ecotopianetwork

Sharing and Climate Change: A Human-Sized Answer to a Global Problem – Bucket Von Harmony

The global community is facing a serious ecological problem. Unless we change our way of living we may be passing on to our children a world with rising sea levels, extreme weather conditions, and disrupted ecosystems. According to governmental studies done in the UK and EU, a global average temperature increase of over 3 degrees Celsius would cause irreversible changes to our environment, the effects of which may include a potential rise of the sea level of up to 7 meters and widespread water and food shortages.

Nathan Rive of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo says that if we are to have any chance of preventing the average temperature from increasing over 2 degrees, “we would have to cut global emissions by 80 percent by 2050.”

How can we stop consuming resources and producing carbon at such high levels? Is it possible to do so and still maintain the level of comfort that we have in modern life? Are we willing to make the changes necessary, when the ultimate effects of our actions (or inaction) will not manifest until decades from now? We have the technology now that can help, but investment in these technologies on a massive scale is needed immediately if we hope to see the changes we need in place in time to make a difference. Government programs like carbon taxes might help motivate our industries to pollute less. However, in places like the European Union and the UK where such laws have been enacted, carbon reduction is still falling short of their goals. In addition, the US is the largest producer of carbon emissions per capita and is currently without comprehensive carbon emission regulations.

Don’t give up hope yet! There exists today a solution that could drastically reduce the energy consumption and carbon emissions of the modern citizen, and it does not require new technology or a drastic reduction in quality of life. It is not anything new or complex; in fact it is something we all learned in Kindergarten. It is called sharing.

Case in Point: Twin Oaks Community

The bylaws of my home, Twin Oaks Community in Virginia, list ecological sustainability as just one of the many purposes of our community’s existence. The primary intention of our community at its founding was to create a culture of cooperation, sharing, and equality. We certainly do care about ecological sustainability and hold many discussions on how we could do better. However, we have put most of our energy into finding ways to live cooperatively, communally, and comfortably.

Only 10 percent of our residents are grid-electricity-free, we have no buildings built with cob or strawbale, and we live with most of the comforts of modern life. Despite our lack of green technologies and our lifestyle of modern conveniences, members of our community consume far less resources than those in our neighborhood, in some cases by over 80 percent less!

Below is a breakdown of our resource consumption and how it compares to that of other people in our climate.

Gasoline:

The average Virginia resident uses about 530 gallons of gasoline per year.(1)

Twin Oaks consumed about 15,267 gallons of gasoline in 2007.

With an average adult and child population of 96, that would put our consumption at 159 gallons per person.

That is 70 percent less gasoline consumed!

Electricity:

The average Virginia resident uses 13,860 kWh of electricity per year.(2)

Twin Oaks consumed 268,065 kWh in 2007.

With an average adult and child population of 96, that would put our consumption at 2792 kWh per person.

That is 80 percent less electricity consumed!

Natural Gas:

The average Virginia natural gas consumer uses 302 therms of natural gas.(3)

Twin Oaks consumed 16,221 therms of natural gas in 2007.

With an average adult and child population of 96, that would put our consumption at 169 therms per person.

That is 44 percent less natural gas consumed!

Solid Waste:

The average American produces 1460 pounds of trash a year.

Twin Oaks produced 18,780.00 pounds of solid waste in 2007.

With an average adult and child population of 96, that would put our production at 196 pounds per person.

That is 87 percent less solid waste produced!

Twin Oaks Community has a fleet of 12 vehicles that we share between all our members. Each day one person runs into town to collect the day-to-day needs for us all. They also ferry people to their various destinations like doctor appointments or the library. By sharing our vehicles and carpooling, we are able to drastically reduce the amount of gasoline we use.

We all live in nine communal houses, each with different norms and culture. We use carbon-neutral wood to heat our houses. By sharing common space and having dormitory style housing, we consume much less energy to light and heat our homes than we would if we were to live in individual houses.

We serve lunch and dinner each day in a single building for our whole community. We are able to use much less energy to cook our food when we are using one kitchen to feed 90 people than we would if we each cooked our own meals.

What food and general necessities we do not produce ourselves, we buy in bulk. Because of this we greatly reduce the amount of packaging that comes onto our property. We send much less solid waste to the local landfill then we would if we were each to purchase our goods in individually wrapped packages.

By sharing so much we are able to live comfortably, but also greatly reduce our resource consumption and carbon output. Government programs and new technologies will be important in reducing our culture’s output of carbon into the atmosphere, but there are things that we as individuals can do today to significantly reduce our contribution to global climate change.

Here are a few examples:

1. Join a food co-op! Use your collective buying power to save money, while also reducing the packaging and energy used to deliver your food to your table. If there is not one in your area, start one! http://www.coopdirectory.org.

2. Carpool and ride-share when traveling! http://www.craigslist.org or http://www.rideshare-directory.com.

3. Join a housing co-op! Share a house with other like-minded souls, and share food costs and cook communal dinners together. You will save much more money and resources over living alone! directory.ic.org/records/coops.php.

4. Join an intentional community! There are thousands of communities out there with varying degrees of resource sharing and cooperation. ic.org.

5. Join an egalitarian community! Pool your income together with other folks to live a more sustainable and equitable life with your neighbors. Share resources to reduce your carbon footprint! theFEC.org.

6. Do you already live communally? Do an energy audit and see how your community is doing compared to others that live in your climate. Publish this information and let people know how effective cooperation and sharing is as a tool to battle climate change! Please send copies of your energy audits to bucket@twinoaks.org.

As times get harder, people will be looking for alternatives to our unsustainable economic model. We do need to look towards technology to help us and we do need our governments to regulate industry and lower emissions. These are issues of national and international politics and are beyond the reach of the average person.

However, by sharing more with members of our communities, we really can make significant and meaningful difference in our personal impact on the environment. We have the power to turn this crisis into an opportunity. By being examples for others to follow, perhaps we can make the necessary changes our world needs…one community at a time.

1. http://www.nationalpriorities.org/nppdatabase_tool (comparing 2005 numbers to our 2007 numbers)

2. http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/esr/table5.html

3. tonto.eia.doe.gov/dnav/ng/ng_cons_num_dcu_SVA_a.htm

http://www.euractiv.com/en/sustainability/eu-climate-change-target-unfeasible/article-152154

http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/corporate/pressoffice/adcc/ExecSumFeb2005.pdf

http://www.stabilisation2005.com/outcomes.html

http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSL194440620070419

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/3-degrees-chief-scientist-warns-bigger-rise-in-worlds-temperature-will-put-400-million-at-risk-474180.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/leading-articles/leading-article-the-dangers-of-pessimism-in-the-struggle-against-global-warming-474159.html

http://www.statemaster.com/graph/lif_ave_hou_siz-lifestyle-average-household-size

Copyright © Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC) and Communities: Life in Cooperative Culture · communities.ic.org · Reprint only with permission.

The FIC publishes Communities magazine, the Communities Directory, the Intentional Communities Website (www.ic.org), and supports all forms of cooperative living. Please consider a donation to support our efforts.

Bucket Von Harmony is a member of Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia. Twin Oaks Community has served as an example of cooperative living for 41 years. Bucket serves as Co-Secretary of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities and is on the Twin Oaks Membership Team. Bucket also gardens, home schools a six-year-old, cooks dinner for 100 people, and makes tofu.

http://communities.ic.org/articles/175/Sharing_and_Climate_Change

July 29, 2010 Posted by | komünler, kolektifler, ozyonetim | Leave a comment

How Ecology Led Me to Community – Chris Roth

By Chris Roth
Published in the Summer 2009 issue of Communities magazine – Issue #143
(Click a photo to enlarge)

In Communities, we like to feature personal stories about real experiences, rather than abstract theories or dry analyses. In this article, our editor plunges into the fun. He asks that you imagine listening to the following story around a crackling campfire, and remember that “I” is just a figure of speech, and might just as easily be “you”…

I’d never been one who tried too hard to conform, but my marching to a different drummer became decidedly more pronounced in high school. There are various ways to describe what happened: you could say that trees started to speak to me, or that long-distance running connected me with the natural world in new ways, or that an earth-centered spiritual awakening led me to find that that “God,” increasingly elusive in church, resided in the outdoors instead. Whatever the explanation, I started to take my guidance from ecologically-oriented voices that seemed at times audible only to me, but which spoke clear as crystal and left little doubt about what I needed to do.

One might think that “marching to one’s own drummer” would lead one away from community, into isolation and even hermithood. But in fact this particular drummer led me invariably toward community, which I discovered to be inextricably intertwined with ecology. Although I was marching without a map, with little idea where I’d end up, the outcomes seem inevitable in retrospect.

Here are just a few of the off-beat marching orders I received and the mysterious places they took me:

“Avoid Cars!”

I had never liked cars. As a young child, I had to be coaxed to get into them, and I never experienced that automotive fascination that many boys develop. I disliked the noise, the fumes, the confinement, the danger, and, as I learned more about them, their other impacts (ecological, social, economic, political). In the wake of the mid-’70s oil crisis, I wrote an editorial in my high school newspaper inveighing against excessive car use. Most of my classmates, meanwhile, eagerly anticipated and then celebrated the day when they were allowed to drive and own a car. I walked, biked, ran, and tried to stay out of motor vehicles. The drummer I was marching to told me that the world could not sustain them. At the time, it seemed like a potentially lonely path.

But as I continued my education and explored different ways of living, my resolution to avoid the need for a private car produced unexpected results. The best way I could see to be free of vehicle dependence was to live and work in the same place—better yet, to seek out ways of living that seamlessly combined living and working in direct relationship with the land. (My drummer had also told me that, despite my suburban roots, revelation was to be found rurally.)

With the ability to be car-free in my daily life as a top priority influencing every decision, I have spent most of my adult years living and working together with others in land-based intentional communities and on small organic family farms. In the modern world, rural survival on one’s own or even in a nuclear family can almost require a private motorized vehicle. But joining with others to create a local economy on a piece of land reduces the need to leave it, and makes combined trips and shared vehicles feasible. I did in fact eventually acquire a car, which I use occasionally (hopefully for good causes, including cultivating community connections beyond our 87 acres), but upon which I have never depended for my livelihood.

Now, in addition to gardening and helping develop my community’s land as an educational center and nature sanctuary, I also telecommute to my other job (crafting a magazine out of other people’s words—except when, as in the current case, my own bubble out in possibly overwhelming abundance). None of these essential activities requires a car. I sometimes go weeks without getting into one—whereas I bi cycle every day, both around our own land and into the neighboring forest. I do not miss those hours stuck in traffic—in fact, I never even had to experience them. Instead, I am happy to have spent my life among pedestrians, and discovered community in the process.

“Stop Watching Television!”

My drummer sometimes lacked subtlety, and cast things in black and white that did in fact possess a few shades of gray. By the end of high school, I had identified television as one of the key elements keeping people detached from real life, out of touch with their inner selves, separated from one another, and cut off from the natural world. In my view, it was entirely evil, and I had fantasies of some kind of cosmic pulse that would simultaneously incinerate all televisions and force people to start actually living again. (Since then, I’ve decided to relax my judgments and cut Mr. Rogers, at least, a little slack. I know that there is, in fact, some “good stuff” on television, though not enough to make me want to have one in my life.) I resolved to be TV-free once I left home—a resolution I have kept. At the time, this seemed like another lonely-making, solitary choice.

It turned out to be anything but that. Not owning or watching television propelled me into a multitude of television-less experiences among people who were also looking for something more real. Neither my inner nor outer explorations during and after college could have happened in the same way in an environment featuring a television—they were simply incompatible with a mesmerizing image- and noise-making machine being anywhere within sight or earshot. I lived outside, worked with Native Americans, learned to garden, and ultimately settled into a rewarding, TV-free life on farms and in intentional communities. In community, homemade culture and direct personal experience have proven so much more satisfying than manufactured culture and vicarious experience that television has never even tempted me. I’ve discovered that the world of birds living all around us here in the country, in three dimensions and surround-sound, fascinates me more than could anything on a screen. I’ve also learned to play the guitar, an almost endless source of do-it-oneself entertainment, often even better when shared with others.

Saying “no” to television made it possible for me to eventually say “yes” to community. As long as I have community in my life, I am staying unplugged (unless, for example, it’s for a large-group Inauguration viewing at the local organic eatery, or for a Fred Rogers tribute show watched for old times’ sake at my parents’ house).

“Eat Low on the Food Chain”

Once again, that nonconformist, earth-minded drummer put a bee in my bonnet during high school, in the form of a vegetarian friend who urged me to read Frances Moore Lappé’s Diet for a Small Planet. Once I had started thinking about food—its origins, its impacts, its larger implications—I could not retreat back into ignorance or not caring. I became the sole vegetarian in my family and one of only two I knew in my school. This looked like another surefire path toward social isolation.

Since then, I have gone through a number of different phases, often for many years at a stretch: ovo-lacto-vegetarianism, situationally-dictated omnivory, pure veganism combined with a commitment to organic food, modified veganism, all-organic-mostly-vegetarianism-with-occasional-fish-or-fowl-thrown-in, etc. However, I have never returned to a standard American diet, and my food choices (tending toward the macrobiotic vegan much of the time, and the sustainably grown all of the time) would be considered strange by most people.

In the communities I’ve lived in, by contrast, my food choices are not strange—sometimes, especially in the presence of raw foodists, they seem downright middle-of-the-road. In these communities, we’ve eaten a significant portion of our own, homegrown whole foods—especially vegetables and fruits—and seen food as having not only health and spiritual but also political and ecological implications. Eating in ways that minimize our ecological footprints aligns us with the global community, and brings us together as a local community as well. My “small planet” food choices, far from isolating me, have helped me find communities in which I share common values with others.

“Read and Write Consciously or Not at All”

At a certain point in my education, I realized that, even though I’d dispensed with the unreality of television, I was still living mostly vicariously, through words. I had read about many more things than I’d ever experienced. I had learned how to write but felt I had little of substance to write about: I was passionately—and tiresomely—familiar only with the labyrinthine workings of my own mental circuitry. Limited by my academically-bound situation, and out of touch with almost everything outside of it, I realized that I had fled from the world of feeling and experience into a world of word-dominated thinking.

I decided to take a fast from the written word. For an entire summer, I read nothing (except for interpretive signs on Cape Cod National Seashore and an American Youth Hostel guidebook) and wrote nothing. I focused instead on my and others’ feelings (even if unexpressed) and on the land around me, unmediated by words and without other distractions. I began a process of immersion learning in the language of the natural world, and in my own feelings and relationships within that world. I joined a school that lived, learned, slept, and woke outside every day, exploring the vast areas of wild America to which my suburban upbringing had never exposed me. Before reading or writing anything (once I broke my fast), I tried to gauge whether it would bring me closer to understanding the actual nature of life and the world, or whether it was just human-generated distraction, mass-produced entertainment, overintellectualized delusion, or philosophy divorced from the earth. If it was any of the latter, I skipped it. Like television, irrelevant words would have taken me away from, rather than toward, the kind of integrated ecological life I envisioned. I recognized that words could distract as well as communicate. I returned to reading and writing only cautiously, and, to the best of my ability, consciously.

Since then, my involvement with words has always been a byproduct of my life, rather than something defining my actual reality. In my first few years of college, being wrapped up in words had isolated me. Initially, backing away from words isolated me even more. But it also opened me up to the real world, a prerequisite to finding real community. Like freedom from television, it allowed me to experience new situations more fully, open my senses more completely to the natural world, and make actual connections with people. Rather than creating imaginary situations on paper (or in a computer hard drive, or in cyberspace), I found that I could discover and build real relationships. I was also able to recognize the limitations of human language and tune in more fully to the language of the land and its creatures. I experienced both human and non-human community in ways that most books I’d read had at best only hinted at, and that I could never have described beforehand except in the most general, theoretical terms.

“Get Back to the Land!”

Getting back to the land is not something that most people born and raised in a New York City suburb ever do. That path hadn’t even occurred to me during most of my formative years, since I’d had the impression that farmers and rural people were “dumb”—that’s why they lived in the country. No, I hadn’t actually met anyone fitting this description, or ever lived in the country or on a farm myself, but from what I could gather from the media and from word on the street, rural people talked slowly, did boring physical work, inbred, and chewed tobacco, all sure signs of nonintelligence. In other words, blind prejudice and ignorance kept me from ever aspiring to rural life.

This all changed, in several different phases, as my drummer became more insistent. First, local wild edible weeds caught my interest. Then the notion grabbed me of not only running and bicycling outdoors, but living outdoors. My traveling environmental education program got me used to being outside almost all the time, and also familiarized me with some of this continent’s original outdoor livers, whose endangered cultures still survived to a degree. I decided I wanted to live like a Native American, and, when I had a chance, I acted on that desire, moving to a reservation for a year and a half and becoming the only white employee in a center for developmentally disabled Hopis. While there, I received a further marching order (channeled through a Hopi client of the center): I needed to learn to grow my own food. This led me to study organic gardening, which created a role for me to fulfill once I ended up going “back to the land” via organic farms and intentional communities. I also started to study local ecologies, especially plants and birds, allowing me to contribute in other realms of eco-education.

While those voices beckoning me to live in more direct relationship with the land seemed at first to be promising a lonely, socially marginalized existence, the exact opposite turned out to be the case. Each phase of my entry into more integrated ecological living brought me into new kinds of community. Some, like the Hopi Center and the organic farms I worked on, were “unintentional” community, but community nonetheless. The intentional communities in which I’ve settled have been rural and committed to education, thereby developing much larger extended communities beyond their own boundaries. I’ve never had so little interaction with others as I did in my last couple years in the heart of urban/suburban civilization, and I’ve never had so much human interaction as I’ve had way out in the country, becoming rural folk myself, enjoying being connected to the land together with others through organic gardening and other forms of immersion in the landscape. Getting away from human and civilized distractions has helped me discover not only the natural world and how dependent we all are on it, but, surprisingly, the world of people as well.

“Focus on Life, Not on Money”

I grew up in a family that had enough money—not too much, but enough to meet our basic needs. Most of the people in our town, however, had significantly more material wealth than they actually needed. This did not prevent them from striving for more, and transferring that orientation toward money and things to their offspring. My parents instilled different values in me, reinforced as I grew up by poets like William Wordsworth:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

I recognized that, while money is not necessarily the root of all evil, it is often associated with the squandering of our time and energy in its pursuit, the degradation of the quality of our human relationships, the distraction and demoralization of our spirits, the plundering of the earth’s resources to meet manufactured demand for nonessential items, and other forms of destruction of the natural world. As a conscientious objector, I also saw that tax dollars fueled the war machine. I resolved to have as little to do with money as possible: to spend little, and therefore to need to earn little. Aspiring to be “downwardly mobile,” to follow Henry David Thoreau’s example rather than John D. Rockefeller’s, I sensed myself in the distinct minority in my economically privileged town.

Despite its reputedly low survival value (about which I didn’t care, since I had my marching orders), I doggedly pursued voluntary poverty. Fresh out of college, I moved into my first house: a tent, pitched on the aforementioned Native American reservation. I spent in the low double-digits per month for food, cooked with free fuel (the sun) in a solar cooker, lived unhooked from the electrical grid (a small solar panel and rechargeable flashlight supplied my lighting needs), traveled on a $50 used bicycle, and had few other expenses. I became a full-time volunteer, knowing that my several thousand dollars of savings could last me quite a while in this situation. Meanwhile, my own unique experience in the heart of Native American country could not have been purchased at any price. I spent all my time with the developmentally disabled in an ancient culture—taking them for walks on land that their ancestors had known for thousands of years, and helping them cope with daily tasks made challenging by their disabilities (many of which resulted, no doubt, from the uranium mining perpetuated by the white culture for which I could never hope to do full penance). Even after being hired as “direct care staff” several months into my time there, I continued to volunteer during the hours that I wasn’t employed. Despite donating 20 percent of my salary back to the Center, I still saved enough money to bridge me through a number of the years which followed, in which I pursued “right ways to live” rather than money. All of my needs were already met, and I was surrounded by the kind of community that most of us from nonindigenous “settler” culture can only envy for its longevity, depth, and cultural richness.

When I felt the call to leave that culture and return to my own, I also knew that I could never in good conscience return to a resource-intensive lifestyle. And as luck would have it, in pursuing organic food-growing and eco-agricultural education, I chose one of the least remunerative, yet most rewarding, paths that modern society has to offer—one in which community, whether “unintentional” or intentional, is a most essential component. My second organic gardening internship turned out to be in an intentional community and educational center dedicated, among other things, to voluntary simplicity, self-reliance, and “deconsumerizing.” Shared efforts and shared resources made many things possible in this setting that no amount of money could have bought—and with negligible or even positive impacts on the natural environment. I have lived in settings with similar ecological orientations (all manifested, of course, slightly differently) ever since.

Over the years, I have relaxed my attitude somewhat toward money: I no longer see it as necessarily a virtue not to earn it or spend it, and I have gradually done more of both. But my cautious attitude and valuing of “life” over money have stayed with me, continued to bring me together with others sharing similar values and similar paths, and made my life “rich” with forms of nonmonetary wealth that can never be owned or horded, but only shared.

I’ve found that, more than anything we can do (or refrain from doing) as lone individuals, community has an unrivaled ability to lessen the toll we take on the earth, establish new relationships between the human and non-human worlds, and inspire and educate both ourselves and others. This “community” does not need be strictly intentional in structure, but it does need to involve both intention and action: a commitment to sharing that reflects the truth that we are all interdependent parts of the web of life.

Perhaps my drummer wasn’t so off-beat after all.

Copyright © Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC) and Communities: Life in Cooperative Culture · communities.ic.org · Reprint only with permission.

