“A dose of libertarianism would enhance our democracy” — and if my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle.

From the Department of Talking With The Taxman About Poetry:

A dose of libertarianism would enhance our democracy
Tony Moore
The Australian
October 5, 2009

Social democracy

In theory (according to Tony): “Social democracy ensures collective intervention in the marketplace to enhance structural equality and advance the full development of our potential as human beings”. In practice, social democracy is as social democracy does.


As for ‘libertarianism’, while its contemporary adherents may well “cultivate a sceptical attitude” to the state, its roots are in anarchism, and the amplification of that bad attit00d into a political philosophy seeking the overthrow or dismantling of ‘the state’.

On the origins of the term ‘libertarian’, see ‘150 years of Libertarian’, Anarchist Writers, December 11, 2008. On the origins of ‘social democracy’, see, ‘Radicals, Exiles and Socialist Beginnings’, Chapter 1, The Slow Burning Fuse: The lost history of the British Anarchists, John Quail (Paladin Books, London, 1978):

…One measure of the differences between the [Manhood Suffrage League, est.1875] and its predecessor [Democratic and Trades Alliance Association, est. 1874], however, lies in the more positive attitude to the Paris Commune which caused the League to come into being. Fairly advanced Radicals like Bradlaugh, for example, baulked at the ‘unconstitutional’ nature of the Commune. He was reported as saying in a speech that ‘The Commune asked for the recognition and consolidation of the Republic. But he denied their right to do it by force of arms ( … ).’ Radicals might be sickened at the slaughter – some 30,000 people were massacred when the Commune was crushed – but for them the Commune was not a heroic beginning of a new world. The Manhood Suffrage League thought differently. Kitz writes: ‘Freed from obstruction and opposition, we cordially cooperated with our foreign comrades in holding an international meeting at the Cleveland Hall to celebrate the Commune. It was a most enthusiastic demonstration and marked the beginning of the revival’ [i.e. of socialism]. A large number of English working men attended. But whether because of the incomplete commitment to revolution of the League or the pressure of new ventures, by 1877 Kitz was no longer secretary of the Manhood Suffrage League. He mentions no particular break in his memoirs, so it is likely that he retained a connection with it that gradually atrophied over the years. Certainly by 1877 Kitz was working for the formation of a specifically socialist, revolutionary and internationalist movement in London. The international element was important. As he says ‘the socialist movement in England owes its origins largely to the propagandist zeal of foreign workmen’. More specifically, they were German exiles. Kitz spoke fluent German and was in close contact with them. The Social Democratic Party was growing in Germany and was an increasingly influential example internationally. It should not be assumed, however, that ‘social democracy’ meant then what it means now. Kitz was committed to revolutionary rather than electoral action and by his use of the phrase he clearly meant a revolutionary democratic socialism. The distinction was between a total social democracy and a partial political democracy. At that time ‘social democracy’ was not reducible to parliamentary reformism.

See also : The Radical Tradition: A Study in Modern Revolutionary Thought, Richard Gombin (1979). On The Paris Commune, see : ‘Peter Kropotkin and People’s Uprisings: From the Paris Commune to Gwangju’, George Katsiaficas, 2002 (PDF).

Orstralian social democracy

In Australia in 2009, however, ‘social democracy’ — despite various rhetorical flourishes (see, for example, From wise counsel good works shall come, Greg Combet, Arena Magazine, December 2002) — is largely reducible to parliamentary reformism. Moore imagines a happy marriage between ‘social democracy’ and ‘libertarianism’ which: “[t]aken together… can promote alter[n]ative ways for us [to] re-imagine the old Westminster public service as a democratic commons more accountable to grassroots communities”. Sadly, “[m]any Australians, especially in traditional Labor areas, have lost faith in the capacity of government to deliver even the most basic services, and restoring faith in the public is a key challenge for the Left”.

At which point, I hope I’m excused my impertinence, but I feel compelled to add:

    • “Re-imagin[ing] the old Westminster public service as a democratic commons more accountable to grassroots communities” sounds rather like a recipe for a ‘democratic state’;
    • if many have lost faith in Labor, this may be a result of some experience of its policies;
    • “restoring faith in the public” is one thing — restoring faith in Labor, quite another.

In any case, according to Moore: “Wariness of the state has deep roots in the Western and Australian Left, though it has found less fertile ground in the ALP”.

Which — when you think about it, as I and others are cursed to do — kinda makes sense, especially given that the ALP is a political party whose explicit aim is to form governments.

As for the former, I’m unconvinced: ‘anti-statist’ perspectives certainly have roots in the ‘Western Left’, but on my reading, the Australian Left has, as a whole, taken a contrary view. Thus, while William Morris may have been “appalled by the Marxist and Fabian obsession with the state as the agent of reform or revolution” (and critical of the Webbs in particular), and while the IWW may have “advocated a syndicalist socialism based on unionism”[?], their hopes and aspirations were crushed by labourism on the one hand and Bolshevism/Communism on the other.

