Nick’s Notes: This is one of the few pieces that didn’t make the final cut for my Abolish Work collection.
Kenyon was kind enough to let me publish it here instead.
Passive Resistance In Work Abolition
Malcolm X once said, “You can’t hate the roots of a tree and not hate the tree.” Here, he is referring to the ideas that a movement is based off of, and the movement itself. You cannot hate only the idea of African American Liberation, without hating African Americans themselves. The strength in the roots of this tree gives the rest of it strength. A tree’s firmly planted roots, along with its consistency in shape, are the two strengths most trees have. This is exactly the same when applied to groups and movements.
The strength of a movement relies on the root of their ideas, and the consistency of their shape. A movement needs strong ideas to base itself off of, and needs to base all further growth and expansion into the real world off of those ideas. A movement must also keep consistency and well roundedness. It seems that select individuals of all movements fall victim to inconsistency at some point. It is of utmost importance for us to illustrate that the defenders of work abolition are consistent in our ideas, and that Anti-Work is an idea that is standing tall and proud. Our consistency lies with our love and appreciation of passive resistance in work abolition, as opposed to active resistance or non-resistance.
Although Anti-Work is not inherently an anarchist movement, it is solidly backed by anarchist ideals. One writer that anarchism as a movement is well indebted to, Benjamin R. Tucker, talked about “invasion” and “aggression” that the state undertakes against individuals.
These invasions of individual liberty take many forms, from compulsory taxation, monopoly privilege granted to certain businesses, license requirements and other pesky laws. Tucker ran a periodical named “Liberty”, and compiled many articles into a publication named “Instead Of A Book, By A Man Too Busy To Write One”. It is from this source that I will explain Mr. Tucker’s position on resistance, and from there, I will connect it to the ideas of Anti-Work.
In “The Power Of Passive Resistance”, a section of his “book”, Mr. Tucker replies to the questions of an individual by the nickname of “Edgeworth”. Edgeworth is wondering how exactly the anarchists seek to starve out Uncle Sam, and prove that the state is illegitimate to the masses. Tucker explains the method of passive resistance through the use of an excellent analogy. He compares the situation to a battlefield, where one side gets his enemy to use up all their resources on a well defended location, and from there the defense strikes back with ease. It is the goal of anarchists not to give up their property or lives to the state under imprisonment, as that is a waste of resources. It is much smarter, and more justified, to let the state be, and mind our own peaceful desires for the time being.
This is passive resistance in its basic rundown. Resisting only when one is under the influence of invasion. This minority of individuals abiding by passive resistance, is the slow but steady way to defeat Uncle Sam. In another section, “The Irish Sit uation In 1881”, Tucker discusses active resistance compared to passive resistance, and it’s important to take note of his main idea. Ireland in 1881 was under oppression by rent and tax laws that invaded the liberty of thousands. Tucker points out that open revolution and terrorism would justify state oppression, and Ireland would be forever stuck under the British boot. Instead, the Land League embraced passive resistance and the movement almost freed the peasants from rent within a few months, until the leaders of the movement unfortunately gave in and denounced their movement after arrests.
Active resistance is too much resistance, too excited for the end goal to actually realize the situation at hand and act accordingly. Passive resistance is smart resistance, a method that gives the oppressor no justification of its invasive actions.
The Irish Land League fell victim to their own non-resistance. This ideal is exactly as it sounds, not resisting to invasion of liberty, as resistance may be violent at times. It is more of a universal rule, while passive resistance is a policy we wish to abide by, judging on a case-by-case basis whether resistance is necessary. We agree with the non-resistors that resistance is not always justified in bringing about change, but we disagree as to whether we should actually act out change. Non-resistors are willing to accept a trampling on their liberty, equally as much as the state is willing to do the trampling. Ideas are great, but actions speak louder than words.
Slamming the door on rent collectors was very successful at first in the Irish situation, as the landlords had no clue what to do. The state knew it couldn’t arrest everyone. The leaders of the Land League took a step back from the ground they had literally gained, and gave in to the privileged landlords as a plea of non-resistance. A consistent passive resistance policy would’ve achieved so much more, as it had done up until that point.
Non-resistance is not enough resistance, that only preaches change but lacks the means to bring it about in a practical way. Passive resistance is the sweet spot that falls perfectly in line with anarchism. It is up to the individual to defend herself from invasion when necessary. Resistance is a power to be reckoned with, and responsibility is inseparable from power. Passive resistance does not only apply to the state however, and you don’t have to be an anarchist to agree that passive resistance is an effective way of “sticking it to the man”, regardless of who that man is.
If we wish to reform work in some way, to improve conditions from faults and abuses, we need to look no further than the ideas of passive resistance.
Why should we oppose active resistance in work abolition?