The FIC publishes Communities magazine, the Communities Directory, the Intentional Communities Website (www.ic.org), and supports all forms of cooperative living. Please consider a donation to support our efforts.

Chris Roth
Chris Roth
Chris Roth is editor of Communities and a long-time communitarian with a predilection for growing organic vegetables.

http://communities.ic.org/articles/181/How_Ecology_Led_Me_to_Community

July 29, 2010 Posted by | anti-endustriyalizm, ekokoy - permakultur, komünler, kolektifler, ozyonetim | Leave a comment

The Richness of Giving – Elizabeth Barrette

Imagine a world where wealth is measured not by how much you have, but by how much you give to others. Imagine people in a huge house full of stuff being considered “poor” because they never pass any of it along to someone else. Imagine going out on a summer day and seeing sign after sign posted, not for a Rummage Sale, but for a Giveaway. There would be the same tables heaped with clothes, knickknacks, and books—but no price tags.

Sound impossible? It’s not. It’s actually a very old idea, and it has appeared in cultures around the world. The modern consumer culture is fairly new, and it isn’t perfect. So let’s consider some alternatives that would work in a community context.

Benefits of Generosity

Many traditional cultures around the world have an economy based not on buying and selling, but on giving. The constant exchange of gifts fosters an intricate network of social connections. You give and receive gifts among your relatives, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. This encourages people to get to know each other’s likes and dislikes. It also limits the gap between those who have the most and those who have the least, in terms of material goods. This translates well into modern intentional communities.

On a personal level, giving teaches you to let go of things you no longer need, instead of clinging to them. Practice in giving away material goods makes it easier to release old habits or ideas that have become more trouble than they’re worth. The Buddhist principle of dana paramita encompasses nonattachment and generosity; it is part of the path to enlightenment and the relief of suffering.[1] Consumerist society pressures everyone to want things. If you can avoid wanting things, or turn off the “wanting” without acquiring things, then you can enjoy more contentment and suffer less yearning.

Also, helping others makes us feel good. It’s fun to watch someone open a present and see their face light up. When bad things happen—such as a flood or a house fire—generosity can relieve some of the stress both for the victim and the bystanders. You can’t undo the damage, but you can donate clothes, furniture, food, or other necessities to replace what was lost. Then you don’t have to stand around feeling totally helpless, and the victims can begin to recover.

Finally, gift giving creates a sense of abundance. When we give things away, that reminds us that we have more than we really need. This cultivates gratitude and appreciation for the things we choose to keep. Wiccan tradition advises, “All that you do returns to you three times over.” Likewise, Inuit people have a saying, “The gift must move.” It’s like water: stagnant water yields no power, but flowing water can turn a millwheel. When we move the energy of generosity, and the gifts themselves, they gain momentum and bring greater abundance into our lives.

How Cultures Give

Different cultures have different customs and names relating to their traditional expressions of generosity. You can find examples in history and in fiction. Some survive today, but it’s a challenge to go against the consumer culture.

The Inuit, and other peoples along the northwest coast of the United States and Canada, have a custom they call “potlatch.” A potlatch is a big community party centered around a host who gives away huge quantities of food, blankets, beads, and other practical and luxurious items. The event also includes speeches by the host and guest(s) of honor, dancing and singing, a sumptuous feast, and games. Potlatches can express mourning or celebration of major life events.

The concept of a gift-driven economy is so incomprehensible to European-derived society that the government of British Columbia actually banned the practice of potlatch from 1887 to 1951.[2] They mistakenly believed that it caused poverty, when in fact, it served to distribute wealth more evenly among the community.

Lakota culture has the “giveaway” ceremony: “We hold onto our otuhan, our give-aways, because they help us to remain Indian. All the big events in our lives—birth and death, joy and sadness—can be occasions for a give-away.”[3] In times of sorrow, the give-away allows grieving people to externalize their pain. There is a Lakota saying for this: “Give until it hurts.” A person would give away most or all of their worldly goods, and exercise their grief for four days. After that, their friends and relatives would come give them gifts, and the grieving person would start to feel better, having released the feeling instead of bottling it up.

Furthermore: “A wopila—a thanksgiving for something good that happened to a person—is also a time for giving away things.”[4] Such a ceremony might be held when a young girl becomes a woman, or a couple gets married, or a baby is born. The host gives away presents to express appreciation for the good fortune in his or her life, and to share that fortune with friends and family.

Give-away customs also appear in fiction: “Hobbits give presents to other people on their own birthdays. Not very expensive ones, as a rule, and not so lavishly as on this occasion; but it was not a bad system. Actually in Hobbiton and Bywater every day in the year was somebody’s birthday, so that every hobbit in those parts had a fair chance of at least one present at least once a week. But they never got tired of them.”[5]

Nor were the presents necessarily new, as revealed by one of Tolkien’s linguistic notes: “for anything that Hobbits had no immediate use for, but were unwilling to throw away, they called a mathom. Their dwellings were apt to become rather crowded with mathoms, and many of the presents that passed from hand to hand were of that sort.”[6] Fans of Middle Earth have been known to hold “Hobbit birthday parties” at which the host gives away presents.

Occasions for Giving

The modern consumerist culture marks special occasions by having guests give presents to the celebrant. Conversely, a gift-exchange culture marks special occasions by having the celebrant give presents to the guests. Thus, any occasion when mainstream society would give gifts to someone is a suitable occasion for someone to host a give-away instead. Of course, there are many other reasons for a give-away, too. Here are some to get you started.

A girl approaching womanhood, or a boy approaching manhood, would give away toys, clothes, and other outgrown items associated with childhood. Similarly, a teenager headed for college—an adult experience—would give away items associated with adolescence.

A married couple whose last infant has reached kindergarten might give away all the baby things: crib, changing table, infant clothes, bottles, etc. to new parents.

A retired couple might sell their house to buy a recreational vehicle and spend their golden years traveling—and hold a give-away to disperse most of the things in their house; everything that wouldn’t fit in the RV.

Someone who just moved into a new home could hold a give-away to thank all the friends who helped them move, or as a way to meet their new neighbors.

Someone might host a “Hobbit birthday party” and give presents to all their friends and relatives, then compare that with an ordinary present-receiving birthday party to see which was more fun.

A person joining or leaving an intentional community might hold a give-away to mark the transition.

The intentional community culture is less acquisitive than the mainstream, but more diverse than traditional tribal cultures. We’re more likely to make presents, to pass along used items, or to give services, rather than always buying something new as a gift. We’re less likely to equate cash or goods with success, happiness, and abundance. But we’re also scattered in bunches across the world, and many communities consist of unrelated people from divergent backgrounds. That’s different from what used to be the norm throughout most of human history. Things that work for mainstream folks, or that worked for our ancestors, may not always work for us now.

We often reject consumerist principles without necessarily knowing what to use as a replacement. Nor can we simply adopt customs wholesale without considering their context and implications. What we can do is study the alternatives, making an informed choice about the values we choose to express and the cultural life we want to live. Then we can adapt—or invent—customs to fit our objectives.

* * *

References

1. “Dharma Talk: Six Principles of Enlightened Living: The Six Paramitas and the Three Trainings,” a presentation delivered February 20, 1995, at the regular Monday night Dzogchen sitting group in Cambridge, MA. http://www.dzogchen.org/teachings/talks/dtalk-95feb20.html

2. René R. Gadacz, “Potlatch,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2006. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0006431

3. John (Fire) Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes, Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, Washington Square Press, New York, NY, 1972, p. 37.

4. Lame Deer and Erdoes, Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, p. 37.

5. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1965, pp. 50-51.

6. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 26.

Copyright © Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC) and Communities: Life in Cooperative Culture · communities.ic.org · Reprint only with permission.

The FIC publishes Communities magazine, the Communities Directory, the Intentional Communities Website (www.ic.org), and supports all forms of cooperative living. Please consider a donation to support our efforts.

Elizabeth Barrette writes nonfiction, fiction, and poetry in the fields of alternative spirituality, speculative fiction, and gender studies. She supports the growth of community in diverse forms and is active in local organizations. Her favorite activities include gardening for wildlife and public speaking at Pagan events and science fiction conventions. Visit her blog at gaiatribe.geekuniversalis.com.

http://communities.ic.org/articles/5/The_Richness_of_Giving

July 29, 2010 Posted by | anti-endustriyalizm, anti-kapitalizm, komünler, kolektifler, kooperatifler vb modeller, ozyonetim | Leave a comment

The Communalist Project – Murray Bookchin

Whether the twenty-first century will be the most radical of times or the most reactionary – or will simply lapse into a gray era of dismal mediocrity – will depend overwhelmingly upon the kind of social movement and program that social radicals create out of the theoretical, organizational, and political wealth that has accumulated during the past two centuries of the revolutionary era.    

The direction we select, from among several intersecting roads of human development, may well determine the future of our species for centuries to come. As long as this irrational society endangers us with nuclear and biological weapons, we cannot ignore the possibility that the entire human enterprise may come to a devastating end. Given the exquisitely elaborate technical plans that the military-industrial complex has devised, the self-extermination of the human species must be included in the futuristic scenarios that, at the turn of the millennium, the mass media are projecting – the end of a human future as such.

Lest these remarks seem too apocalyptic, I should emphasize that we also live in an era when human creativity, technology, and imagination have the capability to produce extraordinary material achievements and to endow us with societies that allow for a degree of freedom that far and away exceeds the most dramatic and emancipatory visions projected by social theorists such as Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, Karl Marx, and Peter Kropotkin. (1) Many thinkers of the postmodern age have obtusely singled out science and technology as the principal threats to human well-being, yet few disciplines have imparted to humanity such a stupendous knowledge of the innermost secrets of matter and life, or provided our species better with the ability to alter every important feature of reality and to improve the well-being of human and nonhuman life-forms. 

We are thus in a position either to follow a path toward a grim “end of history,” in which a banal succession of vacuous events replaces genuine progress, or to move on to a path toward the true making of history, in which humanity genuinely progresses toward a rational world. We are in a position to choose between an ignominious finale, possibly including the catastrophic nuclear oblivion of history itself, and history’s rational fulfillment in a free, materially abundant society in an aesthetically crafted environment.

Notwithstanding the technological marvels that competing enterprises of the ruling class (that is, the bourgeoisie) are developing in order to achieve hegemony over one another, little of a subjective nature that exists in the existing society can redeem it. Precisely at a time when we, as a species, are capable of producing the means for amazing objective advances and improvements in the human condition and in the nonhuman natural world – advances that could make for a free and rational society – we stand almost naked morally before the onslaught of social forces that may very well lead to our physical immolation. Prognoses about the future are understandably very fragile and are easily distrusted. Pessimism has become very widespread, as capitalist social relations become more deeply entrenched in the human mind than ever before, and as culture regresses appallingly, almost to a vanishing point. To most people today, the hopeful and very radical certainties of the twenty-year period between the Russian Revolution of 1917-18 and the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939 seem almost naïve.

Yet our decision to create a better society, and our choice of the way to do it, must come from within ourselves, without the aid of a deity, still less a mystical “force of nature” or a charismatic leader. If we choose the road toward a better future, our choice must be the consequence of our ability – and ours alone – to learn from the material lessons of the past and to appreciate the real prospects of the future. We will need to have recourse, not to ghostly vagaries conjured up from the murky hell of superstition or, absurdly, from the couloirs of the academy, but to the innovative attributes that make up our very humanity and the essential features that account for natural and social development, as opposed to the social pathologies and accidental events that have sidetracked humanity from its self-fulfillment in consciousness and reason. Having brought history to a point where nearly everything is possible, at least of a material nature – and having left behind a past that was permeated ideologically by mystical and religious elements produced by the human imagination – we are faced with a new challenge, one that has never before confronted humanity. We must consciously create our own world, not according to demonic fantasies, mindless customs, and destructive prejudices, but according to the canons of reason, reflection, and discourse that uniquely belong to our own species.

What factors should be decisive in making our choice? First, of great significance is the immense accumulation of social and political experience that is available to revolutionaries today, a storehouse of knowledge that, properly conceived, could be used to avoid the terrible errors that our predecessors made and to spare humanity the terrible plagues of failed revolutions in the past. Of indispensable importance is the potential for a new theoretical springboard that has been created by the history of ideas, one that provides the means to catapult an emerging radical movement beyond existing social conditions into a future that fosters humanity’s emancipation.

But we must also be fully aware of the scope of the problems that we face. We must understand with complete clarity where we stand in the development of the prevailing capitalist order, and we have to grasp emergent social problems and address them in the program of a new movement. Capitalism is unquestionably the most dynamic society ever to appear in history. By definition, to be sure, it always remains a system of commodity exchange in which objects that are made for sale and profit pervade and mediate most human relations. Yet capitalism is also a highly mutable system, continually advancing the brutal maxim that whatever enterprise does not grow at the expense of its rivals must die. Hence “growth” and perpetual change become the very laws of life of capitalist existence. This means that capitalism never remains permanently in only one form; it must always transform the institutions that arise from its basic social relations.

Although capitalism became a dominant society only in the past few centuries, it long existed on the periphery of earlier societies: in a largely commercial form, structured around trade between cities and empires; in a craft form throughout the European Middle Ages; in a hugely industrial form in our own time; and if we are to believe recent seers, in an informational form in the coming period. It has created not only new technologies but also a great variety of economic and social structures, such as the small shop, the factory, the huge mill, and the industrial and commercial complex. Certainly the capitalism of the Industrial Revolution has not completely disappeared, any more than the isolated peasant family and small craftsman of a still earlier period have been consigned to complete oblivion. Much of the past is always incorporated into the present; indeed, as Marx insistently warned, there is no “pure capitalism,” and none of the earlier forms of capitalism fade away until radically new social relations are established and become overwhelmingly dominant. But today capitalism, even as it coexists with and utilizes precapitalist institutions for its own ends (see Marx’s Grundrisse for this dialectic), now reaches into the suburbs and the countryside with its shopping malls and newly styled factories. Indeed, it is by no means inconceivable that one day it will reach beyond our planet. In any case, it has produced not only new commodities to create and feed new wants but new social and cultural issues, which in turn have given rise to new supporters and antagonists of the existing system. The famous first part of Marx and Engels’s Communist Manifesto, in which they celebrate capitalism’s wonders, would have to be periodically rewritten to keep pace with the achievements – as well as the horrors – produced by the bourgeoisie’s development.

One of the most striking features of capitalism today is that in the Western world the highly simplified two-class structure – the bourgeoisie and the proletariat – that Marx and Engels, in The Communist Manifesto, predicted would become dominant under “mature” capitalism (and we have yet to determine what “mature,” still less “late” or “moribund” capitalism actually is) has undergone a process of reconfiguration. The conflict between wage labor and capital, while it has by no means disappeared, nonetheless lacks the all-embracing importance that it possessed in the past. Contrary to Marx’s expectations, the industrial working class is now dwindling in numbers and is steadily losing its traditional identity as a class – which by no means excludes it from a potentially broader and perhaps more extensive conflict of society as a whole against capitalist social relations. Present-day culture, social relations, cityscapes, modes of production, agriculture, and transportation have remade the traditional proletariat, upon which syndicalists and Marxists were overwhelmingly, indeed almost mystically focused, into a largely petty-bourgeois stratum whose mentality is marked by its own bourgeois utopianism of “consumption for the sake of consumption.” We can foresee a time when the proletarian, whatever the color of his or her collar or place on the assembly line, will be completely replaced by automated and even miniaturized means of production that are operated by a few white-coated manipulators of machines and by computers.

By the same token, the living standards of the traditional proletariat and its material expectations (no small factor in the shaping of social consciousness!) have changed enormously, soaring within only a generation or two from near poverty to a comparatively high degree of material affluence. Among the children and grandchildren of former steel and automobile workers and coal miners, who have no proletarian class identity, a college education has replaced the high school diploma as emblematic of a new class status. In the United States once-opposing class interests have converged to a point that almost 50 percent of American households own stocks and bonds, while a huge number are proprietors of one kind or another, possessing their own homes, gardens, and rural summer retreats.

Given these changes, the stern working man or woman, portrayed in radical posters of the past with a flexed, highly muscular arm holding a bone-crushing hammer, has been replaced by the genteel and well-mannered (so-called) “working middle class.” The traditional cry “Workers of the world, unite!” in its old historical sense becomes ever more meaningless. The class-consciousness of the proletariat, which Marx tried to awaken in The Communist Manifesto, has been hemorrhaging steadily and in many places has virtually disappeared. The more existential class struggle has not been eliminated, to be sure, any more than the bourgeoisie could eliminate gravity from the existing human condition, but unless radicals today become aware of the fact that it has been narrowed down largely to the individual factory or office, they will fail to see that a new, perhaps more expansive form of social consciousness can emerge in the generalized struggles that face us. Indeed, this form of social consciousness can be given a refreshingly new meaning as the concept of the rebirth of the citoyen – a concept so important to the Great Revolution of 1789 and its more broadly humanistic sentiment of sociality that it became the form of address among later revolutionaries summoned to the barricades by the heraldic crowing of the red French rooster.

Seen as a whole, the social condition that capitalism has produced today stands very much at odds with the simplistic class prognoses advanced by Marx and by the revolutionary French syndicalists. After the Second World War, capitalism underwent an enormous transformation, creating broad new social issues with extraordinary rapidity, issues that went beyond traditional proletarian demands for improved wages, hours, and working conditions: notably environmental, gender, hierarchical, civic, and democratic issues. Capitalism, in effect, has generalized its threats to humanity, particularly with climatic changes that may alter the very face of the planet, oligarchical institutions of a global scope, and rampant urbanization that radically corrodes the civic life basic to grassroots politics.

Hierarchy, today, is becoming as pronounced an issue as class – as witness the extent to which many social analyses have singled out managers, bureaucrats, scientists, and the like as emerging, ostensibly dominant groups. New and elaborate gradations of status and interests count today to an extent that they did not in the recent past; they blur the conflict between wage labor and capital that was once so central, clearly defined, and militantly waged by traditional socialists. Class categories are now intermingled with hierarchical categories based on race, gender, sexual preference, and certainly national or regional differences. Status differentiations, characteristic of hierarchy, tend to converge with class differentiations, and a more all-inclusive capitalistic world is emerging in which ethnic, national, and gender differences often surpass the importance of class differences in the public eye. This phenomenon is not entirely new: in the First World War countless German socialist workers cast aside their earlier commitment to the red flags of proletarian unity in favor of the national flags of their well-fed and parasitic rulers and went on to plunge bayonets into the bodies of French and Russian socialist workers – as they did, in turn, under the national flags of their own oppressors.

At the same time capitalism has produced a new, perhaps paramount contradiction: the clash between an economy based on unending growth and the desiccation of the natural environment. (2) This issue and its vast ramifications can no more be minimized, let alone dismissed, than the need of human beings for food or air. At present the most promising struggles in the West, where socialism was born, seem to be waged less around income and working conditions than around nuclear power, pollution, deforestation, urban blight, education, health care, community life, and the oppression of people in underdeveloped countries – as witness the (albeit sporadic) antiglobalization upsurges, in which blue- and white-collar “workers” march in the same ranks with middle-class humanitarians and are motivated by common social concerns. Proletarian combatants become indistinguishable from middle-class ones. Burly workers, whose hallmark is a combative militancy, now march behind “bread and puppet” theater performers, often with a considerable measure of shared playfulness. Members of the working and middle classes now wear many different social hats, so to speak, challenging capitalism obliquely as well as directly on cultural as well as economic grounds.

Nor can we ignore, in deciding what direction we are to follow, the fact that capitalism, if it is not checked, will in the future – and not necessarily the very distant future – differ appreciably from the system we know today. Capitalist development can be expected to vastly alter the social horizon in the years ahead. Can we suppose that factories, offices, cities, residential areas, industry, commerce, and agriculture, let alone moral values, aesthetics, media, popular desires, and the like will not change immensely before the twenty-first century is out? In the past century, capitalism, above all else, has broadened social issues – indeed, the historical social question of how a humanity, divided by classes and exploitation, will create a society based on equality, the development of authentic harmony, and freedom – to include those whose resolution was barely foreseen by the liberatory social theorists in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Our age, with its endless array of “bottom lines” and “investment choices,” now threatens to turn society itself into a vast and exploitative marketplace. (3)

The public with which the progressive socialist had to deal is also changing radically and will continue to do so in the coming decades. To lag in understanding behind the changes that capitalism is introducing and the new or broader contradictions it is producing would be to commit the recurringly disastrous error that led to the defeat of nearly all revolutionary upsurges in the past two centuries. Foremost among the lessons that a new revolutionary movement must learn from the past is that it must win over broad sectors of the middle class to its new populist program. No attempt to replace capitalism with socialism ever had or will have the remotest chance of success without the aid of the discontented petty bourgeoisie, whether it was the intelligentsia and peasantry-in-uniform of the Russian Revolution or the intellectuals, farmers, shopkeepers, clerks, and managers in industry and even in government in the German upheavals of 1918-21. Even during the most promising periods of past revolutionary cycles, the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, the German Social Democrats, and Russian Communists never acquired absolute majorities in their respective legislatives bodies. So-called “proletarian revolutions” were invariably minority revolutions, usually even within the proletariat itself, and those that succeeded (often briefly, before they were subdued or drifted historically out of the revolutionary movement) depended overwhelmingly on the fact that the bourgeoisie lacked active support among its own military forces or was simply socially demoralized.
Given the changes that we are witnessing and those that are still taking form, social radicals can no longer oppose the predatory (as well as immensely creative) capitalist system by using the ideologies and methods that were born in the first Industrial Revolution, when a factory proletarian seemed to be the principal antagonist of a textile plant owner. (Nor can we use ideologies that were spawned by conflicts that an impoverished peasantry used to oppose feudal and semifeudal landowners.) None of the professedly anticapitalist ideologies of the past – Marxism, anarchism, syndicalism, and more generic forms of socialism – retain the same relevance that they had at an earlier stage of capitalist development and in an earlier period of technological advance. Nor can any of them hope to encompass the multitude of new issues, opportunities, problems, and interests that capitalism has repeatedly created over time.

