Authored Featured

An Anarchist Approach to Policy

To people who don’t know much about anarchism, it seems like a completely unrealistic worldview. To those people who know a little bit about anarchism, it is obvious that anarchism has a messaging problem. Anarchists have attempted to solve this problem in a variety of ways. Recently, one of those attempts has taken the form of a public relations think-tank called “Agency,” : Now, although Agency has recognized that part of the messaging problem is due to a lack of press releases that the media can refer to when writing about anarchists and their views, there is a bigger problem that comes from anarchism itself. That bigger problem is that it is difficult for anarchists to pitch their solutions to problems without coming off as hypocrites. And this bigger problem is what I will address in this article.

In this society, there’s really only a few ways that people organize solutions to various common problems that they identify. The two most popular solutions are to rely on the public and/or the private sector. In other words, when most people think about solving common problems, they think about passing laws or starting businesses. Sure, there are non-profits, NGOs, and other recognized forms of organization, but even those can usually be reduced to some form of public and/or private sector organizing. If you couldn’t guess, those two forms of organizing are anathema to anarchists!

However, anarchists have been no stranger to starting businesses. For all of our talk about the evils of capitalism, you would think that this would be a big no-no; but, anarchists have been able to justify their decisions to start businesses …at least to themselves. Some of the justifications come from how anarchist businesses are run, such as using a cooperative ownership and management model. But even that isn’t always the case. Sometimes, anarchists just preemptively call themselves out for doing the naughty capitalism and say something along the lines of, “although I’m an anarchist, this business is not part of my anarchist practice”. Ok, fine! But what about that other option? What about passing laws?

Well laws and other forms of government stuff isn’t totally foreign to anarchist history, but if you polled anarchists today I’m sure that anything involving laws would fair far worse than starting businesses. And I’m not going to argue that it should be any different. What I am going to argue though is that this attitude has put enormous constraints on the imaginations of anarchists and their abilities to relate anarchist goals to the everyday non-anarchist. What I am going to argue is that anarchists would be more effective in their messaging if they used the language of policy-making and related their goals to issues that are currently debated in the public sphere.

When we use the framework of “DIY” to discuss our goals, we’re certainly being more honest about how we want to achieve them. Ultimately, anarchism in practice takes the form of Do It Yourself solutions. But what exactly is it that makes organized “DIY” solutions any different from what small-scale, directly democratic governments would do to solve problems? Yes, there are a lot of things, but the main thing is that governments tax their subjects or borrow from other organizations – usually other governments – to generate their revenue. Then, after that initial, fundamental coercion they permit some form of deliberation over how to use that revenue. Anarchists wouldn’t be taxing anyone. But anarchists would indeed have something like revenue: the commons. And anarchists would be deliberating over how to use those commons. It would be voluntary, but it would still be deliberation and it would still take the form of something that looks a lot like policy proposals, even if nothing is put into writing.

So… it would make a lot of sense to at least pretend that as anarchists, the government’s revenue were our commons and as such we could offer our policy proposals regarding the common problems of the times. Why the fuck not? We don’t need to actually attempt to pass policy or vote for policies already proposed by others, but as far as messaging goes we would be able to convey what the fuck it is that we advocate if we used the debates that are already happening around us as a reference-point when interacting with non-anarchists. And the more realistic we could depict such policy proposals, the more difficult it would be for the person we’re talking to to say that we don’t have any real, practical ideas. Because the fact is, we do.

Let’s take just one example from today: the GOP is trying to ban municipal broadband. Now obviously as anarchists, this isn’t really the ballpark we’re playing in. But as anarchists, if we wanted to have internet in our imaginary “after the revolution” society, it would take the form of some sort of commons. Perhaps it would be even smaller in scale than the municipal level, but I assume that somewhere along the way our organizations would federate at a scale close to the municipal. And if all of that is true, then we could imagine that our policy position on this issue would be something like, “we need to municipally fund broadband internet.” The ISPs that were financed through said funding could be run cooperatively, without hierarchy and all the rest. The point being that even if we know this isn’t something that will happen and that we would be against it anyway because such funding would come from coercive government action, we’re still able to articulate what an anarchist solution would be in terms that anyone else having this debate would understand. And as a bonus, maybe that would have an impact on the debate… and maybe some of those businesses anarchists run would get some funding.

Someday, I would like to be able to argue issue-by-issue, point-by-point with the so-called mainstream about whatever the hot topic is in politics. Thinking in this way is helpful for coming up with things I could be doing right now, DIY-style, to make an impact on issues that are common to me and those I care about. At the very least, putting things in these terms demonstrates that even non-anarchists could be proposing policies that are more anarchistic… that put power more into the hands of those effected by whatever policy is being discussed.

What big issues would you propose anarchist policy solutions for? Immigration reform? Abortion? When you have to put it in large-scale and actionable terms, are anarchist proposals really as obvious as they would seem on the surface? Let’s take abortion. What if it was doctors that thought abortion was wrong; how would you address that as someone that wanted an abortion? How would you want your collective, affinity group, community, or whatever to handle the complexities of that issue? What about the manufacture and distribution of guns, or even more deadly arms? Answering questions like this in a policy-minded way helps one to confront the practical realities, even if one doesn’t have the power, the resources, or the skills themselves to carry out such solutions. It trains the imagination to focus on the world we live in and challenges us to think of solutions that require the least radical changes possible. And the less radical our proposals seem, the easier it is to see how they can be put into practice now.