Friday, February 01, 2008

Train kept a-rollin', part 1 of ???

The whole "freedom train" analogy bugs Rad Geek, who offers some pretty convincing arguments (and follows up later). Pay particular attention to the comments -- they're chock full of definitional argumentation goodness.

I've been intending to respond myself, but the whole thing is like a can of worms inside a can of worms inside a ... well, like that. I may try to put all of this into a rigorously systematic format another time, but for now I'm just going to cover a few points, offer a few disorganized observations and counter-arguments, and see where things go.

First, the best distillation of Rad Geek's problems with the whole train analogy that I can come up with, for those who are too lazy or disinterested to read the whole thing (although I'm not sure why I should bother, since that probably means you're too lazy or disinterested to read this whole thing either):

The image of political factions hopping onto a train, and getting off at different stations, might work well enough if you’re talking about factions within a party all of whom agree on the legitimacy of an electoral process. ... But does the same image work for the relationship between minarchists and anarchists? I don’t think it does. ... Once you’ve reached minarchism, you’re at the end of the line, as far as a process of reform through electoral politics goes. ... what will happen on this ride is that once the train pulls into the minarchy station, the minarchists will get off the train -- and then they will try to block the tracks and threaten to open fire on the rest of us if we try to take the train any further towards the end of the line.

Some counter-arguments:

- Rad Geek is undoubtedly correct in predicting that the recently disembarked minarchists will block the tracks and threaten to open fire on the anarchists. What he leaves out is that when the train arrives at Minarchist Station, it will have done so by running through gauntlets of fire and over track-blockers the whole way. Yes, I realize that there's a qualitative difference between electoral progress toward a smaller, less powerful state and complete anarchist secession from that process. However, the threat of coercion isn't that qualitative difference. Threatened coercion by the statists (coup, revolution, mobilization of force on behalf of an actual or claimed electoral majority) is just as inherent in the former as it is in the latter.

- The potential of the "passenger car" on the train as a recruitment venue is worthy of consideration. Once again, I acknowledge the qualitative difference between minarchism (which stresses minimization of state coercion) and anarchism (which stresses abolition of state coercion by the simple expedient of abolishing the state itself). However, it seems to me that the minarchist is available for persuasion to anarchism to the extent that he distrusts the state. Persuasion is enabled by fraternization (for an historical example, see the defection of elements of the Russian Army and Navy to the side of the Soviets in 1917, largely due to the appeals of Red agitators in the ranks). Through fraternization with anarchists on the "freedom train" it is quite possible that many minarchists will have long since ceased to be minarchists by the time the train reaches the station they had originally considered their destination.

- To belabor and confuse the analogy, let's think of the train in a different way for a moment: Instead of passengers, let's think of the minarchists and anarchists as fuel. As the train hurtles down the tracks away from the total state and toward the minimal state, it gains speed -- and momentum -- so long as it has fuel to keep its engine turning over. I don't consider it impossible that the train will simply keep on going right past Minarchist Station ... but there has to be enough fuel to keep it accelerating in that direction.

- Now, to part of what Rad Geek really seems to be getting at: Perhaps the tracks just don't run to anarchotopia. Maybe they stop at minarchotopia. Maybe you can't get there from here by train. Okay, I can buy that. But I bet minarchotopia is a lot closer to anarchotopia than the total state is. I bet the fences that separate the two are lower and more easily clambered over or trampled.

To put that last a different way, it occurs to me that any approach to the abolition of the state and the establishment of a non-state society is going to involve a qualitative break with an existing system:

- The "freedom train" model follows a reformist progression as far as it will go, then makes the break versus a minimal state, probably of largely at least semi-sympathetic composition.

- The agorist model follows a counter-economic progression as far as it will go, then makes the break versus a weakened state, probably composed of a populace long since largely economically dissociated from that state.

- The Hegelian model follows a "let it get bad enough and wait -- in preparedness -- for the explosion" progression -- it lets the break happen on its own "under the weight of its own contradictions" timetable, then tries to keep the state from putting itself back together.

I find the third of these models the least attractive -- and the first two eminently compatible. Rad Geek seems to see it as an either-or proposition: Either anarchists work with minarchists, accepting the limitations inherent in doing so, or anarchists follow their own agenda and eschew cooperation with minarchists.

I don't see the either-or-ness of it. Any two anarchists can each take either one of those approaches. One anarchist can take both approaches at different times and in different contexts, as long as he's attentive to potential conflicts of party/organizational disciplines (for example, IWW membership and internal political party office or incompatible -- when I went back to the latter, I resigned the former).

Anyway, enough discussion fodder for now.

No, wait ... one more thing:

I've found it useful, and am cultivating the habit in myself, of differentiating between "government" and "the state." They aren't the same thing; anarchist oppose the latter, not necessarily the former. We can discuss why in comments, or perhaps in another post later on.

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