Marxism was the most comprehensive and coherent effort to produce a systematic form of socialism, emphasizing the material as well as the subjective historical preconditions of a new society. This project, in the present era of precapitalist economic decomposition and of intellectual confusion, relativism, and subjectivism, must never surrender to the new barbarians, many of whom find their home in what was once a barrier to ideological regression – the academy. We owe much to Marx’s attempt to provide us with a coherent and stimulating analysis of the commodity and commodity relations, to an activist philosophy, a systematic social theory, an objectively grounded or “scientific” concept of historical development, and a flexible political strategy. Marxist political ideas were eminently relevant to the needs of a terribly disoriented proletariat and to the particular oppressions that the industrial bourgeoisie inflicted upon it in England in the 1840s, somewhat later in France, Italy, and Germany, and very presciently in Russia in the last decade of Marx’s life. Until the rise of the populist movement in Russia (most famously, the Narodnaya Volya), Marx expected the emerging proletariat to become the great majority of the population in Europe and North America, and to inevitably engage in revolutionary class war as a result of capitalist exploitation and immiseration. And especially between 1917 and 1939, long after Marx’s death, Europe was indeed beleaguered by a mounting class war that reached the point of outright workers’ insurrections. In 1917, owing to an extraordinary confluence of circumstances – particularly with the outbreak of the First World War, which rendered several quasi-feudal European social systems terribly unstable – Lenin and the Bolsheviks tried to use (but greatly altered) Marx’s writings in order to take power in an economically backward empire, whose size spanned eleven time zones across Europe and Asia. (4)

But for the most part, as we have seen, Marxism’s economic insights belonged to an era of emerging factory capitalism in the nineteenth century. Brilliant as a theory of the material preconditions for socialism, it did not address the ecological, civic, and subjective forces or the efficient causes that could impel humanity into a movement for revolutionary social change. On the contrary, for nearly a century Marxism stagnated theoretically. Its theorists were often puzzled by developments that have passed it by and, since the 1960s, have mechanically appended environmentalist and feminist ideas to its formulaic ouvrierist outlook.

By the same token, anarchism – which, I believe, represents in its authentic form a highly individualistic outlook that fosters a radically unfettered lifestyle, often as a substitute for mass action – is far better suited to articulate a Proudhonian single-family peasant and craft world than a modern urban and industrial environment. I myself once used this political label, but further thought has obliged me to conclude that, its often-refreshing aphorisms and insights notwithstanding, it is simply not a social theory. Its foremost theorists celebrate its seeming openness to eclecticism and the liberatory effects of “paradox” or even “contradiction,” to use Proudhonian hyperbole. Accordingly, and without prejudice to the earnestness of many anarchistic practices, a case can made that many of the ideas of social and economic reconstruction that in the past have been advanced in the name of “anarchy” were often drawn from Marxism (including my own concept of “post-scarcity,” which understandably infuriated many anarchists who read my essays on the subject). Regrettably, the use of socialistic terms has often prevented anarchists from telling us or even understanding clearly what they are: individualists whose concepts of autonomy originate in a strong commitment to personal liberty rather than to social freedom, or socialists committed to a structured, institutionalized, and responsible form of social organization. Anarchism’s idea of self-regulation (auto-nomos) led to a radical celebration of Nietzsche’s all-absorbing will. Indeed the history of this “ideology” is peppered with idiosyncratic acts of defiance that verge on the eccentric, which not surprisingly have attracted many young people and aesthetes.

In fact anarchism represents the most extreme formulation of liberalism’s ideology of unfettered autonomy, culminating in a celebration of heroic acts of defiance of the state. Anarchism’s mythos of self-regulation (auto nomos) – the radical assertion of the individual over or even against society and the personalistic absence of responsibility for the collective welfare – leads to a radical affirmation of the all-powerful will so central to Nietzsche’s ideological peregrinations. Some self-professed anarchists have even denounced mass social action as futile and alien to their private concerns and made a fetish of what the Spanish anarchists called grupismo, a small-group mode of action that is highly personal rather than social.

Anarchism has often been confused with revolutionary syndicalism, a highly structured and well-developed mass form of libertarian trade unionism that, unlike anarchism, was long committed to democratic procedures, (5) to discipline in action, and to organized, long-range revolutionary practice to eliminate capitalism. Its affinity with anarchism stems from its strong libertarian bias, but bitter antagonisms between anarchists and syndicalists have a long history in nearly every country in Western Europe and North America, as witness the tensions between the Spanish CNT and the anarchist groups associated with Tierra y Libertad early in the twentieth century; between the revolutionary syndicalist and anarchist groups in Russia during the 1917 revolution; and between the IWW in the United States and Sweden, to cite the more illustrative cases in the history of the libertarian labor movement. More than one American anarchist was affronted by Joe Hill’s defiant maxim on the eve of his execution in Utah: “Don’t mourn – Organize!” Alas, small groups were not quite the “organizations” that Joe Hill, or the grossly misunderstood idol of the Spanish libertarian movement, Salvador Seguí, had in mind. It was largely the shared word libertarian that made it possible for somewhat confused anarchists to coexist in the same organization with revolutionary syndicalists. It was often verbal confusion rather than ideological clarity that made possible the coexistence in Spain of the FAI, as represented by the anarchist Federica Montseny, with the syndicalists, as represented by Juan Prieto, in the CNT-FAI, a truly confused organization if ever there was one.

Revolutionary syndicalism’s destiny has been tied in varying degrees to a pathology called ouvrierisme, or “workerism,” and whatever philosophy, theory of history, or political economy it possesses has been borrowed, often piecemeal and indirectly, from Marx – indeed, Georges Sorel and many other professed revolutionary syndicalists in the early twentieth century expressly regarded themselves as Marxists and even more expressly eschewed anarchism. Moreover, revolutionary syndicalism lacks a strategy for social change beyond the general strike, which revolutionary uprisings such as the famous October and November general strikes in Russia during 1905 proved to be stirring but ultimately ineffectual. Indeed, as invaluable as the general strike may be as a prelude to direct confrontation with the state, they decidedly do not have the mystical capacity that revolutionary syndicalists assigned to them as means for social change. Their limitations are striking evidence that, as episodic forms of direct action, general strikes are not equatable with revolution nor even with profound social changes, which presuppose a mass movement and require years of gestation and a clear sense of direction. Indeed, revolutionary syndicalism exudes a typical ouvrierist anti-intellectualism that disdains attempts to formulate a purposive revolutionary direction and a reverence for proletarian “spontaneity” that, at times, has led it into highly self-destructive situations. Lacking the means for an analysis of their situation, the Spanish syndicalists (and anarchists) revealed only a minimal capacity to understand the situation in which they found themselves after their victory over Franco’s forces in the summer of 1936 and no capacity to take “the next step” to institutionalize a workers’ and peasants’ form of government.

What these observations add up to is that Marxists, revolutionary syndicalists, and authentic anarchists all have a fallacious understanding of politics, which should be conceived as the civic arena and the institutions by which people democratically and directly manage their community affairs. Indeed the Left has repeatedly mistaken statecraft for politics by its persistent failure to understand that the two are not only radically different but exist in radical tension – in fact, opposition – to each other. (6) As I have written elsewhere, historically politics did not emerge from the state – an apparatus whose professional machinery is designed to dominate and facilitate the exploitation of the citizenry in the interests of a privileged class. Rather, politics, almost by definition, is the active engagement of free citizens in the handling their municipal affairs and in their defense of its freedom. One can almost say that politics is the “embodiment” of what the French revolutionaries of the 1790s called civicisme. Quite properly, in fact, the word politics itself contains the Greek word for “city” or polis, and its use in classical Athens, together with democracy, connoted the direct governing of the city by its citizens. Centuries of civic degradation, marked particularly by the formation of classes, were necessary to produce the state and its corrosive absorption of the political realm.

A defining feature of the Left is precisely the Marxist, anarchist, and revolutionary syndicalist belief that no distinction exists, in principle, between the political realm and the statist realm. By emphasizing the nation-state – including a “workers’ state” – as the locus of economic as well as political power, Marx (as well as libertarians) notoriously failed to demonstrate how workers could fully and directly control such a state without the mediation of an empowered bureaucracy and essentially statist (or equivalently, in the case of libertarians, governmental) institutions. As a result, the Marxists unavoidably saw the political realm, which it designated a “workers’ state,” as a repressive entity, ostensibly based on the interests of a single class, the proletariat.

Revolutionary syndicalism, for its part, emphasized factory control by workers’ committees and confederal economic councils as the locus of social authority, thereby simply bypassing any popular institutions that existed outside the economy. Oddly, this was economic determinism with a vengeance, which, tested by the experiences of the Spanish revolution of 1936, proved completely ineffectual. A vast domain of real governmental power, from military affairs to the administration of justice, fell to the Stalinists and the liberals of Spain, who used their authority to subvert the libertarian movement – and with it, the revolutionary achievements of the syndicalist workers in July 1936, or what was dourly called by one novelist “The Brief Summer of Spanish Anarchism.”

As for anarchism, Bakunin expressed the typical view of its adherents in 1871 when he wrote that the new social order could be created “only through the development and organization of the nonpolitical or antipolitical social power of the working class in city and country,” thereby rejecting with characteristic inconsistency the very municipal politics which he sanctioned in Italy around the same year. Accordingly, anarchists have long regarded every government as a state and condemned it accordingly – a view that is a recipe for the elimination of any organized social life whatever. While the state is the instrument by which an oppressive and exploitative class regulates and coercively controls the behavior of an exploited class by a ruling class, a government – or better still, a polity – is an ensemble of institutions designed to deal with the problems of consociational life in an orderly and hopefully fair manner. Every institutionalized association that constitutes a system for handling public affairs – with or without the presence of a state – is necessarily a government. By contrast, every state, although necessarily a form of government, is a force for class repression and control. Annoying as it must seem to Marxists and anarchist alike, the cry for a constitution, for a responsible and a responsive government, and even for law or nomos has been clearly articulated – and committed to print! – by the oppressed for centuries against the capricious rule exercised by monarchs, nobles, and bureaucrats. The libertarian opposition to law, not to speak of government as such, has been as silly as the image of a snake swallowing its tail. What remains in the end is nothing but a retinal afterimage that has no existential reality.

The issues raised in the preceding pages are of more than academic interest. As we enter the twenty-first century, social radicals need a socialism – libertarian and revolutionary – that is neither an extension of the peasant-craft “associationism” that lies at the core of anarchism nor the proletarianism that lies at the core of revolutionary syndicalism and Marxism. However fashionable the traditional ideologies (particularly anarchism) may be among young people today, a truly progressive socialism that is informed by libertarian as well as Marxian ideas but transcends these older ideologies must provide intellectual leadership. For political radicals today to simply resuscitate Marxism, anarchism, or revolutionary syndicalism and endow them with ideological immortality would be obstructive to the development of a relevant radical movement. A new and comprehensive revolutionary outlook is needed, one that is capable of systematically addressing the generalized issues that may potentially bring most of society into opposition to an ever-evolving and changing capitalist system.

The clash between a predatory society based on indefinite expansion and nonhuman nature has given rise to an ensemble of ideas that has emerged as the explication of the present social crisis and meaningful radical change. Social ecology, a coherent vision of social development that intertwines the mutual impact of hierarchy and class on the civilizing of humanity, has for decades argued that we must reorder social relations so that humanity can live in a protective balance with the natural world. (7)

Contrary to the simplistic ideology of “eco-anarchism,” social ecology maintains that an ecologically oriented society can be progressive rather than regressive, placing a strong emphasis not on primitivism, austerity, and denial but on material pleasure and ease. If a society is to be capable of making life not only vastly enjoyable for its members but also leisurely enough that they can engage in the intellectual and cultural self-cultivation that is necessary for creating civilization and a vibrant political life, it must not denigrate technics and science but bring them into accord with visions human happiness and leisure. Social ecology is an ecology not of hunger and material deprivation but of plenty; it seeks the creation of a rational society in which waste, indeed excess, will be controlled by a new system of values; and when or if shortages arise as a result of irrational behavior, popular assemblies will establish rational standards of consumption by democratic processes. In short, social ecology favors management, plans, and regulations formulated democratically by popular assemblies, not freewheeling forms of behavior that have their origin in individual eccentricities.

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. (8) 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. From Marxism, it draws the basic project of formulating a rationally systematic and coherent socialism that integrates philosophy, history, economics, and politics. Avowedly dialectical, it attempts to infuse theory with practice. From anarchism, it draws its commitment to antistatism and confederalism, as well as its recognition that hierarchy is a basic problem that can be overcome only by a libertarian socialist society. (9)

The choice of the term Communalism to encompass the philosophical, historical, political, and organizational components of a socialism for the twenty-first century has not been a flippant one. The word originated in the Paris Commune of 1871, when the armed people of the French capital raised barricades not only to defend the city council of Paris and its administrative substructures but also to create a nationwide confederation of cities and towns to replace the republican nation-state. Communalism as an ideology is not sullied by the individualism and the often explicit antirationalism of anarchism; nor does it carry the historical burden of Marxism’s authoritarianism as embodied in Bolshevism. It does not focus on the factory as its principal social arena or on the industrial proletariat as its main historical agent; and it does not reduce the free community of the future to a fanciful medieval village. Its most important goal is clearly spelled out in a conventional dictionary definition: Communalism, according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, is ”a theory or system of government in which virtually autonomous local communities are loosely bound in a federation.” (10)

Communalism seeks to recapture the meaning of politics in its broadest, most emancipatory sense, indeed, to fulfill the historic potential of the municipality as the developmental arena of mind and discourse. It conceptualizes the municipality, potentially at least, as a transformative development beyond organic evolution into the domain of social evolution. The city is the domain where the archaic blood-tie that was once limited to the unification of families and tribes, to the exclusion of outsiders, was – juridically, at least – dissolved. It became the domain where hierarchies based on parochial and sociobiological attributes of kinship, gender, and age could be eliminated and replaced by a free society based on a shared common humanity. Potentially, it remains the domain where the once-feared stranger can be fully absorbed into the community – initially as a protected resident of a common territory and eventually as a citizen, engaged in making policy decisions in the public arena. It is above all the domain where institutions and values have their roots not in zoology but in civil human activity.

Looking beyond these historical functions, the municipality constitutes the only domain for an association based on the free exchange of ideas and a creative endeavor to bring the capacities of consciousness to the service of freedom. It is the domain where a mere animalistic adaptation to an existing and pregiven environment can be radically supplanted by proactive, rational intervention into the world – indeed, a world yet to be made and molded by reason – with a view toward ending the environmental, social, and political insults to which humanity and the biosphere have been subjected by classes and hierarchies. Freed of domination as well as material exploitation – indeed, recreated as a rational arena for human creativity in all spheres of life – the municipality becomes the ethical space for the good life. Communalism is thus no contrived product of mere fancy: it expresses an abiding concept and practice of political life, formed by a dialectic of social development and reason.

As a explicitly political body of ideas, Communalism seeks to recover and advance the development of the city (or commune) in a form that accords with its greatest potentialities and historical traditions. This is not to say that Communalism accepts the municipality as it is today. Quite to the contrary, the modern municipality is infused with many statist features and often functions as an agent of the bourgeois nation-state. Today, when the nation-state still seems supreme, the rights that modern municipalities possess cannot be dismissed as the epiphenomena of more basic economic relations. Indeed, to a great degree, they are the hard-won gains of commoners, who long defended them against assaults by ruling classes over the course of history – even against the bourgeoisie itself.

The concrete political dimension of Communalism is known as libertarian municipalism, about which I have previously written extensively. (11) In its libertarian municipalist program, Communalism resolutely seeks to eliminate statist municipal structures and replace them with the institutions of a libertarian polity. It seeks to radically restructure cities’ governing institutions into popular democratic assemblies based on neighborhoods, towns, and villages. In these popular assemblies, citizens – including the middle classes as well as the working classes – deal with community affairs on a face-to-face basis, making policy decisions in a direct democracy, and giving reality to the ideal of a humanistic, rational society.

Minimally, if we are to have the kind of free social life to which we aspire, democracy should be our form of a shared political life. To address problems and issues that transcend the boundaries of a single municipality, in turn, the democratized municipalities should join together to form a broader confederation. These assemblies and confederations, by their very existence, could then challenge the legitimacy of the state and statist forms of power. They could expressly be aimed at replacing state power and statecraft with popular power and a socially rational transformative politics. And they would become arenas where class conflicts could be played out and where classes could be eliminated.

Libertarian municipalists do not delude themselves that the state will view with equanimity their attempts to replace professionalized power with popular power. They harbor no illusions that the ruling classes will indifferently allow a Communalist movement to demand rights that infringe on the state’s sovereignty over towns and cities. Historically, regions, localities, and above all towns and cities have desperately struggled to reclaim their local sovereignty from the state (albeit not always for high-minded purposes). Communalists’ attempt to restore the powers of towns and cities and to knit them together into confederations can be expected to evoke increasing resistance from national institutions. That the new popular-assemblyist municipal confederations will embody a dual power against the state that becomes a source of growing political tension is obvious. Either a Communalist movement will be radicalized by this tension and will resolutely face all its consequences, or it will surely sink into a morass of compromises that absorb it back into the social order that it once sought to change. How the movement meets this challenge is a clear measure of its seriousness in seeking to change the existing political system and the social consciousness it develops as a source of public education and leadership.

Communalism constitutes a critique of hierarchical and capitalist society as a whole. It seeks to alter not only the political life of society but also its economic life. On this score, its 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 the local assembly, which decides how it will function to meet the interests of the community as a whole. The separation between life and work, so prevalent in the modern capitalist economy, must be overcome so that citizens’ desires and needs, the artful challenges of creation in the course of production, and role of production in fashioning thought and self-definition are not lost. “Humanity makes itself,” to cite the title of V. Gordon Childe’s book on the urban revolution at the end of the Neolithic age and the rise of cities, and it does so not only intellectually and esthetically, but by expanding human needs as well as the productive methods for satisfying them. We discover ourselves – our potentialities and their actualization – through creative and useful work that not only transforms the natural world but leads to our self-formation and self-definition.

We must also avoid the parochialism and ultimately the desires for proprietorship that have afflicted so many self-managed enterprises, such as the “collectives” in the Russian and Spanish revolutions. Not enough has been written about the drift among many “socialistic” self-managed enterprises, even under the red and red-and-black flags, respectively, of revolutionary Russia and revolutionary Spain, toward forms of collective capitalism that ultimately led many of these concerns to compete with one another for raw materials and markets. (12)

Most importantly, in Communalist political life, workers of different occupations would take their seats in popular assemblies not as workers – printers, plumbers, foundry workers and the like, with special occupational interests to advance – but as citizens, whose overriding concern should be the general interest of the society in which they live. Citizens should be freed of their particularistic identity as workers, specialists, and individuals concerned primarily with their own particularistic interests. Municipal life should become a school for the formation of citizens, both by absorbing new citizens and by educating the young, while the assemblies themselves should function not only as permanent decision-making institutions but as arenas for educating the people in handling complex civic and regional affairs. (13)

In a Communalist way of life, conventional economics, with its focus on prices and scarce resources, would be replaced by ethics, with its concern for human needs and the good life. Human solidarity – or philia, as the Greeks called it – would replace material gain and egotism. Municipal assemblies would become not only vital arenas for civic life and decision-making but centers where the shadowy world of economic logistics, properly coordinated production, and civic operations would be demystified and opened to the scrutiny and participation of the citizenry as a whole. The emergence of the new citizen would mark a transcendence of the particularistic class being of traditional socialism and the formation of the “new man” which the Russian revolutionaries hoped they could eventually achieve. Humanity would now be able to rise to the universal state of consciousness and rationality that the great utopians of the nineteenth century and the Marxists hoped their efforts would create, opening the way to humanity’s fulfillment as a species that embodies reason rather than material interest and that affords material post-scarcity rather than an austere harmony enforced by a morality of scarcity and material deprivation. (14)

Classical Athenian democracy of the fifth century B.C.E., the source of the Western democratic tradition, was based on face-to-face decision-making in communal assemblies of the people and confederations of those municipal assemblies. For more than two millennia, the political writings of Aristotle recurrently served to heighten our awareness of the city as the arena for the fulfillment of human potentialities for reason, self-consciousness, and the good life. Appropriately, Aristotle traced the emergence of the polis from the family or oikos – i.e., the realm of necessity, where human beings satisfied their basically animalistic needs, and where authority rested with the eldest male. But the association of several families, he observed, “aim[ed] at something more than the supply of daily needs” (15); this aim initiated the earliest political formation, the village. Aristotle famously described man (by which he meant the adult Greek male (16)) as a “political animal” (politikon zoon) who presided over family members not only to meet their material needs but as the material precondition for his participation in political life, in which discourse and reason replaced mindless deeds, custom, and violence. Thus, “[w]hen several villages are united in a single complete community (koinonan), large enough to be nearly or quite self-sufficing,” he continued, “the polis comes into existence, originating in the bare needs of life, and continuing in existence for the sake of a good life.” (17)

For Aristotle, and we may assume also for the ancient Athenians, the municipality’s proper functions were thus not strictly instrumental or even economic. As the locale of human consociation, the municipality, and the social and political arrangements that people living there constructed, was humanity’s telos, the arena par excellence where human beings, over the course of history, could actualize their potentiality for reason, self-consciousness, and creativity. Thus for the ancient Athenians, politics denoted not only the handling of the practical affairs of a polity but civic activities that were charged with moral obligation to one’s community. All citizens of a city were expected to participate in civic activities as ethical beings.

