American Libertarian Socialist Author, Orator, Philosopher and Pioneer in the Ecology Movement
American Libertarian Socialist Author, Orator, Philosopher and Pioneer in the Ecology Movement
Anarchists should get together who agree, and develop their gifts at a critical point, in a critical place, and form genuine affinity groups in areas where they can have certain results, notable results?not move into areas of great resistance where they?re almost certain to be crushed, defeated, demoralized. And secondly, I would not want to be in the same movement with an anarcho-syndicalist, however much I may respect and like that person. Some of my best friends are anarcho-syndicalists. I mean, I realize that we do not have a commonality, even a language, that makes it possible for us to communicate.
Invertebrate protests, directionless escapades, self-assertions, and a very personal ?recolonization? of everyday life parallel the psychotherapeutic, New Age, self-oriented lifestyles of bored baby boomers and members of Generation X. Today what passes for anarchism in America and increasingly in Europe is little more than an introspective personalism that denigrates responsible social commitment; an encounter group variously renamed a collective or an affinity group; a state of mind that arrogantly derides structure, organization, and public involvement; and a playground for juvenile antics.
Some critics have recently questioned whether social ecology has treated the issue of spirituality in ecological politics adequately, but social ecology was in fact among the earliest of contemporary ecologies to call for a sweeping change in existing spiritual values. Such a change would be a far-reaching transformation of our prevailing mentality of domination into one of complementarity, one that sees our role in the natural world as creative, supportive, and deeply appreciative of the needs of nonhuman life. In social ecology a truly ?natural? spirituality would center on the ability of an awakened humanity to function as moral agents for diminishing needless suffering, engaging in ecological restoration, and fostering an aesthetic appreciation of natural evolution in all its fecundity and diversity.
The truth, indeed, is out?but the ears to hear it and the minds to learn from it seem to have been atrophied by a cultivated ignorance and a nearly total loss of critical insight.
What defines social ecology as social is its recognition of the often-overlooked fact that nearly all our present ecological problems arise from deep-seated social problems. Conversely, our present ecological problems cannot be clearly understood, much less resolved, without resolutely dealing with problems within society. To make this point more concrete; economic, ethnic, cultural, and gender conflicts, among many others, lie at the core of the most serious ecological dislocations we face today ? apart, to be sure, from those that are produced by natural catastrophes. If this approach seems a bit too sociological for those environmentalists who identify the primary ecological problem as being the preservation of wildlife or wilderness, or more broadly as attending to ?Gaia? to achieve planetary ?oneness,? they might wish to consider certain recent developments. The massive oil spill by an Exxon tanker at Prince William Sound, the extensive deforestation of redwood trees by the Maxxam Corporation, and the proposed James Bay hydroelectric project that would flood vast forested areas of northern Quebec, to cite only a few problems, are sobering reminders that the real battleground on which the ecological future of the planet will be decided is clearly a social one.
And as long as hierarchy persists? the project of dominating nature will continue to exist and inevitably lead our planet to ecological extinction
It is my contention that Communalism is the overarching political category most suitable to encompass the fully thought out and systematic views of social ecology, including libertarian municipalism and dialectical naturalism. As an ideology, Communalism draws on the best of the older Left ideologies ? Marxism and anarchism, more properly the libertarian socialist tradition ? while offering a wider and more relevant scope for our time.
Some kind of decentralization will be necessary to achieve a lasting equilibrium between society and nature. Urban decentralization underlies any hope of achieving ecological control of pest infestations in agriculture. Only a community well integrated with the resources of the surrounding region can promote agricultural and biological diversity... a decentralized community holds the greatest promise for conserving natural resources, particularly as it would promote the use of local sources of energy [and use] wind power, solar energy, and hydroelectric power.
There are no hierarchies in nature other than those imposed by hierarchical modes of human thought, but rather differences merely in function between and within living things.
What I find most worth emphasizing in Proudhon is his highly communal notion of confederalism. He was at his best, allowing for certain reservations, when he declared that ?the federal system is the contrary of hierarchy or administrative and governmental centralization?; that the ?essence? of federal contracts is ?always to reserve more powers of the citizen than for the state, and for municipal and provincial authorities than for the central power?; that ?the central power? must be ?imperceptibly subordinated it... to the representatives of departments or provinces, provincial authority to the delegates of townships, and municipal authority to its inhabitants.
Any attempt to solve the ecological crisis within a bourgeois framework must be dismissed as chimerical. Capitalism is inherently anti-ecological. Competition and accumulation constitute its very law of life, a law ? summarized in the phrase, ?production for the sake of production.? Anything, however hallowed or rare, ?has its price? and is fair game for the marketplace. In a society of this kind, nature is necessarily treated as a mere resource to be plundered and exploited. The destruction of the natural world, far being the result of mere hubristic blunders, follows inexorably from the very logic of capitalist production.
Municipal elections can more accurately reflect the popular will than parliamentary ones.
Someone wrote a reply to me stating that anarchists should never participate in any elections of any kind... I?m saying that city government, as you call it, has to be restructured at the grassroots level... What anarchists should be doing is not hesitating to get involved in local politics to create forms of organization in which they may run once they?ve established these forms or, alternatively, running on a platform to establish these forms.
