to an increasing degree in upcoming issues.)
Anarchists often claim to be in the L.P. simply because there is no other vehicle
for libertarianism. I am suspicious of this argument for two reasons. First,
the history of libertarianism and other radical movements is replete with examples
of effective non-political, non-violent strategy. Anyone acquainted with the
civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, Gandhianism, or the history of Nineteenth
Century libertarianism cannot honestly claim there is no other way. If they are
not familiar with these movements, they are speaking from ignorance and should
Secondly, I have too often heard the 'no alternative' argument used to dismiss
moral objections in an off-hand manner as though morality had nothing to do with
the real world. This attitude is the death of libertarianism. The strength of
libertarianism is precisely what is being dismissed; namely, that it is moral
and it is just and no strategic question should ever take precedence over this.
(Fortunately, there is no dichotomy between the moral and the strategic, for
strategy is essential. It is the method by which one translates abstract theory
into concrete action and feels the principles at work.)
But why reject politics altogether? Why not view it as simply another method
within a broad framework of strategy? The obvious response is because it is inconsistent
with libertarian principle, but there is another reason to emphasize the moral
rejection of politics. Politics is seductive. It offers the illusion of quick,
easy victory within a respectable vehicle. There is rousing campaign rhetoric,
straw hat enthusiasm and the enviable advantage of an objective measure of success
or failure - namely, a vote total. Anarchists who battle over an L.P. plank in
a platform that even most libertarians haven't read can go to bed feeling they
have accomplished something concrete. These respectable radicals can draw on
the feedback and hype accompanying electoral politics.
In contrast, many Voluntaryist strategies, such as education and non-violent
resistance, are long-term and demand courage and patience without always offering
an objective measure of short-term success. Voluntaryism has only two advantages:
it is correct and it actually can deliver what it promises. These long-term advantages
pale, however, beside the quick-kill benefits advertised by politics. Only by
fully realizing that politics and politicians are a moral/strategic deadend will
anarchists be induced to abandon the quick bandwagon route to liberty and settle
down for the long, hard fight it is going to be.
Of course some people still claim that, although the L.P. looks like a political
party, talks like a political party and acts like a political party, it is really
an educational vehicle. To them I offer the Rothbardian insight - follow the
money. When the intentions of an institution or individual are muddy, a sure
way to clear up the picture is to follow the cash flow and see what it says about
demonstrated preference. I challenge any anarchist to compare the fortune poured
into political goals with the money directed toward education and then to repeat
that the L.P. is educational. Follow the money.
Inevitably, the rejoinder is that politics is education.
But with what message? That libertarianism is just another political party?
How can anarchists oppose the State when the crux of their message is 'elect
my man to office'? This is hypocrisy. I will oppose the claim of a libertarian
to the office of senator as tenaciously as I oppose that of a democrat or a republican.
Anarchists must realize that a political party cannot educate people toward anarchism;
all it can do is destroy the meaning of anarchism.
I do not enjoy tearing people or institutions apart. It is because I understand
the necessity of breaking the anarchist fascination with politics that The Voluntaryist
editorials will repeat so often the same theme - government cannot bring freedom.
Politics cannot bring anarchism. Only by convincing people of this insight will
they be willing to adopt the long range strategies toward which Voluntaryism
No one said anarchism was going to be easy, only that it is right.