Examples of municipal democracy were not limited to ancient Athens. Quite to the contrary, long before class differentiations gave rise to the state, many relatively secular towns produced the earliest institutional structures of local democracy. Assemblies of the people may have existed in ancient Sumer, at the very beginning of the so-called “urban revolution” some seven or eight thousand years ago. They clearly appeared among the Greeks, and until the defeat of the Gracchus brothers, they were popular centers of power in republican Rome. They were nearly ubiquitous in the medieval towns of Europe and even in Russia, notably in Novgorod and Pskov, which, for a time, were among the most democratic cities in the Slavic world. The assembly, it should be emphasized, began to approximate its truly modern form in the neighborhood Parisian sections of 1793, when they became the authentic motive forces of the Great Revolution and conscious agents for the making of a new body politic. That they were never given the consideration they deserve in the literature on democracy, particularly democratic Marxist tendencies and revolutionary syndicalists, is dramatic evidence of the flaws that existed in the revolutionary tradition.

These democratic municipal institutions normally existed in combative tension with grasping monarchs, feudal lords, wealthy families, and freebooting invaders until they were crushed, frequently in bloody struggles. It cannot be emphasized too strongly that every great revolution in modern history had a civic dimension that has been smothered in radical histories by an emphasis on class antagonisms, however important these antagonisms have been. Thus it is unthinkable that the English Revolution of the 1640s can be understood without singling out London as its terrain; or, by the same token, any discussions of the various French Revolutions without focusing on Paris, or the Russian Revolutions without dwelling on Petrograd, or the Spanish Revolution of 1936 without citing Barcelona as its most advanced social center. This centrality of the city is not a mere geographic fact; it is, above all, a profoundly political one, which involved the ways in which revolutionary masses aggregated and debated, the civic traditions that nourished them, and the environment that fostered their revolutionary views.

Libertarian municipalism is an integral part of the Communalist framework, indeed its praxis, just as Communalism as a systematic body of revolutionary thought is meaningless without libertarian municipalism. The differences between Communalism and authentic or “pure” anarchism, let alone Marxism, are much too great to be spanned by a prefix such as anarcho-, social, neo-, or even libertarian. Any attempt to reduce Communalism to a mere variant of anarchism would be to deny the integrity of both ideas – indeed, to ignore their conflicting concepts of democracy, organization, elections, government, and the like. Gustave Lefrancais, the Paris Communard who may have coined this political term, adamantly declared that he was “a Communalist, not an anarchist.” (18)

Above all, Communalism is engaged with the problem of power. (19) In marked contrast to the various kinds of communitarian enterprises favored by many self-designated anarchists, such as “people’s” garages, print shops, food coops, and backyard gardens, adherents of Communalism mobilize themselves to electorally engage in a potentially important center of power – the municipal council – and try to compel it to create legislatively potent neighborhood assemblies. These assemblies, it should be emphasized, would make every effort to delegitimate and depose the statist organs that currently control their villages, towns, or cities and thereafter act as the real engines in the exercise of power. Once a number of municipalities are democratized along communalist lines, they would methodically confederate into municipal leagues and challenge the role of the nation-state and, through popular assemblies and confederal councils, try to acquire control over economic and political life.

Finally, Communalism, in contrast to anarchism, decidedly calls for decision-making by majority voting as the only equitable way for a large number of people to make decisions. Authentic anarchists claim that this principle – the “rule” of the minority by the majority – is authoritarian and propose instead to make decisions by consensus. Consensus, in which single individuals can veto majority decisions, threatens to abolish society as such. A free society is not one in which its members, like Homer’s lotus-eaters, live in a state of bliss without memory, temptation, or knowledge. Like it or not, humanity has eaten of the fruit of knowledge, and its memories are laden with history and experience. In a lived mode of freedom – contrary to mere café chatter – the rights of minorities to express their dissenting views will always be protected as fully as the rights of majorities. Any abridgements of those rights would be instantly corrected by the community – hopefully gently, but if unavoidable, forcefully – lest social life collapse into sheer chaos. Indeed, the views of a minority would be treasured as potential source of new insights and nascent truths that, if abridged, would deny society the sources of creativity and developmental advances – for new ideas generally emerge from inspired minorities that gradually gain the centrality they deserve at a given time and place – until, again, they too are challenged as the conventional wisdom of a period that is beginning to pass away and requires new (minority) views to replace frozen orthodoxies.

It remains to ask: how are we to achieve this rational society? One anarchist writer would have it that the good society (or a true “natural” disposition of affairs, including a “natural man”) exists beneath the oppressive burdens of civilization like fertile soil beneath the snow. It follows from this mentality that all we are obliged to do to achieve the good society is to somehow eliminate the snow, which is to say capitalism, nation-states, churches, conventional schools, and other almost endless types of institutions that perversely embody domination in one form or another. Presumably an anarchist society – once state, governmental, and cultural institutions are merely removed – would emerge intact, ready to function and thrive as a free society. Such a “society,” if one can even call it such, would not require that we proactively create it: we would simply let the snow above it melt away. The process of rationally creating a free Communalist society, alas, will require substantially more thought and work than embracing a mystified concept of aboriginal innocence and bliss.

A Communalist society should rest, above all, on the efforts of a new radical organization to change the world, one that has a new political vocabulary to explain its goals, and a new program and theoretical framework to make those goals coherent. It would, above all, require dedicated individuals who are willing to take on the responsibilities of education and, yes, leadership. Unless words are not to become completely mystified and obscure a reality that exists before our very eyes, it should minimally be acknowledged that leadership always exists and does not disappear because it is clouded by euphemisms such as “militants” or, as in Spain, “influential militants.” It must also be acknowledge that many individuals in earlier groups like the CNT were not just “influential militants” but outright leaders, whose views were given more consideration – and deservedly so! – than those of others because they were based on more experience, knowledge, and wisdom, as well as the psychological traits that were needed to provide effective guidance. A serious libertarian approach to leadership would indeed acknowledge the reality and crucial importance of leaders – all the more to establish the greatly needed formal structures and regulations that can effectively control and modify the activities of leaders and recall them when the membership decides their respect is being misused or when leadership becomes an exercise in the abusive exercise of power.

A libertarian municipalist movement should function, not with the adherence of flippant and tentative members, but with people who have been schooled in the movement’s ideas, procedures and activities. They should, in effect, demonstrate a serious commitment to their organization – an organization whose structure is laid out explicitly in a formal constitution and appropriate bylaws. Without a democratically formulated and approved institutional framework whose members and leaders can be held accountable, clearly articulated standards of responsibility cease to exist. Indeed, it is precisely when a membership is no longer responsible to its constitutional and regulatory provisions that authoritarianism develops and eventually leads to the movement’s immolation. Freedom from authoritarianism can best be assured only by the clear, concise, and detailed allocation of power, not by pretensions that power and leadership are forms of “rule” or by libertarian metaphors that conceal their reality. It has been precisely when an organization fails to articulate these regulatory details that the conditions emerge for its degeneration and decay.

Ironically, no stratum has been more insistent in demanding its freedom to exercise its will against regulation than chiefs, monarchs, nobles, and the bourgeoisie; similarly even well-meaning anarchists have seen individual autonomy as the true expression of freedom from the “artificialities” of civilization. In the realm of true freedom – that is, freedom that has been actualized as the result of consciousness, knowledge, and necessity – to know what we can and cannot do is more cleanly honest and true to reality than to avert the responsibility of knowing the limits of the lived world. Said a very wise man more than a century and a half ago: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please.”

The need for the international Left to advance courageously beyond a Marxist, anarchist, syndicalist, or vague socialist framework toward a Communalist framework is particularly compelling today. Rarely in the history of leftist political ideas have ideologies been so wildly and irresponsibly muddled; rarely has ideology itself been so disparaged; rarely has the cry for “Unity!” on any terms been heard with such desperation. To be sure, the various tendencies that oppose capitalism should indeed unite around efforts to discredit and ultimately efface the market system. To such ends, unity is an invaluable desideratum: a united front of the entire Left is needed in order to counter the entrenched system – indeed, culture – of commodity production and exchange, and to defend the residual rights that the masses have won in earlier struggles against oppressive governments and social systems.

The urgency of this need, however, does not require movement participants to abandon mutual criticism, or to stifle their criticism of the authoritarian traits present in anticapitalist organizations. Least of all does it require them to compromise the integrity and identity of their various programs. The vast majority of participants in today’s movement are inexperienced young radicals who have come of age in an era of postmodernist relativism. As a consequence, the movement is marked by a chilling eclecticism, in which tentative opinions are chaotically mismarried to ideals that should rest on soundly objective premises. (20) In a milieu where the clear expression of ideas is not valued and terms are inappropriately used, and where argumentation is disparaged as “aggressive” and, worse, “divisive,” it becomes difficult to formulate ideas in the crucible of debate. Ideas grow and mature best, in fact, not in the silence and controlled humidity of an ideological nursery, but in the tumult of dispute and mutual criticism.

Following revolutionary socialist practices of the past, Communalists would try to formulate a minimum program that calls for satisfaction of the immediate concerns of the masses, such as improved wages and shelter or adequate park space and transportation. This minimum program would aim to satisfy the most elemental needs of the masses, to improve their access to the resources that make daily life tolerable. The maximum program, by contrast, would present an image of what human life could be like under libertarian socialism, at least as far as such a society is foreseeable in a world that is continually changing under the impact of seemingly unending industrial revolutions.

Even more, however, Communalists would see their program and practice as a process. Indeed, a transitional program in which each new demand provides the springboard for escalating demands that lead toward more radical and eventually revolutionary demands. One of the most striking examples of a transitional demand was the programmatic call in the late nineteenth century by the Second International for a popular militia to replace a professional army. In still other cases, revolutionary socialists demanded that railroads be publicly owned (or, as revolutionary syndicalists might have demanded, be controlled by railroad workers) rather than privately owned and operated. None of these demands were in themselves revolutionary, but they opened pathways, politically, to revolutionary forms of ownership and operation – which, in turn, could be escalated to achieve the movement’s maximum program. Others might criticize such step-by-step endeavors as “reformist,” but Communalists do not contend that a Communalist society can be legislated into existence. What these demands try to achieve, in the short term, are new rules of engagement between the people and capital – rules that are all the more needed at a time when “direct action” is being confused with protests of mere events whose agenda is set entirely by the ruling classes.

On the whole, Communalism is trying to rescue a realm of public action and discourse that is either disappearing or that is being be reduced to often-meaningless engagements with the police, or to street theater that, however artfully, reduces serious issues to simplistic performances that have no instructive influence. By contrast, Communalists try to build lasting organizations and institutions that can play a socially transformative role in the real world. Significantly, Communalists do not hesitate to run candidates in municipal elections who, if elected, would use what real power their offices confer to legislate popular assemblies into existence. These assemblies, in turn, would have the power ultimately to create effective forms of town-meeting government. Inasmuch as the emergence of the city – and city councils – long preceded the emergence of class society, councils based on popular assemblies are not inherently statist organs, and to participate seriously in municipal elections countervails reformist socialist attempts to elect statist delegates by offering the historic libertarian vision of municipal confederations as a practical, combative, and politically credible popular alternative to state power. Indeed, Communalist candidacies, which explicitly denounce parliamentary candidacies as opportunist, keep alive the debate over how libertarian socialism can be achieved – a debate that has been languishing for years.

There should be no self-deception about the opportunities that exist as a means of transforming our existing irrational society into a rational one. Our choices on how to transform the existing society are still on the table of history and are faced with immense problems. But unless present and future generations are beaten into complete submission by a culture based on queasy calculation as well as by police with tear gas and water cannons, we cannot desist from fighting for what freedoms we have and try to expand them into a free society wherever the opportunity to do so emerges. At any rate we now know, in the light of all the weaponry and means of ecological destruction that are at hand, that the need for radical change cannot be indefinitely deferred. What is clear is that human beings are much too intelligent not to have a rational society; the most serious question we face is whether they are rational enough to achieve one. 

Notes

1. Many less-well-known names could be added to this list, but one that in particular I would like very much to single out is the gallant leader of the Left Socialist Revolutionary Party, Maria Spiridonova, whose supporters were virtually alone in proposing a workable revolutionary program for the Russian people in 1917-18. Their failure to implement their political insights and replace the Bolsheviks (with whom they initially joined in forming the first Soviet government) not only led to their defeat but contributed to the disastrous failure of revolutionary movements in the century that followed.

2. I frankly regard this contradiction as more fundamental than the often-indiscernible tendency of the rate of profit to decline and thereby to render capitalist exchange inoperable—a contradiction to which Marxists assigned a decisive role in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

3. Contrary to Marx’s assertion that a society disappears only when it has exhausted its capacity for new technological developments, capitalism is in a state of permanent technological revolution—at times, frighteningly so. Marx erred on this score: it will take more than technological stagnation to terminate this system of social relations. As new issues challenge the validity of the entire system, the political and ecological domains will become all the more important. Alternatively, we are faced with the prospect that capitalism may pull down the entire world and leave behind little more than ashes and ruin—achieving, in short, the “capitalist barbarism” of which Rosa Luxemburg warned in her “Junius” essay.

4. I use the word extraordinary because, by Marxist standards, Europe was still objectively unprepared for a socialist revolution in 1914. Much of the continent, in fact, had yet to be colonized by the capitalist market or bourgeois social relations. The proletariat—still a very conspicuous minority of the population in a sea of peasants and small producers—had yet to mature as a class into a significant force. Despite the opprobrium that has been heaped on Plekhanov, Kautsky, Bernstein et al., they had a better understanding of the failure of Marxist socialism to embed itself in proletarian consciousness than did Lenin. Luxemburg, in any case, straddled the so-called “social-patriotic” and “internationalist” camps in her image of a Marxist party’s function, in contrast to Lenin, her principal opponent in the so-called “organizational question” in the Left of the wartime socialists, who was prepared to establish a “proletarian dictatorship” under all and any circumstances. The First World War was by no means inevitable, and it generated democratic and nationalist revolutions rather than proletarian ones. (Russia, in this respect, was no more a “workers’ state” under Bolshevik rule than were the Hungarian and Bavarian “soviet” republics.) Not until 1939 was Europe placed in a position where a world war was inevitable. The revolutionary Left (to which I belonged at the time) frankly erred profoundly when it took a so-called “internationalist” position and refused to support the Allies (their imperialist pathologies notwithstanding) against the vanguard of world fascism, the Third Reich.

5. Kropotkin, for example, rejected democratic decision-making procedures: “Majority rule is as defective as any other kind of rule,” he asserted. See Peter Kropotkin, “Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles,” in Kropotkin’s Revolutionary Pamphlets, edited by Roger N. Baldwin (1927; reprinted by New York: Dover, 1970), p. 68.

6. I have made the distinction between politics and statecraft in, for example, Murray Bookchin, From Urbanization to Cities: Toward a New Politics of Citizenship (1987; reprinted by London: Cassell, 1992), pp. 41-3, 59-61

7. On social ecology, see Murray Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy (1982; reprinted by Warner, NH: Silver Brook, 2002); The Modern Crisis (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1987); and Remaking Society (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1989). The latter two books are out of print; some copies may be available from the Institute for Social Ecology in Plainfield, Vermont ( ise@sover.net This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).

8. Several years ago, while I still identified myself as an anarchist, I attempted to formulate a distinction between “social” and “lifestyle” anarchism, and I wrote an article that identified Communalism as “the democratic dimension of anarchism” (see Left Green Perspectives, no. 31, October 1994). I no longer believe that Communalism is a mere “dimension” of anarchism, democratic or otherwise; rather, it is a distinct ideology with a revolutionary tradition that has yet to be explored.

9. To be sure, these points undergo modification in Communalism: for example, Marxism’s historical materialism, explaining the rise of class societies, is expanded by social ecology’s explanation of the anthropological and historical rise of hierarchy. Marxian dialectical materialism, in turn, is transcended by dialectical naturalism; and the anarcho-communist notion of a very loose “federation of autonomous communes” is replaced with a confederation from which its components, functioning in a democratic manner through citizens’ assemblies, may withdraw only with the approval of the confederation as a whole.

10. What is so surprising about this minimalist dictionary definition is its overall accuracy: I would take issue only with its formulations “virtually autonomous” and “loosely bound,” which suggest a parochial and particularistic, even irresponsible relationship of the components of a confederation to the whole.

11. My writings on libertarian municipalism date back to the early 1970s, with “Spring Offensives and Summer Vacations,” Anarchos, no. 4 (1972). The more significant works include From Urbanization to Cities (1987; reprinted by London: Cassell, 1992), “Theses on Libertarian Municipalism,” Our Generation [Montreal], vol. 16, nos. 3-4 (Spring/Summer 1985); “Radical Politics in an Era of Advanced Capitalism,” Green Perspectives, no. 18 (Nov. 1989); “The Meaning of Confederalism,” Green Perspectives, no. 20 (November 1990); “Libertarian Municipalism: An Overview,” Green Perspectives, no. 24 (October 1991); and The Limits of the City (New York: Harper Colophon, 1974). For a concise summary, see Janet Biehl, The Politics of Social Ecology: Libertarian Municipalism (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1998).

12. For one such discussion, see Murray Bookchin, “The Ghost of Anarchosyndicalism,” Anarchist Studies, vol. 1, no. 1 (Spring 1993).

13. One of the great tragedies of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Spanish Revolution of 1936 was the failure of the masses to acquire more than the scantiest knowledge of social logistics and the complex interlinkages involved in providing for the necessities of life in a modern society. Inasmuch as those who had the expertise involved in managing productive enterprises and in making cities functional were supporters of the old regime, workers were in fact unable to actually take over the full control of factories. They were obliged instead to depend on “bourgeois specialists” to operate them, individuals who steadily made them the victims of a technocratic elite.

14. I have previously discussed this transformation of workers from mere class beings into citizens, among other places, in From Urbanization to Cities (1987; reprinted by London: Cassell, 1995), and in “Workers and the Peace Movement” (1983), published in The Modern Crisis (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1987).

15. Aristotle, Politics (1252 [b] 16), trans. Benjamin Jowett, in The Complete Works of Aristotle, Revised Oxford Translation, ed. Jonathan Barnes (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), vol. 2, p. 1987.

16. As a libertarian ideal for the future of humanity and a genuine domain of freedom, the Athenian polis falls far short of the city’s ultimate promise. Its population included slaves, subordinated women, and franchiseless resident aliens. Only a minority of male citizens possessed civic rights, and they ran the city without consulting a larger population. Materially, the stability of the polis depended upon the labor of its noncitizens. These are among the several monumental failings that later municipalities would have to correct. The polis is significant, however, not an example of an emancipated community but for the successful functioning of its free institutions.

17. Aristotle, Politics (1252 [b] 29-30), trans. Jowett; emphasis added. The words from the original Greek text may be found in the Loeb Classical Library edition: Aristotle, Politics, trans. H. Rackham (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972).

18. Lefrancais is quoted in Peter Kropotkin, Memoirs of a Revolutionist (New York: Horizon Press, 1968), p. 393. I too would be obliged today to make the same statement. In the late 1950s, when anarchism in the United States was a barely discernible presence, it seemed like a sufficiently clear field in which I could develop social ecology, as well as the philosophical and political ideas that would eventually become dialectical naturalism and libertarian municipalism. I well knew that these views were not consistent with traditional anarchist ideas, least of all post-scarcity, which implied that a modern libertarian society rested on advanced material preconditions. Today I find that anarchism remains the very simplistic individualistic and antirationalist psychology it has always been. My attempt to retain anarchism under the name of “social anarchism” has largely been a failure, and I now find that the term I have used to denote my views must be replaced with Communalism, which coherently integrates and goes beyond the most viable features of the anarchist and Marxist traditions. Recent attempts to use the word anarchism as a leveler to minimize the abundant and contradictory differences that are grouped under that term and even celebrate its openness to “differences” make it a diffuse catch-all for tendencies that properly should be in sharp conflict with one another.

19. For a discussion of the very real problems created by anarchists’ disdain for power during the 1936 Spanish Revolution, see the appendix to this article, “Anarchism and Power in the Spanish Revolution.”

20. I should note that by objective I do not refer merely to existential entities and events but also to potentialities that can be rationally conceived, nurtured, and in time actualized into what we would narrowly call realities. If mere substantiality were all that the term objective meant, no ideal or promise of freedom would be an objectively valid goal unless it existed under our very noses.

From the previous website ISSUE # 2 NOVEMBER 2002

http://www.communalism.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=179:the-communalist-project&catid=84:movement&Itemid=2

July 29, 2010 Posted by | anti-endustriyalizm, anti-kapitalizm, ekolojist akımlar, ozyonetim, sistem karsitligi | Leave a comment

What is Communalism? The Democratic Dimension of Anarchism – Murray Bookchin

Seldom have socially important words become more confused and divested of their historic meaning than they are at present. Two centuries ago, it is often forgotten, “democracy” was deprecated by monarchists and republicans alike as “mob rule.” Today, democracy is hailed as “representative democracy,” an oxymoron that refers to little more than a republican oligarchy of the chosen few who ostensibly speak for the powerless many.