As for the rest of Moore’s account — which proceeds by way of the Sydney intellectual Left / the Push / the Libertarian Society / John Anderson; the sexual and cultural revolution; the critique of managerialism; state reformation under Whitlam (with BONUS! free education — dismantled under Dawkins) / and again under Hawke/Keating / privatisation/corporatisation of state services — it terminates in an appeal to the young.

Of sorts.

Thus “we on the Left” should make the state nicer: accountable, democratic, decentralised, open to “citizen participation”. By the same token, the ALP should be nicer too. In this respect, Moore notes that the “ALP does have a counter-tradition. Many of its founding generation were practical in the face of business indifference to their needs, and set up mutual building societies so they could borrow for a home, or co-operatives for the provision of food.”


Such social service institutions were controlled by members living locally rather than unseen bureaucrats or arrogant ministers in far-flung capitals. Just as Labor has come to appreciate the value of markets to economic prosperity, so too can it enlarge its concept of the commons beyond the old colonial idea of the crown, ministers and public service. Whereas government services such as schools and police in the US and Britain are often accountable to local communities through direct or municipal elections, in Australia the crown dispatched its officers from the centre to administer a people who could not be trusted. Here a shift to a republic becomes important as a means of enhancing democratic accountability and citizenship.

The Rudd government should build on the governance work of Carmen Lawrence and John Faulkner and accompany the campaign for a republic with democratic reforms to the operation of parliaments and quangos. Perhaps we should consider the election of public boards and significant local officials. At the very least the Left should debate alternatives to the bureaucratic state that would enhance our say over services that affect our lives.

The Left protests when ministers and officials favour business mates or cruelly lock up refugees, but many of us have a vested interest in the status quo. As compensation for its authoritarian streak, the state has become a generous benefactor to progressives, either employing us to manage its utilities and programs for the marginalised, or making everyone from artists to community groups and scholars jump through hoops of red tape in a scramble for the next grant. But the state is more tar baby than magic pudding, leaving a residue of compromise and passivity on those too dependent on its patronage.

Hmmm. Sounds a bit like ‘libertarian municipalism’ (see : Libertarian Municipalism: An Overview, Murray Bookchin, April 3, 1991). As with Bookchin’s brainchild, there’s a few problems with Moore’s approach.

Can you spot them all?

See also : Democratic Audit of Australia | The Museum of Australian Democracy | The Australian Centre For Fraternalism, Secret Societies and Mateship | The Life and Death of Democracy, John Keane, 2009 | The Society of the Different: Part 1: The Center of the World, Interview with Gustavo Esteva (September 6/7, 2005), In Motion Magazine. On forms of “syndicalist socialism based on unionism” (and anarchism), see : Still fanning the flames: An interview with Michael Schmidt and Lucien van der Walt (by kate), Revolution by the Book, October 15, 2009.

Bonus! Social Democracy For Dummies

Added Bonus!