First, I’d like to say strikes are an excellent method that unions bring to the table, although unfortunately many laws (including the “pro-union” Taft-Hartley Act) limit the extent to which we can implement strikes. Before these laws, we seen a much more active use of strikes, some of which were more actively aggressive than others. Notably, the Pullman Strike of 1894 resulted in riots and millions of dollars in damages.
Conservative unions like the American Federation of Labor even denounced the strike. Active resistance in labor reform has been shown to limit our potential for bringing about change, as sad as it may be. Promoting lazier methods of work and slacking off on the job, are things that clearly need to be done in ways that don’t deliberately get us fired.
Additionally, quitting your job for the sake of being lazy is really just an aggression against yourself, as we are compelled to compete only against fellow laborers in the current system rather than competing with bosses.
In the end, competing against bosses and the current system cannot be done by pitifully trying to beat them at their own rigged game. Our goals are worth reaching, so lets make our efforts worth it rather than setting ourselves back.
As for non-resistance in work reform, why is it incomplete? Non-resistance is something noble, and not to be denounced too harshly. Education is a great method of non-resistance. This essay in of itself is a form of non-resistance. It is not single handedly bringing about change, but is advocating for change. Liberal methods of non-resistance, like trying to implement government policy that supposedly reduces “work” as we know it, tends to satisfy us enough to where we don’t make any long term change.
Reducing work hours to a 35 hour work week is great and all, but work still functions the same. The system still functions the same, even if we paint it a lighter shade of oppression. The energy spent on influencing policy is energy that could’ve been better spent. It is meant to be used sparingly (unlike active resistance) and where it is necessary (unlike non-resistance)
Here we see our options narrow down to passive resistance, the viable and desirable method of change. Passive resistance for anarchism, is a method of dual-power, grassroots organization that brings like-minded individuals together to bring about a new society themselves. The state makes itself necessary by shaping society in such a way that requires further state action for sustainability. Anarchists wish to make the state unnecessary, to mold society themselves, ignoring state institutions when possible.
It is, therefore, one of the purposes of Mutualists, not only to awaken in the people the appreciation of and desire for freedom, but also to arouse in them a determination to abolish the legal restrictions now placed upon non-invasive human activities and to institute, through purely voluntary associations, such measures as will liberate all of us from the exactions of privilege and the power of concentrated capital.
Being a left-wing market anarchist (or “mutualist” as I prefer), I take this quote to heart.
Now while not all anarchists are so-called mutualists, it does hold true that anarchism is largely based on these grassroots ideas. For work abolitionists, I believe we should also follow grassroots organization to bring about our goals.
Ignoring (when possible) the current political institutions and puritanical social norms that turn simple production into “work” as we know it, is probably easier than it sounds. The Internet has consistently been a great place to share ideas and educate. The 3D printer is a revolutionary piece of technology that allows us to create some household necessities at will.
“Gray Market” garage businesses should also be encouraged, as they ignore taxation and license barriers in a passive resistive way. Of course we should also support worker cooperatives and strikes, as every small difference adds up. Other than occasionally slacking on the job, we see that there are practical methods we can bring about today. All it takes is an optimistic attitude and some solid trust in our ideas, and we can achieve more than we even realize.
The state may have a decent grip over us as we participate in the system as they expect us to, but the methods stated above are slipping away from their grip. The state’s outdated methods of control are becoming too impractical to keep using against us. Censoring the internet has never gotten much positive attention here in the United States, and furthering copyright on 3D printer designs sounds very medieval in its intentions. Shutting down garage sales and free exchange between neighbors is blatantly totalitarian, so I doubt the state could get away with much of it before seeing wide protests.
More active (but nonviolent) use of strikes should be used, not only to protect union members, but to protect interests of all workers. These are only a few methods and tools we can use, the list really goes on and on. We can all benefit from passive resistance, and there isn’t much the state can do about it without causing some major upsets that are sure to draw negative attention.
Passive resistance is a core idea to remember when deciding whether a method of reducing work is practical, and can actually make a difference for you as an individual. Looking at the bigger picture, applying this idea across a whole movement, passive resistance is a key part of our strength, something to hold close to our hearts.The strength of our tree relies on the strength of our roots. Our tree can only grow prosperously with consistency to passive resistance. Methods of non-resistance and active resistance delay us and set us back from the very real ability to bring about a future we desire. You cannot hate passive resistance without hating the future it would bring about.
1 Benjamin Tucker, “The Power Of Passive Resistance,” In Benjamin Tucker, Instead Of A Book,
By A Man Too Busy To Write One. Gordon Press Facsimile (New York: Gordon Press, 1897,
2 Tucker, “The Irish Situation In 1881,” In Benjamin Tucker, Instead Of A Book, By A Man Too
Busy To Write One. Gordon Press Facsimile (New York: Gordon Press, 1897, 1973) 414-415.
3 Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Pullman Strike”, accessed April 30,
4 Clarence Lee Swartz, What Is Mutualism? (Vanguard Press, April, 1927) 80.