“Communism,” for its part, once referred to a cooperative society that would be based morally on mutual respect and on an economy in which each contributed to the social labor fund according to his or her ability and received the means of life according to his or her needs. Today, “communism” is associated with the Stalinist gulag and wholly rejected as totalitarian. Its cousin, “socialism” — which once denoted a politically free society based on various forms of collectivism and equitable material returns for labor — is currently interchangeable with a somewhat humanistic bourgeois liberalism.

During the 1980s and 1990s, as the entire social and political spectrum has shifted ideologically to the right, “anarchism” itself has not been immune to redefinition. In the Anglo-American sphere, anarchism is being divested of its social ideal by an emphasis on personal autonomy, an emphasis that is draining it of its historic vitality. A Stirnerite individualism — marked by an advocacy of lifestyle changes, the cultivation of behavioral idiosyncrasies and even an embrace of outright mysticism — has become increasingly prominent. This personalistic “lifestyle anarchism” is steadily eroding the socialistic core of anarchist concepts of freedom.

Let me stress that in the British and American social tradition, autonomy and freedom are not equivalent terms. By insisting on the need to eliminate personal domination, autonomy focuses on the individual as the formative component and locus of society. By contrast, freedom, despite its looser usages, denotes the absence of domination in society, of which the individual is part. This contrast becomes very important when individualist anarchists equate collectivism as such with the tyranny of the community over its members.

Today, if an anarchist theorist like L. Susan Brown can assert that “a group is a collection of individuals, no more and no less,” rooting anarchism in the abstract individual, we have reason to be concerned. Not that this view is entirely new to anarchism; various anarchist historians have described it as implicit in the libertarian outlook. Thus the individual appears ab novo, endowed with natural rights and bereft of roots in society or historical development.[1]

But whence does this “autonomous” individual derive? What is the basis for its “natural rights,” beyond a priori premises and hazy intuitions? What role does historical development play in its formation? What social premises give birth to it, sustain it, indeed nourish it? How can a “collection of individuals” institutionalize itself such as to give rise to something more than an autonomy that consists merely in refusing to impair the “liberties” of others — or “negative liberty,” as Isaiah Berlin called it in contradistinction to “positive liberty,” which is substantive freedom, in our case constructed along socialistic lines?

In the history of ideas, “autonomy,” referring to strictly personal “self-rule,” found its ancient apogee in the imperial Roman cult of libertas. During the rule of the Julian-Claudian Caesars, the Roman citizen enjoyed a great deal of autonomy to indulge his own desires — and lusts — without reproval from any authority, provided that he did not interfere with the business and the needs of the state. In the more theoretically developed liberal tradition of John Locke and John Stuart Mill, autonomy acquired a more expansive sense that was opposed ideologically to excessive state authority. During the nineteenth century, if there was any single subject that gained the interest of classical liberals, it was political economy, which they often conceived not only as the study of goods and services, but also as a system of morality. Indeed, liberal thought generally reduced the social to the economic. Excessive state authority was opposed in favor of a presumed economic autonomy. Ironically, liberals often invoked the word freedom, in the sense of “autonomy,” as they do to the present day.[2]

Despite their assertions of autonomy and distrust of state authority, however, these classical liberal thinkers did not in the last instance hold to the notion that the individual is completely free from lawful guidance. Indeed, their interpretation of autonomy actually presupposed quite definite arrangements beyond the individual — notably, the laws of the marketplace. Individual autonomy to the contrary, these laws constitute a social organizing system in which all “collections of individuals” are held under the sway of the famous “invisible hand” of competition. Paradoxically, the laws of the marketplace override the exercise of “free will” by the same sovereign individuals who otherwise constitute the “collection of individuals.”

No rationally formed society can exist without institutions, and if a society as a “collection of individuals, no more and no less,” were ever to emerge, it would simply dissolve. Such a dissolution, to be sure, would never happen in reality. The liberals, nonetheless, can cling to the notion of a “free market” and “free competition” guided by the “inexorable laws” of political economy.

Alternatively, freedom, a word that shares etymological roots with the German Freiheit (for which there is no equivalent in Romance languages), takes its point of departure not from the individual but from the community or, more broadly, from society. In the last century and early in the present one, as the great socialist theorists further sophisticated ideas of freedom, the individual and his or her development were consciously intertwined with social evolution — specifically, the institutions that distinguish society from mere animal aggregations.

What made their focus uniquely ethical was the fact that as social revolutionaries they asked the key question — What constitutes a rational society? — a question that abolishes the centrality of economics in a free society. Where liberal thought generally reduced the social to the economic, various socialisms (apart from Marxism), among which Kropotkin denoted anarchism the “left wing,” dissolved the economic into the social.[3]

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as Enlightenment thought and its derivatives brought the idea of the mutability of institutions to the foreground of social thought, the individual, too, came to be seen as mutable. To the socialistic thinkers of the period, a “collection” was a totally alien way of denoting society; they properly considered individual freedom to be congruent with social freedom, and very significantly, they defined freedom as such as an evolving, as well as a unifying, concept.

In short, both society and the individual were historicized in the best sense of this term: as an ever-developing, self-generative and creative process in which each existed within and through the other. Hopefully, this historicization would be accompanied by ever-expanding new rights and duties. The slogan of the First International, in fact, was the demand, “No rights without duties, no duties without rights” — a demand that later appeared on the mastheads of anarchosyndicalist periodicals in Spain and elsewhere well into the present century.

Thus, for classical socialist thinkers, to conceive of the individual without society was as meaningless as to conceive of society without individuals. They sought to realize both in rational institutional frameworks that fostered the greatest degree of free expression in every aspect of social life.

II

Individualism, as conceived by classical liberalism, rested on a fiction to begin with. Its very presupposition of a social “lawfulness” maintained by marketplace competition was far removed from its myth of the totally sovereign, “autonomous” individual. With even fewer presuppositions to support itself, the woefully undertheorized work of Max Stirner shared a similar disjunction: the ideological disjunction between the ego and society.

The pivotal issue that reveals this disjunction — indeed, this contradiction — is the question of democracy. By democracy, of course, I do not mean “representative government” in any form, but rather face-to-face democracy. With regard to its origins in classical Athens, democracy as I use it is the idea of the direct management of the polis by its citizenry in popular assemblies — which is not to downplay the fact that Athenian democracy was scarred by patriarchy, slavery, class rule and the restriction of citizenship to males of putative Athenian birth. What I am referring to is an evolving tradition of institutional structures, not a social “model.”[4] Democracy generically defined, then, is the direct management of society in face-to-face assemblies — in which policy is formulated by the resident citizenry and administration is executed by mandated and delegated councils.

Libertarians commonly consider democracy, even in this sense, as a form of “rule” — since in making decisions, a majority view prevails and thus “rules” over a minority. As such, democracy is said to be inconsistent with a truly libertarian ideal. Even so knowledgeable a historian of anarchism as Peter Marshall observes that, for anarchists, “the majority has no more right to dictate to the minority, even a minority of one, than the minority to the majority.”[5] Scores of libertarians have echoed this idea time and again.

What is striking about assertions like Marshall’s is their highly pejorative language. Majorities, it would seem, neither “decide” nor “debate”: rather, they “rule,” “dictate,” “command,” “coerce” and the like. In a free society that not only permitted but fostered the fullest degree of dissent, whose podiums at assemblies and whose media were open to the fullest expression of all views, whose institutions were truly forums for discussion — one may reasonably ask whether such a society would actually “dictate” to anyone when it had to arrive at a decision that concerned the public welfare.

How, then, would society make dynamic collective decisions about public affairs, aside from mere individual contracts? The only collective alternative to majority voting as a means of decision-making that is commonly presented is the practice of consensus. Indeed, consensus has even been mystified by avowed “anarcho-primitivists,” who consider Ice Age and contemporary “primitive” or “primal” peoples to constitute the apogee of human social and psychic attainment. I do not deny that consensus may be an appropriate form of decision-making in small groups of people who are thoroughly familiar with one another. But to examine consensus in practical terms, my own experience has shown me that when larger groups try to make decisions by consensus, it usually obliges them to arrive at the lowest common intellectual denominator in their decision-making: the least controversial or even the most mediocre decision that a sizable assembly of people can attain is adopted — precisely because everyone must agree with it or else withdraw from voting on that issue. More disturbingly, I have found that it permits an insidious authoritarianism and gross manipulations — even when used in the name of autonomy or freedom.

To take a very striking case in point: the largest consensus-based movement (involving thousands of participants) in recent memory in the United States was the Clamshell Alliance, which was formed to oppose the Seabrook nuclear reactor in the mid-1970s in New Hampshire. In her recent study of the movement, Barbara Epstein has called the Clamshell the “first effort in American history to base a mass movement on nonviolent direct action” other than the 1960s civil rights movement. As a result of its apparent organizational success, many other regional alliances against nuclear reactors were formed throughout the United States.

I can personally attest to the fact that within the Clamshell Alliance, consensus was fostered by often cynical Quakers and by members of a dubiously “anarchic” commune that was located in Montague, Massachusetts. This small, tightly knit faction, unified by its own hidden agendas, was able to manipulate many Clamshell members into subordinating their goodwill and idealism to those opportunistic agendas. The de facto leaders of the Clamshell overrode the rights and ideals of the innumerable individuals who entered it and undermined their morale and will.

In order for that clique to create full consensus on a decision, minority dissenters were often subtly urged or psychologically coerced to decline to vote on a troubling issue, inasmuch as their dissent would essentially amount to a one-person veto. This practice, called “standing aside” in American consensus processes, all too often involved intimidation of the dissenters, to the point that they completely withdrew from the decision-making process, rather than make an honorable and continuing expression of their dissent by voting, even as a minority, in accordance with their views. Having withdrawn, they ceased to be political beings — so that a “decision” could be made. More than one “decision” in the Clamshell Alliance was made by pressuring dissenters into silence, and through a chain of such intimidations, “consensus” was ultimately achieved only after dissenting members nullified themselves as participants in the process.

On a more theoretical level, consensus silenced that most vital aspect of all dialogue, dissensus. The ongoing dissent, the passionate dialogue that still persists even after a minority accedes temporarily to a majority decision, was replaced in the Clamshell by dull monologues — and the uncontroverted and deadening tone of consensus. In majority decision-making, the defeated minority can resolve to overturn a decision on which they have been defeated — they are free to openly and persistently articulate reasoned and potentially persuasive disagreements. Consensus, for its part, honors no minorities, but mutes them in favor of the metaphysical “one” of the “consensus” group.

The creative role of dissent, valuable as an ongoing democratic phenomenon, tends to fade away in the gray uniformity required by consensus. Any libertarian body of ideas that seeks to dissolve hierarchy, classes, domination and exploitation by allowing even Marshall’s “minority of one” to block decision-making by the majority of a community, indeed, of regional and nationwide confederations, would essentially mutate into a Rousseauean “general will” with a nightmare world of intellectual and psychic conformity. In more gripping times, it could easily “force people to be free,” as Rousseau put it — and as the Jacobins practiced it in 1793-94.

The de facto leaders of the Clamshell were able to get away with their behavior precisely because the Clamshell was not sufficiently organized and democratically structured, such that it could countervail the manipulation of a well-organized few. The de facto leaders were subject to few structures of accountability for their actions. The ease with which they cannily used consensus decision-making for their own ends has been only partly told,[6] but consensus practices finally shipwrecked this large and exciting organization with its Rousseauean “republic of virtue.” It was also ruined, I may add, by an organizational laxity that permitted mere passersby to participate in decision-making, thereby destructuring the organization to the point of invertebracy. It was for good reason that I and many young anarchists from Vermont who had actively participated in the Alliance for some few years came to view consensus as anathema.

If consensus could be achieved without compulsion of dissenters, a process that is feasible in small groups, who could possibly oppose it as a decision-making process? But to reduce a libertarian ideal to the unconditional right of a minority — let alone a “minority of one” — to abort a decision by a “collection of individuals” is to stifle the dialectic of ideas that thrives on opposition, confrontation and, yes, decisions with which everyone need not agree and should not agree, lest society become an ideological cemetery. Which is not to deny dissenters every opportunity to reverse majority decisions by unimpaired discussion and advocacy.

III

I have dwelled on consensus at some length because it constitutes the usual individualistic alternative to democracy, so commonly counterposed as “no rule” — or a free-floating form of personal autonomy — against majority “rule.” Inasmuch as libertarian ideas in the United States and Britain are increasingly drifting toward affirmations of personal autonomy, the chasm between individualism and antistatist collectivism is becoming unbridgeable, in my view. A personalistic anarchism has taken deep root among young people today. Moreover, they increasingly use the word “anarchy” to express not only a personalistic stance but also an antirational, mystical, antitechnological and anticivilizational body of views that makes it impossible for anarchists who anchor their ideas in socialism to apply the word “anarchist” to themselves without a qualifying adjective. Howard Ehrlich, one of our ablest and most concerned American comrades, uses the phrase “social anarchism” as the title of his magazine, apparently to distinguish his views from an anarchism that is ideologically anchored in liberalism and possibly worse.

I would like to suggest that far more than a qualifying adjective is needed if we are to elaborate our notion of freedom more expansively. It would be unfortunate indeed if libertarians today had to literally explain that they believe in a society, not a mere collection of individuals! A century ago, this belief was presupposed; today, so much has been stripped away from the collectivistic flesh of classical anarchism that it is on the verge of becoming a personal life-stage for adolescents and a fad for their middle-aged mentors, a route to “self-realization” and the seemingly “radical” equivalent of encounter groups.

Today, 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, to use this word in its classical meaning, indeed 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. Bereft of its democratic dimension and its communal or municipal public sphere, anarchism may indeed denote little more than a “collection of individuals, no more and no less.” Even anarcho-communism, although it is by far the most preferable of adjectival modifications of the libertarian ideal, nonetheless retains a structural vagueness that tells us nothing about the institutions necessary to expedite a communistic distribution of goods. It spells out a broad goal, a desideratum — one, alas, terribly tarnished by the association of “communism” with Bolshevism and the state — but its public sphere and forms of institutional association remain unclear at best and susceptible to a totalitarian onus at worst.

I wish to propose that the democratic and potentially practicable dimension of the libertarian goal be expressed as Communalism, a term that, unlike political terms that once stood unequivocally for radical social change, has not been historically sullied by abuse. Even ordinary dictionary definitions of Communalism, I submit, capture to a great degree the vision of a “Commune of communes” that is being lost by current Anglo-American trends that celebrate anarchy variously as “chaos,” as a mystical “oneness” with “nature,” as self-fulfillment or as “ecstasy,” but above all as personalistic.[7]

Communalism is defined as “a theory or system of government [sic!] in which virtually autonomous [sic!] local communities are loosely in a federation.”[8] No English dictionary is very sophisticated politically. This use of the terms “government” and “autonomous” does not commit us to an acceptance of the state and parochialism, let alone individualism. Further, federation is often synonymous with confederation, the term I regard as more consistent with the libertarian tradition. What is remarkable about this (as yet) unsullied term is its extraordinary proximity to libertarian municipalism, the political dimension of social ecology that I have advanced at length elsewhere.

In Communalism, libertarians have an available word that they can enrich as much by experience as by theory. Most significantly, the word can express not only what we are against, but also what we are for, namely the democratic dimension of libertarian thought and a libertarian form of society. It is a word that is meant for a practice that can tear down the ghetto walls that are increasingly imprisoning anarchism in cultural exotica and psychological introversion. It stands in explicit opposition to the suffocating individualism that sits so comfortably side-by-side with bourgeois self-centeredness and a moral relativism that renders any social action irrelevant, indeed, institutionally meaningless.

Anarchism is on the retreat today. If we fail to elaborate the democratic dimension of anarchism, we will miss the opportunity not only to form a vital movement, but to prepare people for a revolutionary social praxis in the future. Alas, we are witnessing the appalling desiccation of a great tradition, such that neo-Situationists, nihilists, primitivists, antirationalists, anticivilizationists and avowed “chaotics” are closeting themselves in their egos, reducing anything resembling public political activity to juvenile antics.

None of which is to deny the importance of a libertarian culture, one that is aesthetic, playful and broadly imaginative. The anarchists of the last century and part of the present one justifiably took pride in the fact that many innovative artists, particularly painters and novelists, aligned themselves with anarchic views of reality and morality. But behavior that verges on a mystification of criminality, asociality, intellectual incoherence, anti-intellectualism and disorder for its own sake is simply lumpen. It feeds on the dregs of capitalism itself. However much such behavior invokes the “rights” of the ego as it dissolves the political into the personal or inflates the personal into a transcendental category, it is a priori in the sense that has no origins outside the mind to even potentially support it. As Bakunin and Kropotkin argued repeatedly, individuality has never existed apart from society and the individual’s own evolution has been coextensive with social evolution. To speak of “The Individual” apart from its social roots and social involvements is as meaningless as to speak of a society that contains no people or institutions.

Merely to exist, institutions must have form, as I argued some thirty years ago in my essay “The Forms of Freedom,” lest freedom itself — individual as well as social — lose its definability. Institutions must be rendered functional, not abstracted into Kantian categories that float in a rarefied academic air. They must have the tangibility of structure, however offensive a term like structure may be to individualist libertarians: concretely, they must have the means, policies and experimental praxis to arrive at decisions. Unless everyone is to be so psychologically homogeneous and society’s interests so uniform in character that dissent is simply meaningless, there must be room for conflicting proposals, discussion, rational explication and majority decisions — in short, democracy.

Like it or not, such a democracy, if it is libertarian, will be Communalist and institutionalized in such a way that it is face-to-face, direct and grassroots, a democracy that advances our ideas beyond negative liberty to positive liberty. A Communalist democracy would oblige us to develop a public sphere — and in the Athenian meaning of the term, a politics — that grows in tension and ultimately in a decisive conflict with the state. Confederal, antihierarchical and collectivist, based on the municipal management of the means of life rather than their control by vested interests (such as workers’ control, private control and, more dangerously, state control), it may justly be regarded as the processual actualization of the libertarian ideal as a daily praxis.[9]

The fact that a Communalist politics entails participation in municipal elections — based, to be sure, on an unyielding program that demands the formation of popular assemblies and their confederation — does not mean that entry into existing village, town and city councils involves participation in state organs, any more than establishing an anarchosyndicalist union in a privately owned factory involves participation in capitalist forms of production. One need only turn to the French Revolution of 1789-94 to see how seemingly state institutions, like the municipal “districts” established under the monarchy in 1789 to expedite elections to the Estates General, were transformed four years later into largely revolutionary bodies, or “sections,” that nearly gave rise to the “Commune of communes.” Their movement for a sectional democracy was defeated during the insurrection of June 2, 1793 — not at the hands of the monarchy, but by the treachery of the Jacobins.

Capitalism will not generously provide us the popular democratic institutions we need. Its control over society today is ubiquitous, not only in what little remains of the public sphere but in the minds of many self-styled radicals. A revolutionary people must either assert their control over institutions that are basic to their public lives — which Bakunin correctly perceived to be their municipal councils — or else they will have no choice but to withdraw into their private lives, as is already happening on an epidemic scale today.[10] It would be ironic indeed if an individualist anarchism and its various mutations, from the academic and transcendentally moral to the chaotic and the lumpen, in the course of rejecting democracy even for “a minority of one,” were to further raise the walls of dogma that are steadily growing around the libertarian ideal, and if, wittingly or not, anarchism were to turn into another narcissistic cult that snugly fits into an alienated, commodified, introverted and egocentric society.

— September 18, 1994


[1] L. Susan Brown, The Politics of Individualism (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1993), p. 12. I do not question the sincerity of Brown’s libertarian views; she regards herself as an anarcho-communist, as do I. But she makes no direct attempt to reconcile her individualistic views with communism in any form. Both Bakunin and Kropotkin would have strongly disagreed with her formulation of what constitutes “a group,” while Margaret Thatcher, clearly for reasons of her own, might be rather pleased with it, since it is so akin to the former British prime minister’s notorious statement that there is no such thing as society — there are only individuals. Certainly Brown is not a Thatcherite, nor Thatcher an anarchist, but however different they may be in other respects, both have ideological filiations with classical liberalism that make their shared affirmations of the “autonomy” of the individual possible. I cannot ignore the fact, however, that neither Bakunin’s, Kropotkin’s nor my own views are treated with any depth in Brown’s book (pp. 156-62), and her account of them is filled with serious inaccuracies.

[2] Liberals were not always in accord with each other nor did they hold notably coherent doctrines. Mill, a free-thinking humanitarian and utilitarian, in fact exhibited a measure of sympathy for socialism. I am not singling out here any particular liberal theorist, be he Mill, Adam Smith or Friedrich Hayek. Each had or has his or her individual eccentricity or personal line of thought. I am speaking of traditional liberalism as a whole, whose general features involve a belief in the “laws” of the marketplace and “free” competition. Marx was by no means free of this influence: he, too, unrelentingly tried to discover “laws” of society, as did many socialists during the last century, including utopians like Charles Fourier.

[3] See Kropotkin’s “Anarchism,” the famous Encyclopaedia Britannica article that became one of his most widely read works. Republished in Roger N. Baldwin, ed., Kropotkin’s Revolutionary Pamphlets: A Collection of Writings by Peter Kropotkin (New York: Vanguard Press, 1927; reprinted by Dover, 1970).

[4] I have never regarded the classical Athenian democracy as a “model” or an “ideal” to be restored in a rational society. I have long cited Athens with admiration for one reason: the polis around Periclean times provides us with striking evidence that certain structures can exist — policy-making by an assembly, rotation and limitation of public offices and defense by a nonprofessional armed citizenry. The Mediterranean world of the fifth century B.C.E. was largely based on monarchical authority and repressive custom. That all Mediterranean societies of that time required or employed patriarchy, slavery and the State (usually in an absolutist form) makes the Athenian experience all the more remarkable for what it uniquely introduced into social life, including an unprecedented degree of free expression. It would be naive to suppose that Athens could have risen above the most basic attributes of ancient society in its day, which, from a distance of 2,400 years we now have the privilege of judging as ugly and inhuman. Regrettably, no small number of people today are willing to judge the past by the present.

