Neither Revolution Nor Reform

Anarchists like to regard revolution with a sort of spiritual reverence. We use phrases such as "after the revolution" like we're talking about the second coming of Christ. Someday, think we, we'll get to relive the brief moment in Spain, or the Paris Commune, or whatever.

On the other hand, mutualists specifically get a lot of shit about our rejection of the revolutionary notion. We believe in evolutionary change, not some precipitous event that changes all of our lives at once. For understandable reasons, that gets straw-maned as reformism. This is all wrong of course; mutualists (like all anarchists) are almost universally direct actionists. We believe in action of all sorts outside of the established political structure. That action just tends to take a different character than that of some of our comrades.

It seems to me that this idea finds something of an analogue in post-left anarchism, which, to the extent that it has economic concerns, tends to fall within the communist camp. Post leftists believe in achieving tangible results in the now, not long-term (probably after we're all dead) revolutionary ideas. We should not work for the revolution; the revolution should work for us. In Crimethinc's "Your Politics are Boring as Fuck", Nadia C. writes:

When you separate politics from the immediate, everyday experiences of individual men and women, it becomes completely irrelevant. Indeed, it becomes the private domain of wealthy, comfortable intellectuals, who can trouble themselves with such dreary, theoretical things.

Mutualists, who are probably seen as stuffy, boring leftists by Crimethinc & co. would have to strongly agree. We believe in taking meaningful action in here and now to better our lives, in constructing present-tense alternatives to the capitalist mode of production, and in working to tangibly dissolve social hierarchy. Mutualist strategy is about doing, not dreaming. We can't afford to wait around for a revolution that will never come any more than we can afford to ask for our freedom to be handed down by bureaucrats and politicians. The answer is neither revolution nor reform. The Invisible Molotov website says:

...for those of us interested in resisting and undermining coercive power, the issue is less how a truly freed market might one day improve our lives, but rather how the faint sparks of freedom in the market today are already working against hierarchy, banditry and the concentration of power...therefore our interest is not the market’s invisible hand, per se, but the invisible molotov it carries.

This is because mutualists have a well-placed focus on constructing alternatives to the institutions we despise in the here and now. We advocate the gradual buildup of a counter-cultural relations that will eventually replace capitalism, not some perfect storm that smashes the status quo in one go. That doesn't make us liberals, or reformists, or even necessarily pacifists (I certainly see a place for militancy in our movement). It makes us pragmatists. It gives us opportunities for outreach that involve people in a movement that doesn't ask for selfless sacrifice but, in fact, helps support them.

It also fits into the greater mutualist canon, which stands in vehement opposition to the artificial gigantism created by market distortion. We think corporate capitalism, mass production and what Kevin Carson calls "sloanism" are relics of the past, all but unnecessary except for the fact that they've been put on life support by the state. The status quo arrangement (or what right-libertarians naively call "corporatism") finds its advantage in collusion while the informal, small scale economy that mutualists see so much potential in finds advantage in flexibility, adaptability and quickness. This is David and Goliath, or, perhaps more appropriately, guerrilla warfare.

Then, why should mutualists focus on outdated, absolutist notions of social change like "revolution" or "reform"? Revolution is about winning or loosing. The former is very, very difficult. A new set of social relations are not created by a failed revolution, or if they are, it's a profound change for the worse. Similarly, little is generated from loosing an election. Fresh in our minds is the Bernie campaign, which cost something like a hundred and eighty million dollars, with an average donation of twenty-four bucks. Maybe Bernie was some sort of populist hero, but, at the end of the day, we put all of our eggs in one basket, and, when Trump won, the eggs got smashed. May as well have burned that cash for all the good it did.

Imagine, for a second, that we'd somehow managed to raise that kind of bank not for some political messiah, but for real, immediate, community focused initiatives for social betterment. It was crowd-sourced, after all. Once spread out, this pooling of our resources could have presented a legitimate threat to the owners of capital. Instead of throwing it all at one man, who eventually made it go up in smoke (sorry Bernie), we could have used it for all kinds of things, which would have profoundly stimulated the informal, stigmergic economy underlying the best parts of our lives. Instead, we ran a moderate and lost to a madman. If our goal was the immediate betterment of conditions, as pushed by posties, then the left continues to go about it in the worst ways possible.

Of course, there are disagreements between the post-left and mutualists. I, for one, think the anti-organizationalist ideal tends to fly in the face of acting to better our lives. Smashing a window, while worthwhile, doesn't improve my own life in the way that joining a union might, under the right conditions (read: not historical reenactment). In my view, organizations are necessary and useful tools even if some sort of skepticism is healthy. To act in the here in now to liberate ourselves, we must "build the new society in the shell of the old". Dual power is a damn good strategy when there's not yet a viable way to get rid of old institutions.

However, at least for myself, the reasons for becoming a mutualist are very post-leftist at least in spirit if not in content. There's a real framework here to move towards some kind of liberty. It's not about antiquated sloganeering or Live Action Roleplay masquerading as praxis. There's no vanguard party to supplicate myself to. Instead, there's a way out. If revolution comes, I'll pick up a gun, but until that day I'm going to look for alternatives.