Forty Acres and an Arsenal: A Radical Libertarian Approach to Reparations

I don’t believe in taxes. I know that’s not exactly the trendiest take on the left these days, but I just can’t justify giving any institution that kind of power. I would love nothing better than to play Robinhood, but anarchy just doesn’t work that way. The moment the ends start justifying the means is the moment the revolution dies. I oppose taxes because I believe that class is the basis of all tyranny and that by creating a group of people who are afforded a monopoly on the use of violent behavior like theft, you are creating a class that degrades the position of the proletariat.

As strange as it may sound to partisan ears, it is my Marxist values that have led me to embrace some of the more radical aspects of libertarianism. This doesn’t mean that it’s always easy. Voluntaryism can feel like a form of monasticism amidst the most violent society in civilization’s malignant existence and in no place is this more true than on the hot button issue of reparations which I remain an unapologetic supporter of.

If you wanna talk about theft, let’s talk about 400 years of theft. That’s how long this savage empire used slavery to build the foundation for the wealthiest nation in human history and these people never saw a fucking dime for their forced labor and all the bloodthirsty barbarism that went with it. This would be evil enough if that was the end of the story, but this story has no end.

The sick truth is that America’s enslavement of African people didn’t end with emancipation, it just changed shape. Chattel slavery was simply swapped out for more politically correct forms of subjugation like sharecropping and mass incarceration. 400 years of slavery gave way to 90 years of Jim Crow which gave way to 60 years of separate but equal which gave way to our current apartheid state of law and order embraced by both major parties to this day.

Reparations are needed, not to save this wretched nation that continues to thrive on white power but to empower its victims to rise above the damage its done to help us destroy it. But how do we achieve this goal without empowering the same kind of authoritarian structures that made sins like slavery possible? This is the primary problem with traditional monetary reparations. By relying on the same forces that have thrived on white supremacy to forcibly extract compensation, even from the guilty beneficiaries of just such a system, you are only empowering its continued existence and doing nothing to repair the systemic racial power imbalance it created.

These kinds of reparations amount to little more than charity at best and imperial hush money at worst. The government has been paying poor people for years not to hold it accountable for making them poor and this has done nothing to empower us. So how do we ensure compensation from a corrupt government without perpetuating its hostile existence? Simple, we gut it like a carp and give the spoils to those it has wronged the worst. My suggestion for totally stateless reparations essentially amounts to a sentence pretty much designed to give pigs gastric distress. Give Black people land and arm them to the fucking teeth.

This should have happened a long time ago. As the Civil War came to a close, Union General William Sherman signed Field Order 15, promising the newly liberated slaves 40 acres and a mule to compensate them for being mugged for two and a half centuries, and some 400, 000 acres of confiscated Confederate plantations that Black people had worked with their own hands were rewarded to them in an act that relied on very little state intervention. When the Confederacy collapsed many slaves simply rose up and took back what was rightfully theirs.

But after Lincoln was assassinated his replacement, Andrew Johnson, reversed the order and forcibly removed freemen from their rightful land so it could be given back to the slave driving thieves the Union supposedly shattered habeas corpus to topple, leaving impoverished and traumatized Black farmers little option other than to head north or seek employment as wage slaves from their former masters. In one last stinging act of racist irony, the only people to ever receive reparations in regard to slavery were well connected former slave owners in the District of Colombia who were compensated for their loss of human property.

Land is power and the Federal Government still occupies plenty of it. Translating 40 acres to compensate the modern inheritors of this debt requires dividing 47 million Black folks into families of four and giving them 40 acres each. My math game is far from precise, but a rough estimation brings that to about 500 million acres of land. The Federal Government currently owns roughly 640 million acres, most of it in sparse western states like Montana and Nevada. This includes everything from national parks to military bases and considering that as an anarchist I don’t even respect the right for such institutions to exist, I have much more faith in the ability of systemically deprived populations to manage these resources themselves as they see fit.

But in order to acclimate largely urban populations to the wilderness of the wild west it might be best to reward at least some of this property to be shared with what remains of the local indigenous tribes who once lived in balance with it before it was monetized. There is more than a little precedence for this kind of cooperation between America’s most oppressed classes. The first people to tame the wilds of Florida were a coalition of depleted tribes and Maroons known collectively as the Seminole Nation. But a percentage of this land should be allocated to Blacks and Blacks alone who have never even received the paltry reparations afforded to this stolen nation’s indigenous population.

As for the mules, this odd form of compensation was to originally come in the form of surplus animals owned by the army left over from the Civil War. Considering that the police-warfare state is the primary beneficiary of white supremacy and that the liquidation of all standing armies, including the police, should be at the top of any self-respecting anarchist’s to-do list, I would suggest trading in those mules for the firepower necessary for any newly liberated people to protect what’s rightfully theirs.

The Pentagon has dumped $7.5 billion dollars in military equipment into local police forces alone. I say tell those welfare queens in blue to hand it over. In the wake of the George Floyd Uprisings of 2020 there is a growing proliferation of Black militias like the Not Fucking Around Coalition heavily staffed with veterans of both the American Military’s War on Islam and the inner city’s black-market war on prohibition who are more than capable of handling advanced firepower and training their own people how to properly utilize it.

What the descendants of slaves do with these spoils of a shattered empire should be left completely up to them. I imagine we might see a diverse array of experiments and not all would likely be successful. But it would be their land to live or die on and considering the resourcefulness the Black community has already shown in turning what little they have into money-printing touchstones of the American experience, from barbecue to rock and roll, I have more than a little faith that we’ll see some wild shit springing from this new wild west, from homesteads built on African-America’s latest grey-market cash crop cannabis to sovereign nations like the Republic of New Afrika.

Too many white people forget that these are the motherfuckers who built the goddamn Pyramids in lands no more hospitable than the deserts of Nevada and with the inevitable collapse of Western Civilization upon us, this autonomy could very well put a marginalized underdog population in the perfect position to finally get the upper hand on their former slavers. Assholes like Jeff Bezos come and go but stateless tribal nations like the kind already built by freemen like Malcolm X and Kwame Ture are indestructible.

We can never make up for the horrors visited upon the survivors of slavery. Even if this broke ass empire could afford to simply print trillions of dollars that would be worth more than the glorified toilet paper it’s printed on, it still wouldn’t even make a dent in repairing what essentially amounts to a post-traumatic industrial complex. But rewarding a people for their unpaid labor with complete and unconditional self-determination while dismantling the government institutions that brought their ancestors here in chains in the process is probably the best we’re ever going to be able to do. But hey, this is just the five cents of one Queer libertarian Marxist honkey. Do with it what you will.

Nicky Reid is an agoraphobic anarcho-genderqueer gonzo blogger from Central Pennsylvania and assistant editor for Attack the System. You can find her online at Exile in Happy Valley.