[5] Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism (London: HarperCollins, 1992), p. 22.

[6] Barbara Epstein, Political Protest and Cultural Revolution: Non-Violent Direct Action in the 1970s and 1980s (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), especially pp. 59, 78, 89, 94-95, 167-68, 177. Although I disagree with some of the facts and conclusions in Epstein’s book — based on my personal as well as general knowledge of the Clamshell Alliance — she vividly portrays the failure of consensus in this movement.

[7] The association of “chaos,” “nomadism” and “cultural terrorism” with “ontological anarchy” (as though the bourgeoisie had not turned such antics into an “ecstasy industry” in the United States) is fully explicated in Hakim Bey’s (aka Peter Lamborn Wilson) T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone (New York: Autonomedia, 1985). The Yuppie Whole Earth Review celebrates this pamphlet as the most influential and widely read “manifesto” of America’s countercultural youth, noting with approval that it is happily free of conventional anarchist attacks upon capitalism. This kind of detritus from the 1960s is echoed in one form or another by most American anarchist newssheets that pander to youth who have not yet “had their fun before it is time to grow up” (a comment I heard years later from Parisian student activists of ’68) and become real estate agents and accountants.

For an “ecstatic experience,” visitors to New York’s Lower East Side (near St. Mark’s Place) can dine, I am told, at Anarchy Café. This establishment offers fine dining from an expensive menu, a reproduction of the famous mural The Fourth Estate on the wall, perhaps to aid in digestion, and a maître d’ to greet Yuppie customers. I cannot attest to whether the writings of Guy Debord, Raoul Vaneigem, Fredy Perlman and Hakim Bey are on sale there or whether copies of Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed, The Fifth Estate and Demolition Derby are available for perusal, but happily there are enough exotic bookstores nearby at which to buy them.

[8] Quoted from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1978).

[9] I should emphasize that I am not counterposing a communalist democracy to such enterprises as cooperatives, people’s clinics, communes, and the like. But there should be no illusion that such enterprises are more than exercises in popular control and ways of bringing people together in a highly atomized society. No food cooperative can replace giant retail food markets under capitalism and no clinic can replace hospital complexes, any more than a craft shop can replace factories or plants. I should observe that the Spanish anarchists, almost from their inception, took full note of the limits of the cooperativist movement in the 1880s, when such movements were in fact more feasible than they are today, and they significantly separated themselves from cooperativism programmatically.

[10] For Bakunin, the people “have a healthy, practical common sense when it comes to communal affairs. They are fairly well informed and know how to select from their midst the most capable officials. This is why municipal elections always best reflect the real attitude and will of the people.” Bakunin on Anarchy, Sam Dolgoff, ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972; republished by Black Rose Books: Montreal), p. 223. I have omitted the queasy interpolations that Dolgoff inserted to “modify” Bakunin’s meaning. It may be well to note that anarchism in the last century was more plastic and flexible than it is today.

http://www.inclusivedemocracy.org/dn/vol3/bookchin_communalism.htm

http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/anarchist_archives/bookchin/cmmnl2.mcw.html

July 29, 2010 Posted by | anti-endustriyalizm, anti-kapitalizm, ekolojist akımlar, komünler, kolektifler, kooperatifler vb modeller, ozyonetim | Leave a comment

Free to Serve: Notes from a Needs-Based Economy – Chris Foraker

Throw It Against the Wall

Gandhi said something about life being an experiment. Experiments drive discovery. We gather the best information available, from books, stories, old people, previous experiments, and try something new in service to our thought dreams. “If my thought dreams could be seen they’d probably put my head in a guillotine.” Dylan is right: thought dreams are dangerous. I’m not suggesting the following is very dangerous. It’s actually quite ordinary—quite practical—just some observations from experiments with my own personal economy. But it does involve a process of dreaming, experimenting, and then observing—the stuff of creation. When we’re creating (or co-creating) our world instead of accepting our world, we do become empowered. An empowered people can be dangerous to disempowering tendencies.

Wal-Mart came to Cottage Grove, Oregon, in ‘94, convinced the city council to change local zoning laws, and got the go-ahead to build a 108,000-square-foot warehouse store. In 2006, desiring expansion, Wal-Mart applied for another zoning change that would permit the construction of a 160,000-square-foot super center. Public hearings were called, yes/no buttons made, positions taken, and after six hours of testimony spanning three days, not much was surprising: well-dressed corporate lawyers; polarized atmosphere; emotional testimonies from those for and those against. It didn’t take me long to put my anti-zoning-change sentiments into words which I delivered unemotionally in the fog of a waning fever. The hearing continued on at a boring pace, reaching a peak of monotony during the testimony of my fellow “againsts,” whose collective voice became tortuously redundant and, I hate to say it, a bit self-indulgent.

The highlight of the public hearing for me was the testimony of the “fors.” They helped exercise my internal sound receptors of empathy that, on occasion, allow me to pull out of the emotive mud of a polarized landscape and hear the concrete needs of “the other.” What I heard coming from the “other side” was I’m poor, whether from low-paying work or a fixed income, and I depend on low-cost goods to get by. I could understand that. I can also, by all conventional standards, be considered poor. I make between $200 and $400 dollars a month, heat my home and cook with wood, cut my costs when I can. I don’t have running water. I’m not subsidized by wealthy parents. I live in a school bus.

An amusing tension arose. Here I am in much the same predicament as many from Clan Super Size, but instead of a desperate sense of scarcity and need for low-cost goods, I feel embraced by a world of hope and abundance. I feel secure while others feel vulnerable. I feel my needs are taken care of while others feel life is too expensive. What was the difference? This tension sparked observation.

Sharing the Surplus, Natural Giving, and the Community Context

Several months ago I was in need of space to park my bus. I wanted to be two miles outside of town, hopefully near the bike path with the potential to run an extension cord from a garage or outside outlet for electricity. The deadline for moving was past and I was starting to feel anxious to unburden my generous host. That Thursday during the Cottage Grove community’s weekly social gathering—a mix of homegrown goods, tight spacing, and free locally made wine—I was introduced to a friend of a friend. After some friendly formalities, the subject of pursuit came up and she promptly offered me a space to park my bus: two miles outside of town, across from the bike path, near an electrical outlet. In return she asked for dry firewood and help with projects around the property.

This event was a first glimpse into a new way of looking at my personal economy. Over time, these same types of exchanges replayed over and over, generating a pattern. Slowly, words came to describe the pattern, not complete but like the first rough sketches of a living document. At its most fundamental level, it is members of a community sharing their surplus in the service of each others’ needs. One might call it a needs-based economy.

Permaculture teaches us to share the surplus. When we give away our surplus we can give it joyfully because, by definition, it is extra. It is not an act of charity where we create personal scarcity, but an act of sharing abundance. Sharing our surplus is as natural as giving away two-day-old baked goods destined for the compost, cuttings from a prolific raspberry patch, or squash from a bountiful harvest. When we receive a gift of surplus we can do so with dignity because we are confident we are not receiving more than can be comfortably given.

Marshall Rosenberg reminds us that giving to someone in the service of his or her need is satisfying. To illustrate this idea, he suggests recalling the last time we helped fulfill someone’s need, thinking on it for a moment and noticing how we feel. This exercise, as he describes, always produces smiles and satisfaction the world around.

These ideas, though complete in their own right, are most satisfying when practiced in the context of community. Community can be understood as an intertwined latticework of people connected by a shared place and/or shared aspirations. Sharing our surplus and giving in the service of each others’ needs works well in community because a community is a cooperative project that gives back. Each individual act of giving is seen in relation to and as a part of a greater whole. We don’t give aimlessly in a fragmented social landscape but intentionally and joyfully in the service of a larger project. When we give within a community we also feel a sense of security—almost like a smart investment—because a community reciprocates and responds, based on its humanity, to our changing needs. A group of people is far more resourceful than one alone.

As winter approached I was in need of space. My host had a surplus of space and was in need of a certain type of skill, which I was able to provide. Since living at the two-mile marker I have brought her dry firewood, helped paint a wall, remove a shelf, unclog a drain, clean junk from the yard, plant trees, and landscape. Going into spring our agreement has been fruitful and rewarding.

Living in a Needs-Based Economy

The willingness to exchange goods and services directly is essential to a needs-based economy because it changes the way we see the world. When we begin looking at our life as a mosaic of needs rather than a system of alienating labor and consumption, we transcend currency and put ourselves in touch with the abundance generated by an entire community.

It is common for someone to have the following thinking: “I need money so that I can buy the things I lack.” This line of thinking is limiting and internally conflicting. It disconnects us from what we actually want and calls on a disempowering currency to mediate between us and our dreams. Instead, if we are able to envision our needs without currency, we open ourselves to the abundance of an entire community’s surplus facilitated by people’s tendency towards natural giving.

As winter arrived in Oregon, I soon discovered that living in the equivalent of a giant metal mailbox could be quite cold. Heat became an immediate priority. Wood was the natural choice, so I began my search for a stove and dry firewood, both of which I thought would be difficult to find as those more prepared began to calculate the heating power of their now dwindling reserves. On some of the colder mornings, as I lay under five layers of insulation watching my breath take shape in taunting cold-smoke signals above me, I considered the stoves listed for sale on craigslist and the pick-up trucks of firewood waiting and ready for delivery in downtown Cottage Grove. But, as things became desperate, a friend of a friend offered his old wood stove, just the right size, being stored in an abandoned trailer outside of town. No one was using it so he said I could have it for at least the winter. After heating with kiln-dried, quick-burning, industrial forestry waste for a while, I received a pickup truck load of dry hardwood and fir from a family of land stewards. So for most of the winter I stayed mostly warm.

By exchanging goods and services directly, we resist the tendency to do unfulfilling, alienating work. Robert Heilman describes life as an industrial logger in rural Oregon: “Alienation is an occupational disease, one that afflicts each of us when we sell our time for money. It brings a numbness of spirit that makes all sorts of horrible situations seem routine.”

Instead, when we exchange directly, both giver and recipient benefit. In giving, we become connected to the act of creation, which is exhilarating. We once again become masters of our own time, liberated from the inevitable exploitation of a boss-wage system. Time becomes abundant and quality and joy can once again be incorporated into our work. Anything created by caring hands is infused with a uniqueness and life—easily seen in the difference between a modularized suburbia and a handmade home, or between a generic store-bought card with a “birthday check” enclosed, and a gift made with care and attention. In this way we become involved in each other’s lives and allow parts of our internal and external landscapes to be shaped by our neighbors’ artistic and clever natures. By exchanging directly we strengthen a culture of natural giving and shared surplus.

The thought of working for a wage to purchase a stove and cord of firewood now seems silly when faced with the possibilities available in a connected community. When the rains stop, I will gladly replace the amount of wood that was given to me or perhaps double the amount or triple, or perhaps I’ll just be helpful in some other way needed by the generous givers. When living within an economy based on joyful giving, two doesn’t always equal two, but instead we are freed to give equal to the immense gratitude we feel upon receiving a gift from the heart.

Freed to Serve

I volunteer between eight and 20 hours a week for Cottage Grove’s low-powered community radio station KSOW, often doing the small and mundane things that just need a body and half a brain to complete. I do this joyfully because it contributes to the larger community project, the radio station needs it, and I enjoy music. I have the time to volunteer largely because my needs are efficiently satisfied by an abundant community. The community has freed me to serve the community. I’m not strapped with the high everyday costs of my low-income brethren, but have fortunately marginalized, with the power of community, the need for US currency in my life. I work between 10 and 20 hours a week for bread money, most of which goes to food and the bus remodeling project. This abundance of time has allowed me to explore those things which make me feel most alive. And an economy that helps people come alive is an economy we desperately need.

Copyright © Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC) and Communities: Life in Cooperative Culture · communities.ic.org · Reprint only with permission.

The FIC publishes Communities magazine, the Communities Directory, the Intentional Communities Website (www.ic.org), and supports all forms of cooperative living. Please consider a donation to support our efforts.

http://communities.ic.org/articles/1/Free_to_Serve

July 29, 2010 Posted by | anti-endustriyalizm, anti-kapitalizm, komünler, kolektifler, ozyonetim | Leave a comment

To Learn Sustainability Is To Learn Community: An Example from South Portugal – Leila Dregger

By Leila Dregger
Published in the Summer 2010 issue of Communities magazine – Issue #147
Tamera pilgrimage through Portugal.
Tamera pilgrimage through Portugal.
Tamera pilgrimage through Portugal.
Dia Aberto.
(Click a photo to enlarge)

Walk 20 miles away from the ocean, and South Portugal becomes dry and dusty in summer and devoid of people in any season. What had been a lush landscape for centuries, with oak forests, white stucco villages, and vegetable gardens and pastures, was destroyed in the 1940s to create industrial cereal production for Spain during the civil war. Now the landscape seems slowly to be turning into a desert. Villages are dying. Food is imported. Only very few farmers continue their hard work under difficult economic and ecological conditions.

One of them is Claudio, a farmer in the Alto Alentejo. His 4000 hectare (10,000 acre) site, inherited from his father, includes beautiful nature reserves and extended cork oak and olive groves. Employing 20 workers, he started with the vision of reestablishing the original extensive cultivation of cork, pork, and Biodynamic vegetables. And he is doing just that. But to maintain the farm under tight economic conditions, he has developed intensive mass animal farming with thousands of pigs and turkeys. “If I didn’t farm this way, I would have to fire my workers, and I feel responsible for them. What could I do?” His wife left him two years ago, taking their two daughters with her. Maybe this was not the only reason, but she could not stand the mass slaughters and the tension her husband is living under. Living alone in his big farm house, Claudio is urgently looking for an alternative and a new start in his life.

Fernando grew up in a little village in the Baixo Alentejo. Like all his classmates, he left for Lisbon to study and become an engineer. Before he finished the studies, his father died and Fernando had to return home. Now he runs the apiary with 2000 bee hives. He produces organic honey but has to sell it for a low price to the industry, as the market for organic products is still too small. Thus his income is limited, and after 12 hours of daily work he feels very tired. He is 38 years old, smart, good looking, and speaks several languages. However, living rurally with his mother makes it difficult for him to find friends and a mate: the average age in the village is 52.

Fernando’s and Claudio’s stories illustrate the situation in many similar places. Sustainability is a complex issue: it involves politics, economics, and ecology, and it definitely involves cultural, social, and human conditions. If living in the countryside does not become more interesting for young people, we can never hope to have nature and land maintained and cared for.

The peace community of Tamera did not come to the Alentejo originally to help this situation. In fact, it came because innovative and enthusiastic local authorities and the abundance of sun were good conditions for its aim of building a global peace model based on solar technology. However, 160 people living, working, and studying together make a difference—internationally by peace training, education, and nonviolent actions, and regionally by teaching ecological skills and creating a regional network for food and water sustainability.

The Tamera community decided that it would stop buying food from supermarkets by the end of 2010, and by then would also produce all its own electricity using solar energy. Why is this so important for a peace project? Because industrial production of food is a sort of war. Electricity comes from the plug, fuel from the petrol station, coffee from the supermarket, water from the tap, and steak from the butcher. Those who look a bit deeper than this will see the cruelty of today’s industrial globalisation at the origin of our everyday consumer goods. Behind nearly every product you will find suffering, ignorance, and violence. Even those who are aware of it, and don´t want to support it, find it difficult to become independent from these connections.

The need to find another strategy is not only a matter of ethics. An incident which happened two years ago in Portugal makes this clear. At a time of high oil prices, the drivers went on strike, and the fuel was no longer distributed. After one day, there was no petrol in many gas stations. After two days, the first supermarkets had empty shelves. After three days, two drivers who wanted to prevent strike-breakers from working were driven over. That quickly can the supply system collapse; and that thin is the layer of social peace.

An obvious solution for the insanity of globalisation is regionalisation: to reestablish the regional supply which global trade destroyed, and to do it with socially and ecologically friendly means. Every region of the world should be able to meet its basic needs for food, water, and energy. The special goods desired from further away could be bought or bartered from other countries.

The task of Tamera—building a model for a peace culture—includes showing that regional food and energy autonomy is possible without lowering quality of life. In order to do so, one team at Tamera is working on the permaculture water landscape, where a part of the food needed is grown. The community also produces olive oil, honey, and herbs. Another team develops a regional network for sustainability. Its aims are to share knowledge about ecological skills, share the supply and production of basic food, water, and energy needs, and cultivate social contacts.

Tamera started to meet local farmers and traders, and so we met Claudio. Very quickly, we agreed on a win-win-situation: starting in 2010, he will produce olive oil, rice, cereals, oat flakes, and vegetables especially for the needs of Tamera. Additionally he will give Tamera all the things he cannot sell and would have to destroy. This arrangement gives Claudio the possibility of producing independent of the market. Therefore he is not forced to throw away fruits that are too small or don’t have the normal shape. He will even earn much more than the market price, and Tamera will get valuable organic food at a reasonable cost.

Now, in the spring of 2010, we stand in the stable which last year held 3000 turkeys. Their shouts still seem to fill the air. But the stable is empty, and soon it will be a place to store cereals. Having seen the new economic possibilities in his cooperation with Tamera, Claudio has taken the risk to eliminate, step by step, his industrial livestock farming. Even more hopeful, on a visit to Tamera he saw the possibilities of permaculture. Now, two ecologists from Tamera will advise him on how to build a water landscape on a part of his land. Thus Claudio will join the movement to reforest the land and bring back the water. “My vision is to save this beautiful land and make a part of it a retreat and educational place for city people to learn natural cycles.”

Agreements like this could become the basis for cooperatively meeting basic needs in the future, with communities telling farmers what they need, and farmers growing it for them.

Not all the foods we commonly consume are produced in Portugal. For example, neither sugar cane nor sugar beets are cultivated in this country anymore. But there is something much better and healthier than sugar to provide sweetness: honey.

Twelve bee hives at Tamera are not enough for our needs, and so we got to know Fernando. Buying organic honey from Fernando is cheaper than buying honey in the supermarket, and still, by selling to Tamera, he earns nearly double what he would by producing for industry. Tamera coworkers also help to move the bee hives. As Silke from the ecology team says, “This is synergy: We help Fernando, but the bees in our permaculture landscape help us. They are the most important insects for pollinating our fruit trees.“

Four times a year, Tamera invites interested people for an open Saturday. Those are days to get to know some of our sustainable tools and methods. For most of our neighbours, permaculture, compost toilets, solar energy systems, and strawbale buildings are still very exotic. School classes and University students come to observe in practice the ecological systems they have studied. Local farmers, politicians, teachers, and journalists enjoy this day; they see the presence of water in every season, lunch cooked by solar energy, and an abundance of food growing without fertilizers. Representatives of the beautiful neighbouring village Amoreiras come to see a plant-based system for water purification to decide if they want to build it in their village too. At the same time, the visitors also experience something which has been lost in the villages: a vital social life of different age groups. This is what can bring life back to the villages.

Bringing back sustainability and saving the rural areas means reestablishing the regional circuits that have been cut down in the times of industrialisation. In order to bring back life to the countryside, the connections and synergies have to be reinvigorated on a new and modern level, such as between producers and consumers, between water and trees, between bees and trees, between young and old people. And even between men and women, as the example of Fernando shows: on one of the open Saturdays at Tamera, he met Ilona, an Italian woman. Now she is preparing to move to his farm. “Although I love him very much, I could not imagine following Fernando onto his remote farm without having a place like Tamera nearby. We can always go there and meet friends, get inspiration, have cultural life.”

In the end, even an international community like Tamera has to face the fact that one day—maybe after peak oil, after the next financial crisis, or after climate change—it will not be global contacts that will help us to survive. Instead, it will be the surrounding region and the neighbourhood, with stable and trustful networks. Now is the time to develop them.

Copyright © Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC) and Communities: Life in Cooperative Culture · communities.ic.org · Reprint only with permission.

The FIC publishes Communities magazine, the Communities Directory, the Intentional Communities Website (www.ic.org), and supports all forms of cooperative living. Please consider a donation to support our efforts.

Leila Dregger, 50, freelance journalist from Germany, former publisher of a women’s magazine and book writer, joined Tamera in 2003. She works in Tamera’s political network office especially to build a bridge to the Portuguese people. Her aim is to establish a school for peace journalism in Tamera. For more about Tamera, its visitor programs, and Summer University (July 25-August 5, 2010), see http://www.tamera.org.

 http://communities.ic.org/articles/1372/To_Learn_Sustainability_Is_To_Learn_Community

July 29, 2010 Posted by | anti-endustriyalizm, anti-kapitalizm, ekokoy - permakultur, komünler, kolektifler, kooperatifler vb modeller, ozyonetim, sistem karsitligi | 2 Comments

Communalism as Alternative – Eirik Eiglad

A Statement of the Advisory Board (1)

Widespread political confusion exists in present-day society in which it is difficult not only to single out radical alternatives to the present social condition but difficult even to discern the concrete differences between the existing political tendencies. None of the traditional ideologies seem to be able to provide the inspiration and guidelines for a principled political practice, least of all for revolutionary activism.  

Rarely, if anywhere, have serious attempts been made to maintain ideological integrity. The result has been a farrago of self-contradictory positions. Today we see high-profile anarchists favoring a strong centralized state, while leading Social Democrats advocate privatization and deregulation, and even avowed Marxists drifting toward old mystical philosophies. This ideological obscurantism is not limited to certain outstanding individuals; it pervades large sectors of the radical population. Indeed, much that passes for radical movements today partly find their expression in the timely popularity of oxymoronic notions like “market socialism” or the “welfare state.”