Sorry to bother you,
Citizen taxman!
No thanks…
Don’t worry…
I’d rather stand.
I’ve come to see you
on a delicate matter;
The place
of the poet
in a worker’s land.
Along with
and land users
I’m taxable too,
and am bound by the law.
Your demand
for the half-year
is 500 roubles,
And for not filling forms – 25 more.
My labour’s
no different
from any other labour.
Examine these figures
of loss and gain,
The production
I have been facing,
The raw material
I had to obtain.
With the notion of “rhyme”
you’re acquainted, of course?
When a line of ours
ends with a word
like “plum”
In the next line but one
we repeat
the syllable
With some other word
that goes
A rhyme
is an IOU,
as you’d put it.
“Pay two lines later”
is the regulation.
So you seek
the small charge of inflexion, suffix
In the depleted till
of declensions,
You shove
a word
into a line of poetry
But it just won’t go –
you push it and it snaps.
Upon my honour,
Citizen taxman,
cost poets a pretty penny in cash.
As we poets see it,
a barrel
the rhyme is,
A barrel of dynamite,
the fuse is
each line.
The line starts smoking,
exploding the line is,
And the stanza
a city
Where to find rhymes,
in what tariff list,
That hit the bull’s eye
with never a failure?
a handful of them
still exist
Faraway somewhere
in Venezuela.
I have to scour
and tropical climes.
I flounder in debt,
I get advance payments.
My travel expenses
bear in mind.
Poetry –
all poetry –
is an exploration.
is just like mining radium.
To gain just a gram
you must labour a year.
Tons of lexicon ore
All for the sake of one precious word,
how searing
the heat of this word is
the smouldering
heap of waste.
There are the words
that go rousing, stirring
Millions of hearts
from age to age.
Of course,
there are different brands of poet.
Famed for sleight of hand
are quite a few.
Verses they pull,
like a conjuror,
Out of their own mouths –
and others’ too.
What can one say
of the poetry eunuchs?
They write
stolen lines in –
not turning a hair.
like that
is nothing unusual
In a country
where thieves are enough and to spare.
odes and verses
Which with rapt ovations
audiences greet
Will go down
in history
as overhead charges
For the achievements
of a few of us –
two or three.
It takes
quite a time,
to get to know people,
Smoke many a packets of cigarettes
Till you raise
that wonderful word
you’re needing
From the deep artesian
folk wells.
the rate of tax
grows less.
that wheel-zero
off the total due.
I pay one rouble 90
for a hundred cigarettes
And one rouble 60
for the salt I consume.
I see your form
there’s a host of questions:
“travelled abroad?
Or spent all the time here?”
What if
I’ve run down
a dozen Pegasuses
In the course of
fifteen years?!
You want to know
how many servants
I’m keeping,
What houses?
My special case please observe:
do I stand
if I lead people
And simultaneously
the people serve?
The class
with the words we utter
And we
push the pen.
The soul-machine
wears out,
begins to splutter.
They tell us:
“Your place
is on the shelf.”
There’s ever less love,
less bold innovation,
strikes my forehead
a running blow.
There comes
the most terrifying depreciation,
The depreciation
of heart and soul,
one day this sun
shall like a fattened hog in
A land rid of beggars
and cripples
Dead by the fence
have long
been rotting
Along with
ten or so
colleagues of mine.
Draw up
my posthumous balance-sheet!
I tell you –
upon this I’m ready to bet –
all the dealers and climbers
you see
I’ll be
a unique case –
hopelessly in debt.
Our duty is
to roar
like brass-throated sirens
In philistine fog
and in stormy weather.
fines in cash
and high interest
on sorrow,
The poet
is always
the Universe’s debtor.
And I
owe a debt
to the lights of Broadway,
A debt to you also,
Bagadady skies,
To the Red Army
and to Japan’s cherry blossom –
To all
about which
I had no time to write.
did I undertake
this burden?
With rhyme to shoot,
with meter anger to spark?
Your resurrection
the poet’s word is,
Your immortality,
Citizen clerk.
Read any line
a hundred years after
And it brings back the past,
as fast as a wink,
All will come back –
this day
with the taxman
With a glint of magic
and the reek of ink.
Come, you smug dweller in the present era,
Buy your rail ticket
to Eternity
the impact of verse
and distribute
All that I earn
over three hundred years!
Not only in this
lies the power of a poet,
That it’s you
future generations
will think about.
Oh no!
Today too
are the rhymes of a poet
A caress,
a slogan,
a bayonet,
a knout.
Five –
not five hundred –
roubles I’ll pay
You, Citizen taxman!
Delete every nought!
As of right
demanding a place
With workers
and peasants
of the poorest sort.
But if
you think
all I do is just press
Words other people use
into my service
come here,
let me give you my pen
And you
can yourselves
write your own verses!

~ ‘Talking With The Taxman About Poetry’, Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893–1930).

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
This entry was posted in Anarchism, Broken Windows, History, Poetry, State / Politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to “A dose of libertarianism would enhance our democracy” — and if my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle.

  1. Paul Justo says:

    NEWSFLASH! – Anarchists admit to achieving sweet f**k all –

    A frank revelation from the current issue of ‘Industrial Worker’ – the newsletter of the US based IWW


    “We latter-day Wobs (i.e. IWW members) glorify and fetishize organizing above all else, yet we have scarcely organized anybody or anything. For years our organizing efforts have mostly been complete failures, and those efforts that haven’t failed have generally been either window-dressing or business union-style service operations with virtually nothing to distinguish them as IWW shops.”

    As my old Granny used to say – “When you are in a hole, stop digging”.

    Usually a very boring read, it appears the only INDUSTRIAL WORKERS who are in the IWW are people who make cups of coffee. Is there such a thing as the ‘Coffee Making Industry’?

    There is also a hilarious interview with a German delegate to the IWW congress in Chicago.

    The USSR had propaganda of sledge hammer carrying steelworkers, maybe the anarchist image for the 21st century could be the coffee cup held aloft? Most people have never seen a sickle in real life anyway!

  2. @ndy says:

    1. While there are many anarchists in the IWW, it is not an anarchist organisation, and has never claimed to be.

    2. Jim Crutchfield’s article is about the importance of education, and what the IWW can do to encourage the development of critical thinking among workers; a faculty which, in his opinion, is noticeable by its absence. His first line reads “I’ve been thinking a lot about the three stars of the IWW constellation: Education, Organization and Emancipation”. In Jim’s view, there has been an over-emphasis upon ‘organization’ to the detriment of ‘education’; ’emancipation’ — that is, the overthrow of capitalism, and the institution of a new social order administered by workers via the ‘One Big Union’ — is conceived of as being the end result of this process.