There must be a place on the political spectrum where a body of anti-authoritarian thought that advances humanity?s bitter struggle to arrive at the realization of its authentic social life ? the famous ?Commune of communes? ? can be clearly articulated institutionally as well as ideologically. There must be a means by which socially concerned anti-authoritarians can develop a program and a practice for attempting to change the world, not merely their psyches. There must be an arena of struggle that can mobilize people, help them to educate themselves and develop an anti-authoritarian politics ... that pits a new public sphere against the state and capitalism. In short, we must recover not only the socialist dimension of anarchism but its political dimension, democracy.
Without a democratically formulated and approved institutional framework whose members and leaders can be held accountable, clearly articulated standards of responsibility cease to exist.
But here?s what I do believe very strongly: that once capitalism comes into existence, once it creates this mythology of a stingy nature, then that myth has to be exorcised. In other words, we have to get out of people?s heads the idea that without a market economy, without egotism, competition, rivalry and self-interest, without all the technological advances that Marx imputed to capitalism, we have to eliminate the feeling that we would sink into some kind of barbarism. We have to give people the freedom to choose lifestyles and material satisfactions that suit their needs, and we have to redefine need itself. We can?t redefine need among ghetto people by telling them we should all give up our TV sets or automobiles: we have to tell them there?s enough to go around, now let?s talk about using it sensibly. So in that sense I speak of post-scarcity because my concern is to eliminate the sense of scarcity that people feel. Capitalism has created a situation called scarcity. And that scarcity is not natural, it?s socially induced. Along with that sense of scarcity, or feeling of scarcity, is a feeling of economic insecurity. Along with that is a feeling of deprivation? And unless we can demonstrate that that feeling is not justified technologically, we will not be able to speak intelligently to the great majority of people and reorganize our economy so that we really know what needs are rational and human and what have been created, almost fetishisticaly, by the capitalist economy. What I?m saying in effect is we have to say the goodies are all here to be had, but to what extent do we really want them and to what extent are they goodies? As long as we feel that we can?t have them, we?ll want them and we?ll make them central to our lives.
My views on libertarian municipalism are entirely oriented toward creating a dual power composed of directly democratic assemblies of the people in revolutionary opposition to the state. The idea that libertarian municipalism should try to capture the local state and operate within a statist framework is alien to my views. My hope is that a movement can be created that seeks to enlarge whatever local democracy still remains in a community ? particularly a direct face-to-face democracy ? in the hope that it can be thrown against the state on all levels, from the municipality to the central government.
The aim is not to nationalize the economy or retain private ownership of the means of production but to municipalize the economy. It seeks to integrate the means of production into the existential life of the municipality, such that every productive enterprise falls under the purview of local assemblies, which decides how it will meet the interests and needs of the community as a whole.
Thus people come to relate to one another through things. If we?re unhappy, we are advised to buy a new outfit or household device, and then we?ll feel better. The family mutates into a unit of consumption. Acquiring an education is reduced to training for earning an income; gaining one?s livelihood often involves the exploitation of other people and plundering the natural world. Friendships are reduced to relationships designed to advance one?s career. Commodification, in short, replaces genuine social ties to such an extent that things seem to preside over human relationships, as Marx observed, instead of human beings administering the disposition of things.
Without changing the most molecular relationships in society ? notably, those between men and women, adults and children, whites and other ethnic groups, heterosexuals and gays (the list, in fact, is considerable) ? society will be riddled by domination even in a socialistic 'classless' and 'non-exploitative' form. It would be infused by hierarchy even as it celebrated the dubious virtues of 'people's democracies,' 'socialism' and the 'public ownership' of 'natural resources,' And as long as hierarchy persists, as long as domination organizes humanity around a system of elites, the project of dominating nature will continue to exist and inevitably lead our planet to ecological extinction.
Capitalism can no more be ?persuaded? to limit growth than a human being can be ?persuaded? to stop breathing.
Not only in the factory but also in the family, not only in the economy but also in the psyche, not only in the material conditions of life but also in the spiritual ones.
The domination of nature by man stems from the very real domination of human by human.
Thus, in its call for a collective effort to change society, social ecology has never eschewed the need for a radically new spirituality or mentality. As early as 1965, the first public statement to advance the ideas of social ecology concluded with the injunction: ?The cast of mind that today organizes differences among human and other life-forms along hierarchical lines of ?supremacy or ?inferiority? will give way to an outlook that deals with diversity in an ecological manner ? that is, according to an ethics of complementarity.?1 In such an ethics, human beings would complement nonhuman beings with their own capacities to produce a richer, creative, and developmental whole ? not as a ?dominant? species but as supportive one. Although this ethics, expressed at times as an appeal for the ?re-spiritization of the natural world,? recurs throughout the literature of social ecology, it should not be mistaken for a theology that raises a deity above the natural world or even that seeks to discover one within it. The spirituality advanced by social ecology is definitively naturalist (as one would expect, given its relation to ecology itself, which stems from the biological sciences) rather than super-naturalistic or pantheistic.
You see something very important is happening. Personality is being eaten out, and with that the idealism that always motivated an anarchist movement?the belief in something, the ideal that there is something worth fighting for. I?m much more interested in developing human character in this society. And I?m much more interested in the social conditions that foster commitment to ideals, a sense of solidarity, purposefulness, steadfastness, responsibility?