Earlier it was possible, and often quite easy, to discern the ideological differences between various political tendencies, and particularly to distinguish radicals from defenders of the established order. But today this is no longer the case – the political climate has changed to such an extent that confusion, and not clarity, characterizes politics. If we choose to look closely at the various parties that have seats in the world’s parliaments, it is almost impossible to point out clear demarcation lines, even between traditional ideological opponents, like conservatives and social democrats, or liberals and radicals, or even communists and nationalists. Principles continually boil away into a soup of compromises, power plays, horse-trading, and careerism.

Even more disturbingly, awareness of this problem is minimal among today’s radical tendencies, who exert a low level of consciousness about their own politics and practice. When radicals today, for instance, demand that governments acquire greater control over the market economy, they are often unknowingly reinterpreting traditional demands of social democrats and liberals, even though they might in the next breath oppose social democracy and liberal reformism. (2) Social Democracy is itself a good example on the deterioration of political consistency following our times. The social democrats had a broad range of demands that were supposed to gradually introduce socialism in developed western countries. Today, in many European countries, social democrats have had long parliamentary experience, and hold many positions in government; they no longer seek a socialist future, but are content with mere improvements in the status quo. To be sure, the trajectory of Social Democracy has had some continuity from the days of August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht onwards, a trajectory marked by compromises and mediocrity, but this does not conceal the fact that the ideological climate in the world of the Gotha-program was markedly different from our own, and the very “movements” following Anthony Giddens’ “Third Way” and the “Neue Mitte” are bereft all features of traditional Social Democracy, save perhaps rhetoric. (3) A similar obscurantism marks other traditional political tendencies, even as the whole political spectrum has shifted to the right.

This political obfuscation of ideas and principles is eagerly defended by certain influential academic currents, and spiced with tasteless comments that there are no “great narratives” anymore, indeed that the “age of ideologies is gone.” Today what legitimates a political viewpoint is not its principled coherence and ideological consistency but the personal taste of those who might consider supporting it. This development is particularly tragic because it removes real content from political discourse, along with the objective of creating a free and just society. After all, it is impossible to stick to principles without a clear ideological definition of these principles. Despite the fact that postmodernism is immersed in radical verbiage, it is unfortunately only the existing system that profits from beliefs that “ideology is dead.” On the same “postmodern” shelf we find such statements like “there are no truths” and “there are no standards for right or wrong”, as if the individual constitutes the beginning and the end of the universe. The current relativization of ethical judgments is intimately connected to a more deep-seated problem; namely a social system that is fostering the formation of isolated monads instead of rounded and responsible human beings – according to the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher there is no such thing as society, only individuals. (4) This view is gaining ever more adherents in the western world, even in radical circles. When it becomes hard to convince people that something called society does in fact exists, that it encompasses more than the mere sum of its individual participants, and that human beings share a common history that surpasses our individual perceptions of it, then it becomes alarmingly clear that capitalism, as an amoral economic system, has fostered the near complete relativization of social life and ethics, with grave consequences for the continued development of what we properly can call society.

If we are led into believing that all ideologies are dead, we cannot create any ideological alternatives to the status quo. And if we are led to believing that there are no ideological alternatives, we have in fact already succumbed to capitalist ideology, extolling the supremacy of the existing state of affairs, and an irrational – indeed, antisocial – system. Unless we allow ourselves the possibility of developing and shaping alternatives that can challenge the prevailing ideas, then the existing social order is what we will have left. Francis Fukuyama’s claim that capitalism represents “the end of history” will thus become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Such claims, no matter how absurd, create tailor-made Orwellian discontinuities between the past, the present and the future that limit human action to mere animal adaptation, and render all cultural or political involvement beyond pure self-interest simply meaningless.

The prospect that capitalism will come to represent “the end of history,” the actual culmination of human culture, is particularly grim. The market system, driven by its incessant need to generate more profits at the expense of both people and the environment, causes problems that restlessly haunt our society. Despite the fact that the world today has an unprecedented capacity to create and sustain a society without material scarcity, carried forward by a range of extensive scientific and technological revolutions, we have yet to solve the important social problems of exploitation and oppression. Now only a tiny percentage of the world’s population is in a position to enjoy the benefits of this progress. At the same time the market has expanded into new areas, in desperate attempts to satisfy an insatiable appetite for profits – globalizing its economy and, through “privatization” schemes, eating heavily into the public sector, while commodification has reached the point where even genes can be patented, bought, and sold for money. The rich are still getting richer, and the ruling minorities are still finding new ways to manipulate their subjects into consenting to be ruled, while the destruction of our natural environment is reaching appalling proportions. Society is pitted against itself, by a multitude of hierarchical stratifications, and against the natural world. Living conditions for a large part of humanity are miserable, warfare is continual, social insecurity is growing, disempowerment is widespread, and our cities are culturally imploding; at the same time disturbances in the climate and the cyclical processes that sustain life on this planet may be calling into question the continued existence of human beings and other complex life-forms. For radicals the present dismissal of theory and ideology is therefore highly disconcerting: in a society that condemns the majority of humanity to insecurity, desperation, and disempowerment while creating grave ecological instability for the world as a whole, serious social alternatives are direly needed.

At present, unfortunately, no alternatives are visible. Not only are all the seemingly radical parties narrowly focused on feathering their own nests without even trying to provide credible alternatives, but there is no revolutionary extra-parliamentary movement that manages to seriously challenge the hegemony of corporate managers and state leaders. What is striking today is not that the general public necessarily supports the existing system, but that most people commonly withdraw in seclusion of their personal lives.

To be sure, the picture is not entirely dismal. The worldwide series of protests against the G-8, the International Monetary Fund, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, the European Union and the World Trade Organization has produced a new radical awakening, revealing a degree of popular discontent with this economic system that, given a growing level of consciousness and experience, has the potential to constitute a political challenge. Increasingly since the demonstrations in Seattle, November 1999, the protesters have critiqued the very “soul” of capitalism: the expansion of the market, its profit-motive and even the existence of private property.

Still, neither a critique nor a protest movement in itself constitutes an alternative. The alternative to capitalism does not consist of people in the streets shouting slogans and carrying placards – at best these manifestations can only point to one. But in order to point to an alternative, a movement must have a practical substance: it must have organizational continuity and a conscious ideology that is able to clarify the alternative, explaining how it is possible to achieve it, and why it is worth fighting for. Far from embodying these qualities, the current resistance to “globalization” remains highly fragmented and ideologically confused, sadly pulling in many different and even contradictory directions. It mirrors the pathways of the Internet, as some have pointed out: a large network that knits together small autonomous groups, forming a movement of “hubs and spokes.” According to one of its leading figures, the author of No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, Naomi Klein, the movement against corporate, economic globalization deserves “the chance to see if, out of its chaotic networks of hubs and spokes, something new, something entirely its own, can emerge.” (5) Most spokespeople for the new protest movement seem to find Klein’s approach to be sound. But those who care to examine the experience of generations will know that “chaotic networks of hubs and spokes” never will get anything moving, least of all moving urgently forward. Frankly, given the centuries-long history of radical movements, it should be unnecessary to invent the wheel anew. Today’s radical movements should try to learn from and build on past ideas and experiences, not dismissing them altogether in hopes that “something entirely its own” will emerge.

The “anti-globalization” movement is not the first movement to fail to learn from history or to reject coherent theory and programmatic commitment. Certain elements in the various Green movements that emerged in the late seventies vehemently claimed they represented a new alternative because they were “neither Left nor Right, but up front.” This vacuous indifference to their place in the history of radicalism soon condemned the Greens to a repetition of most mistakes made by the Social Democrats. Equally, today’s communitarians, who argue that creating cooperative enterprises constitutes a radical alternative that is capable of challenging capitalism, naively repeat errors the cooperative movement made in the 19th century and in the end replicate its absorption into the market economy. In July 1936 the Spanish anarchists found themselves at the outbreak of the very social revolution they had been yearning for through seventy painful years and had a far better position to challenge the ruling classes of their day than today’s “anti-globalization” movement. Yet their lack of a coherent theory and program left them with no political direction at that crucial moment. Lacking directionality and torn by devastating internal conflicts they capitulated disastrously to liberal politics. This capitulation was criticized by the most conscious elements in the libertarian movement. But the anarchist and syndicalist movement as a whole was unwilling and incapable of responding to appeals for a revolutionary theory and a revolutionary program. In the event, they finally clashed with the liberal government and the Stalinists in Barcelona, during May 1937, and suffered a definitive defeat. Despite the great differences between the revolutionary workers movement in Barcelona 1936–37 and the multifaceted protest movement of Seattle and Genoa they face some alarmingly similar problems. Unsolved, these problems are mortal for any movement that seeks to challenge the established social order. Unfortunately very few in the “anti-globalization” movement have recognized this difficulty, focused as that movement is on protesting. Politically this “movement of movements” is reactive, and not creative. Participants in the demonstrations raise a wide range of demands, and no attempt is made to unify them either ideologically or organizationally. Besides, most of the demands raised by the movement are remarkably reformist, like the widely discussed demands for the so-called Tobin tax. (6) But few participants seem to be troubled by this vacuum: on the contrary, they celebrate its diversity and open-ended nature. It will be all the harder to lead humanity out of the deep-seated social and ecological problems of our time if the de facto leaders of radical movements permit and even advocate a laissez-faire attitude to questions of ideology, organization, and the need for systematic change.

What seems to justify the existing skepticism to “big narratives” is the fact that the great “isms” of the past have become irrelevant. None of the radical ideologies that once mobilized, inspired and educated large masses of workers and citizens provide a credible alternative today. All known concepts of socialism, communism, syndicalism and anarchism are drained of vitality yet haunt us like ghosts of an era far gone – the era of the old Left. The dream of a classless society has been ravished and betrayed so severely that its traditional symbols no longer seem to warrant a renewal. In the Soviet Union Stalin and his defenders made communism synonymous with some of the worst crimes against humanity, while Social Democrats, after years of parliamentary wear, have become staunch supporters of the market economy. Syndicalism has been reduced to a mere echo of its past, almost like the revolutionary working class of the last century. Anarchism, which once denoted a stateless society founded on “the brotherhood of Man,” has been drained of all its social content. Although it has experienced a revival in recent years, the anarchists themselves, who have immersed themselves in a moralizing individualism or play at innocuous communitarian projects, have reduced it to a cultural lifestyle. Does this mean that the shortcomings of earlier attempts to formulate ideological alternatives are inherent in ideology as such? In our view, the challenge is not to dismiss ideology per se, but to develop a richer and more sophisticated approach that suits the demands of our time.

Confusion and historical disappointments should not lead to desperation and apathy: distancing oneself from political struggles is the definite guarantee that nothing will be solved. Today’s movements need a radical ideology with which they can maintain their opposition to the status quo. Radicals need to have not only lofty ideals of freedom and solidarity but also a solid body of theory and practice to give reality to these ideals and even advance beyond them. Every social ideal must find its adequate political expression, and today we urgently need a political movement that can articulate in programmatic form humanity’s innermost aspirations. We must carefully select the best principles and theories that radical movements have developed, fearlessly reject those that are patently obsolete, and create a new synthesis suited for present conditions. It must be relevant to our times and the vast changes that have occurred since the day when the steam engine formed the basis of an “Industrial Revolution.” We must go beyond all traditional forms of socialism and anarchism to create a truly new Left that can theoretically inspire a vital political movement in the struggle to achieve the broader ideals of freedom, equality and solidarity. These traditional ideals are still very much present; what counts today is to create a new radical ideological synthesis that can fulfill them: a coherent set of fresh ideas that can endow new political movements with the will and ability to fight against the oppression of human beings and the destruction of the natural world. We are convinced to have found such an alternative in Communalism.

What is Communalism?

Communalism is a revolutionary political ideology, with long historical roots in progressive tendencies, ideas, and institutions. It is deeply embedded in the democratic heritage, which first emerged as a conscious political expression in the Athenian polis some 2 500 years ago, with its remarkable set of institutions of face-to-face democracy, its concept of citizenship and the conscious formation of its citizens through a lifelong civic education of paideia and the existence of everyday civic duties. This communal democratic tradition broadened its scope in the communes of the European Middle Ages, which had communal systems of resource-allocation and formed far-reaching leagues of free cities, then it played a prominent role in the revolutions that shook Europe and North America in the eighteenth century. An equally important root from which Communalism has developed is the revolutionary tradition, that constitutes a continuous legacy of freedom – forgotten by much of the Left today in its generalized state of confusion – in which popular movements have fought injustice, oppression, and exploitation of all kinds, while expanding our ideals of social and political freedom. The struggle for rights and freedoms, as well as a healthy secularism, has above all been planted and cultivated by this revolutionary tradition, while its fruits have been harvested by social development as a whole. Communalism seeks to continue this legacy of freedom by enlarging upon the revolutionary tradition’s most advanced theories and demands and creating the organizations necessary to embody them. Rooted in the Enlightenment, Communalism offers generous prospects for human education and rationality as well as for the practical achievement of historical progress.

Communalism has recently found its coherent theoretical expression, in the works of the radical thinker Murray Bookchin, whose writings on social ecology give Communalism a revolutionary practice of libertarian municipalism, as well as a historical analysis, a dialectical philosophy of nature and society, an ethics of complementarity, and a political economy. (7) Above all, Communalism is a revolutionary political ideology that aims at creating a rational society and ethical norms of production, innovation, and distribution through direct democracy.

The word Communalism first came into use around the time of the Commune of 1871, when in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War the highly centralized and bureaucratic French state all but collapsed and the citizens of Paris established a revolutionary government, boldly challenging other French communes to confederate and to form an alternative to the state. The historical importance of this challenge must not be understated: it pointed to a confederalist alternative for Europe at a time when its modern nation-states were still in the making. Ever since Karl Marx published his pamphlet, The Civil War in France, only two days after the last resistance of the communards was crushed, radicals of all sorts have tended to glorify the Commune. Friedrich Engels described the Commune as the first demonstration of the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” while anarchists have used the Commune as a symbol of the “spontaneous expression” of a “bold and outspoken negation of the state,” to use Michail Bakunin’s words. But not only did the Commune fail to immediately socialize property, its actual structure was little more than an extremely radical city council. Marxists went on to create “proletarian” states that did not even remotely resemble the revolutionary Commune of Paris, while anarchists got immersed in syndicalism, assassinations, and essentially communitarian enterprises. But in its essence, the Commune of 1871 envisioned a new political system based on municipal democracy, and if it had lived longer than its hectic two months it could have given tangible meaning to the radical demand for a “social republic” that had been raised in the Parisian revolutions of 1848, indeed transcending this demand with its call for a “Commune of communes.”

The French word commune signifies a town, a city, or even a moderately small territorial unit that has political and administrative tasks, and it is derived from the Latin adjective communis, which means “common” or “communal.” (8) It refers to a local government and local authorities, or what is usually known as a municipality in English. Commune has a richer meaning: it embodies a constellation of rich civic values, loyalties, rights, and duties. As Bookchin has pointed out, the municipality is the most immediate sphere people all enter as soon as they cross the doorstep of their homes. It is a unique public sphere in which they can communicate in a face-to-face manner. The commune gives to human community not only form, but also a new human content, based on solidarity and shared responsibilities that go beyond family life. Potentially, at least, it is a realm of reasoned secularity – of politics – that extends beyond the blood tie of the family, clan, or tribe. Communalism attempts to actualize these potentialities and nourish them by advancing the markedly progressive aspects of Western civilization – that is, a “realm of cities.” Through its libertarian municipalism it seeks to recover this sphere of real politics – the full engagement of all citizens in public affairs – as distinguished from bureaucratic forms of public life that usually marks the state. Communalism singles out the truly democratic commune as the rational form of politically organizing society.

Communalists maintain that confederations of free municipalities or communes constitute the political components of a future rational society. To really understand the uniqueness of the Communalist approach we have to recognize how fundamentally it focuses on the municipality. But, for Communalists, it implies not only a territorial administrative unit; it is also potentially a free municipality in the form of a self-conscious political community, and it is this historical goal that informs the Communalist project, whether we deal with Spanish municipios, German gemeinden or Scandinavian kommuner. This historical goal informs the Communalist understanding of the municipalities we are dealing with not only in the future but here and now. Many radicals criticize libertarian municipalism from a purely instrumental viewpoint – either complaining about the gigantic size of many cities today, or the fact that municipal councils run cities like corporations, or the fact that they in many ways are extensions and copies of the nation-state. Undoubtedly, this is true, and these problems will remain real and indeed probably worsen in the years to come. Still, they do not disqualify the Communalist approach, but merely points to challenges confronting anyone who seek to fundamentally change society. Communalists are by no means content with the municipalities as they appear today, and our ideal city does not exist, nor has it existed earlier in history. (9) Accordingly, we seek to engage ourselves fully in rooting out state-like and market-based features of present municipalities – radically expanding their communal dimension. (10)

The effort to radically democratize municipalities involves the recreation of a public sphere, where people can come together as citizens – to meet, discuss, and make civic and economic decisions – in radically new popular institutions. Today, liberal, “radical,” and bourgeois politicians alike weep crocodile tears about the loss of community and citizenship, while desperately concealing their own role in the cunningly orchestrated “political” circus that steadily erodes all popular influence on politics. In contrast to virtually all other currents on the political spectrum, Communalist demands for popular empowerment are more than rhetoric to fool an already weary public. Indeed, Communalism is founded on precisely the empowerment of ordinary citizens – it is our very raison d’être.

The Communalist commitment to popular empowerment stands in unconditional opposition to centralization and statecraft. Communalism in fact, is unwavering in its resistance to the nation-state, which it views as the instrument par excellence for spreading popular disempowerment. The nation-state reduces the whole concept of citizenship to a mockery, confining citizens to the passive role as mere taxpayers, clients, or voters. The dynamics of this structure replaces the right to policy-making by the public, by the chosen or elected minority of so-called “representatives” that govern the state. The nation-state is by definition based on the professionalized exercise of power and claims to have, with its police and armed forces, a monopoly of the use of violence in society. It has thus been a perfect tool for the ruling elites, gradually wiping out the “amateurish” characteristics of more democratic systems of government and making proud citizens into servile subjects. History has shown that states may even develop a particular interest of their own, which in modern times can be seen by bureaucratic developments in China and the former Soviet Union. This is a development that, in varying degrees, is true also for the most “democratic” of our Western nation-states.

Nonetheless, the state has unfortunately been esteemed by many radicals, particularly Marxists. Marx famously described the state as a mere instrument serving a ruling class, which meant that under capitalism all states were bourgeois states. Accordingly, in the transition from capitalist control over society to socialism, the workers’ movement had to replace the bourgeois state with a workers’ state, indeed by a proletarian dictatorship, which was to function merely as an effective instrument for the proletariat. Marx later allowed for the gradual introduction of socialism through legislation in certain European countries. Different perspectives on the socialist transition and the role of the state split the Marxist movement into several opposing tendencies by the time of World War One, in which Social Democracy and Leninism was the most influential opponents. Nevertheless, they shared a common assumption that the state was an instrument that could be used for socialist ends: one sought to gradually take over and transform the bourgeois state, while the other sought to build a new “workers’ state.” (11) Both tendencies confusedly but vigorously supported the concentration of power in a state apparatus looming over the people. Marxist theory, in fact, has been central in fostering radical acceptance of the state, with grave consequences for the revolutionary movement as a whole.

Since the days of the International Working Men’s Association various radical tendencies tried, through heated debates, to explore the practical role of the state in the coming socialist revolution. Unfortunately, the question of the state remained unresolved in crucial historical moments, even amongst the most advanced sections of the revolutionary movement, resulting in immense human tragedies: in Russia in 1917–18 the Bolsheviks, eager to take and expand state power, initiated a devastating centralizing process that rapidly vitiated the council movement; in Spain in 1936 the anarchist movement and particularly the syndicalist CNT refused to institutionalize a decentralized workers’ power and immediately eliminate the tottering Catalan state, thereby allowing the bourgeoisie to regain control and literally wipe out the workers’ movement. The issue of state power haunts us even more today when many radicals tend to regard the nation-state as the main bulwark against capitalist globalization, without the provision of any credible alternatives for popular resistance to the power of capital. At the time of the Russian and the Spanish revolutions large workers’ movements, guided by ideologies and theories, provided direction for the revolutionary masses. Today, instead of large mass movements and an ideology providing clear guidelines for radical action, we have “movements” that only act in protest and “ideologues” who refuse to present alternatives.

No, we must be absolutely clear about the true function of the nation-state, indeed of any state. Although its historical role may be more complex than Kropotkin suggested, the state now plays a highly regressive role, not only in substantiating capitalist dominance and expansion but in reducing many communities to virtually empty shells and citizens to impotent monads. With its oversized apparatus of professional politicians and bureaucrats, it represents a standing threat to the revival of a public sphere and the recovery of authentic citizenship. Not only will the state try to absorb attempts to democratize society and drain it of content, but conceding power to the nation-state is to literally assure it being taken from the citizens. As Bookchin has pointed out: if one allows power to be placed in the hands of a minority, one simultaneously accepts it being taken from the majority. For the state to exist and flourish it must colonize and control all political sublevels, such as municipalities, counties, and regions, allowing them as little power as possible. Although modern republican systems provide some leeway for municipalities and regions, this is due to popular resistance and constitutional bonds. A state needs no Robespierre, Napoleon or even Stalin to professionalize and centralize its power; it will, if it gets the chance, eradicate the independence and self-confidence of municipalities and their citizens. (12) Equally, it will sap the democratic ideals of radicals who enter the state, replacing these ideals with bureaucratic aspirations. Despite the shock the German Social Democrats caused by voting in favor of war credits in 1914, this was a completely logical act for a party who had entered the state to reform it. Attempts to make a “long march through the institutions” in order to fundamentally change them have invariably led to the fundamental change of the radicals themselves, as recently witnessed by the degeneration of Die Grünen in Germany who, as soon as they entered state offices, divested their claims to be a grassroots movement of all meaning.