    He concludes:

    I submit that we will never build up a successful, revolutionary, and fully democratic industrial union movement unless and until we educate ourselves and our fellow workers to understand what the problems are that make revolution necessary, to exercise our mental muscles and to rid ourselves of the bigotry, stupidity and ignorance that capitalist society forces upon us. I don’t mean that “we” need to teach “them” proper doctrines and enlightened attitudes—that’s bullshit and mind-control. I mean that we need to teach and train ourselves and the rest of our class to use our brains—to think critically, to judge ideologies skeptically, to be inventive and audacious in our strategies, to assess and understand the past and the present, and to develop realistic and rational plans for building a better future. We who have already come to some level of intelligence and joined the IWW need to rid ourselves of the New-Left nihilism, egoism, utopianism, and naive idealism that characterize so much of the discourse within the IWW today, and learn to think as free individuals within communities, basing our ideas and actions not on philosophical constructs or mental categories, but on a rational observation and deep understanding of the flowing, changing world around us.

    To that end, I propose that the IWW stop focusing single-mindedly on organizing here and now; not that we give up on organizing, but that for the next several years we devote the majority of our energies and resources to preparing the ground before we try to build the great edifice that is to be the One Big Union of All the Workers. If we fail to educate ourselves and the workers we want to organize, then the best we can hope for is to become a vanguard—an enlightened elite at the head of a mass of pure and simple, unthinking foot soldiers capable only of destroying the old society, instead of building a new and better one within the shell of the old. That has happened many times before, with disastrous results for humanity. More realistically, if we fail to focus on education, we’re just likely to remain what we are now—an irrelevant bunch of discontented misfits (I include myself in this description), full of thrilling words, but incapable of doing much besides fighting among ourselves and fooling trusting workers into staging little revolts that will only lose them their jobs and their union.

    We can organize all the workers of the world into One Big Union. But we can’t do it without first preparing the workers, including ourselves, for Organization and Emancipation. The key to that preparation is Education, and we have a tremendous amount of it to do before we can hope to reach the other two stars of our constellation. It’s time we got to work at it.

    3. With regards the occupational and industrial status of IWW members, I dunno. I’m not a member, and never have been. I do know a few individuals who have been members, however, and these include a checkout chick, a high school teacher, a housing worker, a musician, and a warehouse worker. Others have been labourers, writers, unemployed and students (and more besides). Like other workers, members of the IWW also appear to move from one occupation to another; that is, there is a relatively high degree of ‘labour mobility’ (sometimes also conceptualised in terms of the ‘precarity’ of labour).

    4. I think that, on one level, what Jim is alluding to is the question of ‘class consciousness’. I think he is correct in terms of noting the disparity between working-class culture as it existed in the US at the time of the IWW’s formation, and in the contemporary US. That is:

    The field in which they labored was much richer than what we’re faced with today: there was tremendous pressure among working-class families to get educated, especially among immigrant families; there were far fewer distractions; reading was encouraged and widespread; workers formed study groups and self-improvement societies; and Socialist propaganda was available everywhere. Hundreds of thousands of workers actually read Marx, as well as other socialist, anarchist, and otherwise radical writers. Today, workers are far more likely to read only the sports pages, or entertainment magazines, if they read at all.

    5. There have been enormous changes in labour composition in the industrialised societies of the West over the last 100 years — but I assume that you’re familiar with these, as well as why they might be germane.

  3. @ndy says:

    From the Department of A Dose of Libertinism Would Enhance Our Social Democracy:

    Union vote sinks into dirty tricks
    Michael Bachelard
    The Age
    November 15, 2009

    THE election campaign for the Health Services Union of Australia descended further into disrepute last week as the electoral commission confirmed rorting of the process by some candidates.

    The Sunday Age can confirm that one candidate, Jamie Martorana, has launched legal action to try to find out the author of an allegedly defamatory leaflet, posted to members last month, which linked him to sadomasochism and murder.

    That unauthorised leaflet used identical designs to a leaflet authorised by right-faction member Ray Collins for the lord mayor campaign last year.

    Mr Collins denied playing a role in producing the defamatory leaflet.

    The hard-fought HSUA election is a proxy battle for power within the Australian Labor Party between two rival right-wing groups. Each side is supported at a high level by Labor players, and each wants to gain power within the ALP using the HSUA’s affiliation to the party…

  4. Paul Justo says:

    “sadomasochism and murder”

    Anyone got a copy of the leaflet?

    Nice cartoon!

  5. Pingback: Union and Community Summer School 2010 | slackbastard

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