Nor is the claptrap of state corruption prevented by creating new state institutions instead of taking part in the “bourgeois state” – it just sheds the underlying contempt for citizens’ control of its various disguises. When radicals aim at building a “workers’ state” or a “people’s state,” they have already sidestepped the necessity of building a genuine popular power. A state, by its very nature as a professional apparatus for wielding power, can never serve as a means for decentralization and popular empowerment, no matter how “proletarian,” “popular,” “universal,” “radical” or even “minimal” it claims to be.

The only radical current that has fostered a seemingly consistent opposition to the state in all its forms has been anarchism, which rejects the view of state as a benevolent instrument both in the present society and in a future society. Anarchists have always had distaste for the Hobbesian claims that the state brought about human progress, by freeing us from “the war of all against all.” Although usually providing a rather simplistic and ahistorical view of the state, anarchists often provided important correctives to the widespread belief that the state always is necessary for a society merely to exist.

Anarchism has however been ambiguous about other important issues, particularly organization, institutions, and power. Thus anarchists have all too often relied on “self-organization,” based on the masses’ supposed “revolutionary instincts” or, more generally, their “spontaneous creativity.” Anarchism has rarely concerned itself with the positive forms of freedom; indeed, its main preoccupation has been with a negative concept of “freedom from,” which is validly associated with liberalist thought, albeit in a sincere rejection of oppression and all forms of rule. All too often, anarchism has made political organization synonymous with party hierarchies, institutions synonymous with the state, and power synonymous with oppression, which has led to more confusion than clarification. Lacking concrete alternatives, it has offered very few tangible correctives, with the result that their “anti-authoritarianism” is vacuous as today’s volatile cries against “technocracy,” “consumerism,” and “politics.”

This political vacuity has in fact made the anarchist commitment to decentralization no less troubling than the Marxist commitment to centralization. Indeed, anarchists have advanced many varied utopian visions but very few practical organizational alternatives. Confusing state with government or even with power as such is dangerously misleading and makes anarchism a fallacious “alternative” for a radical movement today. The anarchist critique of centralized power is certainly welcome and necessary, but it cannot lead us into eschewing power as such. Still anarchists usually do refuse precisely to engage in the struggle for popular power. Generally, they seek to create “liberated spaces” and “autonomous zones” within the capitalist system and beyond the tentacles of the state. (13) Despite the fact that anarchism frequently resists definition (it has multiple and often highly contradictory forms), anarchists usually aspire to create collectives, affinity groups, and voluntary interest bodies that are guided by anti-authoritarian and mutualist principles. These kinds of groups are to gradually emerge through consciousness-raising and the force of example. In this communitarian vision, many small enterprises are expected to function independently of mass society, steadily spread out in all spheres of society, and in time multiply sufficiently to erase all forms of oppression, including the state. Many anarchists also voice the need for communes of sorts, but they have no ideas about how these communes shall be organized, or what forms its freedoms will take. (14) More generally, they do not know how to go from a society pervaded by hierarchies and classes to a fully liberated society. Hence their “anti-authoritarian” alternatives most commonly amount to changes in personal attitudes and lifestyles and when it comes to initiating a transitional period they usually have no clear strategic ideas whatsoever. As Bookchin points out, anarchism has proven utterly unable to free itself from the reverence for the individual autonomy, even though no human being ever is completely autonomous: we are all products of our adolescence and social settings, as well as the common history and cultural heritage of humanity itself.

By insisting upon autonomy, freedom from all rule and methods of consensus to reach joint decisions, anarchists feed into the present mystique surrounding the “sovereign individual.” A consistent radical focus should properly be on the social forms that make possible assertive, reasoning, and ethical individuals. The reason why communalists place our focus on the municipality is exactly because it can be restructured and communally improved. It is in democratized and socialized municipalities that we can actualize a truly humane society, and maintain socially important services as education, health care, and defense as well as production and distribution, while cultivating popular supremacy. When important public services are controlled by citizens in a public sphere, they are not likely to be perverted by a desire for profits or by a particularistic interest inherent in bureaucracies.

A Communalist Society

In today’s mystified world, with its vast and remote institutions, the need to decentralize society to the level of human scale is acute. Not only is such decentralization necessary for making possible a direct democracy, but it has become a pressing social and ecological need as well. A human scale will by necessity be a municipal scale, since it is only the municipalities, by virtue of their extent as well as their intimacy, that have the potential to embody genuine human communities. Here human beings can govern themselves without being subjected to a remote state apparatus and manage economic affairs without a capricious market. Indeed, in placing their main focus on restructuring municipalities, Communalists struggle to create genuine communities that allow our distinct human qualities to fully emerge and institutionalize themselves. These municipalities will indeed be more than the mere sum of its citizens; rather they will constitute truly politicized communities that imbue citizens with values, hope and purpose – in stark contrast to the daily trivialization of citizens by our current “political” system. In a Communalist society, all inhabitants will be encouraged to become active political participants. Far from representing a static “end of history” such a system of communal government will logically seek to continually sophisticate itself through the conscious work of its citizen’s assemblies. The most rational forms of social organization will always be the ones that express our most human features.

The need to decentralize society to a genuine human scale and to recreate a public sphere has often been ignored by radical activists who have narrower political aims. Radical currents have been severely weakened by attempts to mobilize and empower people exclusively on the basis of their particular identities, most notably on their economic (class) status but also on their biological or even their subcultural status. By perpetuating reductionist notions of biological or economic – that is, not universally human – characteristics as our defining qualities, these approaches conform to an alienated and fragmented society. (15) By criticizing identity politics, we do not mean to deny the fact that many people are systematically excluded from a decent and fulfilling life. Biological and economic factors obviously play a focal role in the oppressions that exist in today’s society, and important social struggles have to be fought out in order to make marginalized social groups fully able to participate in political life. Political empowerment and social liberation is mutually conditioned. Radicals must be actively engaged in improving the conditions for marginalized social groups, but never allow single issues to dim the sight of our common human future, laying at the roots of our biological, economic, and subcultural identities.

In contrast to present society, where individuals are raised to be self-centered and egoistical and social groups are incessantly pitted against one another, a rational society will, through its institutions and culture encourage solidarity and humaneness. It will consciously cultivate the political community through active citizenship, giving rise to the reasonable and self-confident civic being, whose partner is the caring and empathic human being. (16) Being a citizen complements and enriches being human. The ideal of citizenship transcends our various biological identities and empowers us as political beings. Indeed, it is through citizenship that the members of a given municipality can transcend parochialism and develop a common identity, a tolerance that knows no geographical borders, and a passionate dedication to the common good. (17)

The historical emergence of the city in the “urban revolution” (which may have been more fundamental than the agrarian revolution that preceded it) had far-reaching consequences for social life. The city provided a space that was open to strangers – something that did not exist in tribal societies, confined as their members were to their own ancestral lineage and confined as their outlook was to mythic cosmologies. The city increasingly defined one’s place in society according to residence and occupation, allowing a self-conscious citizenry to gradually emerge. No longer was the tribe or clan the fundamental social unit. With the city, humanity took a qualitative leap from the quasi-animalistic ties defining tribal communities to truly social institutions and cultural ties. New cultural and economic relationships pushed the importance of biological categorizations to a secondary position (without ever really abolishing them; as witnessed by the gross disproportions in power, wealth, and status that notoriously accompany gender, age and ethnicity today). Citizenship, stretched no longer along bloodlines but along clear territorial lines, made possible the unity of humanity qua human, which later was expressed through universalistic religious teachings and universalized laws. People could come together, as human beings, to collectively decide civic affairs. Citizenship is the political concretization of humanitas – the ideal of a common human identity.

In this process, the cities generated a new public sphere, which was distinctly civil and increasingly political. The public sphere now consisted of forums and arenas in which citizens met, debated and ultimately decided upon the shared issues in their communities. In this public sphere dialogue assumed a new centrality in which, hopefully, the most reasoned argument prevailed, thereby purging decision-making of its old mythical and religious elements. The creation of politics (defined as face-to-face democratic self-government, as distinct from the purely social forms of production and socialization that preceded and worked in tandem with it, and the statecraft that was later to pervert it) was the culmination of the shift toward distinctly civic communities. This process is clearly visible in the Athenian polis of the fifth century B.C.E. Here citizens took great pride in the fact that they were all capable of governing themselves through active citizenship. Despite its serious shortcomings as a democratic society in its treatment of women, slaves, and strangers, the Athenian polis and other examples still remain important sources for inspiration about the institutions and cultures that can nurture a face-to-face democracy. A Communalist society will build upon a revived public sphere, latent in all towns, cities, and neighborhoods today, and refine it by creating a confederalist political framework in which this public sphere may flourish and develop on a broad scale.

By recreating a direct democracy we seek to initiate the creation of a rational society, which is necessarily a long process. A Communalist society will be rational to the extent that it manages to institutionalize principles of humaneness and citizenship. The extent to which we actualize our human potentialities will always be the definitive standard to judge the development of social life. Although rooted in the nascent drive towards subjectivity, complexity and complementarity we discern in first nature or what properly can be defined as biological evolution we must turn to history itself to find the most fertile achievements in ethics, art, freedom and security. Ideals of communes, democracy, and solidarity are educed from the unfolding of our social history, as recurrent yet unfulfilled potentialities that point to a more humane future. (18) Communalists seek to contribute to their actualization by creating a society that nurtures our most generous human qualities.

In a rational society economic life would be guided exclusively by moral and ecological perspectives. The fundamental demand that all citizens shall contribute to the common welfare according to their own abilities and receive goods from the community according to their needs will underlie all economic development. As Marx and other socialist theorists pointed out, no pre-capitalist economy was subject to more market controls than the present one – and in a rational society there is decidedly no room for one. Questions of production and distribution will thus cease to be considered part of the “amoral” discipline of analyzing the fluctuations of the market for profitable ends and ceaseless searches for possible areas for capital expansion. Rather, economics will become a matter of ethical concern, notably, developing the productive forces for the common good – incorporating ecological concerns – in order to abolish scarcity and raise the living standard for all, and to heighten the citizens’ sensibility of collective material responsibilities, bringing humanity from an oppressive “realm of necessity” to a more expansive “realm of freedom.” To ensure this process toward an ethical economy, we must seek to politicize economic life: to place the economy under direct popular control and ultimately to municipalize all socially necessary resources and means of production.

Communalists seek to create a stable institutional framework for a confederalist democracy and an ethical economy. Still, an analysis of the practical functions of social structures does not explain their geist, any more than an autopsy is able to explain the mental state of a human being. It may be easy to think of a society merely as a set of functions or practices in a purely instrumental manner, and many radicals seem to do this when decrying the injustices of the present social order in the belief that simple mechanisms like new progressive enterprises, more referendums or increased state control over corporations will ease the damage inflicted by capitalist globalization. Entangled as they are in market society, they do not point to the fundamental ways leading out of our present material and cultural misery. A society is more than its constellation of mechanical arrangements: it must seek to bring meaning to its citizens and to the world, something that today’s society is woefully incapable of doing. A communalist society or indeed any social structure is worth no more than the values it seeks to foster amongst its citizenry and the hope it conveys to its young.

All societies, from the earliest tribal bands, to the most advanced capitalist countries, have consciously and subliminally educated new generations into their existing customs, rituals, wisdom, and values. All societies obviously socialize their members. The ancient Athenians not only created sophisticated democratic institutions such as the ekklesia, or citizens’ assembly, but also consciously formed their citizens to become competent political actors. The notion of paideia, the lifelong formative process of cultivating the public personality of Athenian citizens, was as fundamental to the Greek democracy as the agora, or public square, and the ekklesia. Public responsibility and a collective identity were further nurtured through civic festivals and religious rituals, as well as through its armed citizen detachments who formed the hoplite army and the citizen-manned navy. In a certain sense we can understand each Athenian institution as being educational. The Athenian ideal of rounded, competent, and self-confident citizens starkly contrasts with the bleak notions of constituents in modern nation-states. Any strategy for achieving true democracy today must include strategies for recreating modern equivalents of the ancient ideals of paideia. The future system of Communalist democracy will foster the participation of its citizens in all civic institutions and thereby, through democratic practices, teach them democratic ideas and mutual responsibility. Our aim is to create not merely new institutions but citizens who are fully able to populate this democracy and enhance its vitality. In a rational society citizens would be educated in democratic politics and human solidarity, in collective duties and personal integrity, as well as in an ecological sensibility that duly recognize our proper place in the natural world.

A reharmonization of society’s relationship with the natural world is a call to sanity, contrary to what some influential elements in the ecology movement seem to think. Antihumanistic tendencies often claim that human beings are merely parasites on the “natural world” and should regard themselves as humble members of a “biospheric democracy” or the “council of all beings.” Human arrogance and civilization, it is claimed, has created our dismal ecological dislocations. The solution that is proposed is that human beings should deny their distinct human qualities and accept a passive subordination to the “laws of nature.” But, as Bookchin has repeatedly pointed out, the problem is not that human beings are too civilized, but rather that they are not civilized enough. Capitalist corporations and state industries may claim to represent human interests and progress when they are destroying the biosphere, but these claims are utterly false, as are biocentrist claims that it is human beings as such (and their values) that are destroying the world. Let us not shuffle the cards: both human beings and nonhuman nature suffer severely from capitalist exploitation, yet, despite many obstacles, it is quite possible to create an ecological society. Deep ecology’s attempts to replace Promothean humanism with a rustic “ecological consciousness” and a prescribed return to the values of a primordial past is just as dangerous as contemporary attempts to legitimate predatory capitalist practices.

A rational ecological society, by contrast, would create a culture where our uniquely human qualities, like empathy, rationality, and ethics are put at the service of natural and social evolution. The potentiality for such a culture to exist is denied both by the established society and by mystical ecologists. The way to an ecological society leads forward, and Communalists will seek to bring human communities as much as possible into harmony with the natural world, advancing a balanced social ecology, ultimately to a point where the contradictions between society and the natural world are greatly alleviated by a complementary relationship between the two. In a Communalist society, confederal networks of democratized municipalities would be creatively tailored as much as is feasible to the ecology of the regions in which they are located.

No beautiful words, however, should be allowed to veil the difficulties that face the achievement of such a society. Our democratized communities will definitely not be achieved merely by persuasion and good intentions. Radicals must be prepared to engage in the struggle to empower existing municipalities so that ordinary men and women can have the power to decide the destiny of their society.

Building a Communalist Alternative

Calls for a “new politics” and for specific initiatives to expand grassroots-democracy have often suffered from lack of clarity both in their analysis and written proposals. We must emphatically clarify the structures needed for a genuine democracy to emerge and provide answers to the question of power. New democratic institutions must be consolidated by a new confederal constitution that clearly spells out the rights and responsibilities in a municipal confederation. We must consciously structure our proposed new democracy to succeed both in its educational role as well as its practical ability to function.

There are no other means by which the people can decide the course of social development than demanding that power must reside in the hands of the people as a whole. A new form of government, a collectively organized popular power, should replace the state and capitalism. And if we are to organize such a popular power we have to clarify how it is to be achieved. Many well-intentioned but naive radicals seem to believe that if we spread power widely, so that we have a so-called minimal state, small-scale market economy, and limited power distributed amongst various popular institutions, we will have created an adequate political alternative. But these new radical structures will eventually be marginalized or absorbed by the strong antidemocratic thrust of the state and the market. Any credible alternative must aim at challenging, confronting, and ultimately replacing the seemingly omnipotent capitalist system, in all its various mutations. Power must be centered somewhere, and Communalists hold resolutely that it should not be in councils, committees, collectives, or states but hold resolutely that power must remain in municipal popular assemblies, as here the most direct form of democracy is possible.

The struggle for control over social development is ongoing, and we must not allow very real, albeit often concealed, tensions to be obscured under the myth of a “pluralist” approach, placing all good intentions on an equal footing. We cannot overlook real differences in policy and practice that arise in popular assemblies. Communalists are actively engaged in political life and in social struggles, working with initiatives trying to expand popular power. Revolutionaries have done so for centuries, although not always consistently so: the Bolshevik demand for workers’ councils in the summer of 1917, for example, starkly contradicted the brutal centralizing efforts of the Bolshevik Party after gaining state power to impose its control over all grassroots institutions. Immediately after the February Revolution the tensions between Kerensky’s Provisional Government and radical efforts to organize new workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ councils (soviets) became very sharp and was temporarily resolved when the Bolsheviks took power in October 1917. In addition, a new tension arose between the soviets and the new Bolshevik dictatorship that soon had to be confronted. Either one side or the other had to have final power. Unfortunately Russian revolutionaries were not able to defend their newly gained freedom from the corrosive encroachment of the Bolshevik Party. This tragedy may chiefly be assigned to their inability to resolve the question of power, or to clearly define which institution – the soviets or the Party – was to have political control. The soviets’ loss of power made possible the complete bureaucratization of Russia and the later Stalinist manipulations and distortions of the entire revolutionary movement into the nightmare of gulags, party despots and the NKVD. The Spanish anarchists were confronted by the same paradoxical dilemma in the exciting July days of 1936, when they first refused to take power and institutionalize workers control, and again, only a few months later, when they placed four leading cenetistas in the liberal Republican government, abandoning all their principles. (19) These tragic mistakes strangled the revolutionary movement long before the Falange of General Franco gained military control over Spain. Acting as though power somehow existed in a vacuum, and believing that simply ignoring it could dissolve it, proved disastrous as the workers were systematically deprived of the institutional means for defending their freedom. Fortunately there are lessons to be learned from history so that we will not be “condemned to repeat it,” and an important lesson is not to allow this fatal ambiguity of who shall have the power follow in the wake of a revolutionary upheaval.

We face this challenge even today, as a result of the confusion surrounding the issue of power and democracy in the new movements against “globalization”, particularly among the more anarchistic elements, who often claim that power as such is an “evil” that should be abolished. This demand is not without historical precursors in the anarchist movement. As the Spanish anarchosyndicalist CNT amazingly stated; “There is no such thing as revolutionary power, for all power is reactionary by nature.” (20) As Bookchin has emphasized: The fact must be faced that power is a social reality; it exists, it is tangible, and it is institutionalized. Power also resides somewhere, it simply cannot be centralized and decentralized at the same time – there will always be one institution with the power to effectuate political decisions.

Communalists strive to draw power down to municipalities in order to share it equally among citizens, through a politics of libertarian municipalism. The fact that today’s municipalities copy the state to the best of their ability and, even worse, try to imitate competitive business corporations does not mean that they cannot be radically transformed, democratized, and indeed rendered truly communal entities. Municipalities have a different history from the nation-state – in fact, they precede its emergence – and we must build upon their unfulfilled potentialities. Popular empowerment can only happen, we insist, through a thorough empowerment and restructuring of the communities in which people live. Only municipalities allow for direct citizen participation and control over public affairs; indeed, it is only in municipalities that people can be empowered as citizens, not as “consumers,” “voters,” “constituents,” or participants in instantaneous opinion polls. Logically, Communalist politics aims at strengthening the municipalities and turning them into direct democracies, to ensure complete citizens’ control.

Achieving communal power must by no means lead to regional isolation and parochial localism. Open cooperation must transcend local or “bioregional” boundaries, and the many policies decided by the various municipalities must be structurally coordinated. This does not mean that power must be centralized; if we develop confederal forms of cooperation, power can very well remain at the level of the municipal assemblies. Policymaking is the exclusive privilege of the municipal assemblies, while administration is easily handled by councils and committees. The confederations, which themselves have long historical roots, renders possible interregional cultural exchange, administration, coordination, and distribution of resources. A confederation by no means constitutes a state or statelike forms of organization, since a confederation lacks any apparatus of systematized violence above the people, and since amateurs will govern society at all times – confederal deputies are totally answerable to and recallable by the assemblies they represent and must bring all decisions to the popular assembly for their approval, modification, alteration, or rejection.

Logically, as Communalists are working for municipal democracy and confederal forms of government, we consistently advocate the municipalization of the economy. If the political democracy is to function and create the sufficient preconditions for equal participation, the people as a whole must control all aspects of economic production and distribution. Libertarian municipalism calls for placing factories, workshops, land, housing, and other socially important property under municipal control. Municipalization differs markedly from traditional radical notions that they should be controlled entirely by the workers in councils and committees that are located on their premises. Syndicalism is based on the idea that trade unions should overthrow the capitalist class by a general strike and take power in society. Communalists are highly critical of archaic demands for workers’ control but will fight earnestly to abolish private property, end exploitation of labor, and secure the final transition to an ethical economic system. A class struggle between wage laborers and capitalists certainly exists, but the classless society must be struggled for and won by an empowered citizenry that possesses full control over the fate of society.

The Municipalities of the Future

History is filled with exciting communal institutions that make possible this project for human emancipation. It is interesting to note that in European history, revolutionary defenders of civic freedoms have invariably been called comuñeros, communards, or communalists. During the tumultuous late Middle Age free cities dotted Europe, often allying in strong political and military leagues, contesting the contemporary centralizing efforts of Carolingian heirs, who were brutally forging the emerging European nation-states at the direct expense of municipal freedoms. These cities and towns repeatedly claimed their right to independence and confederation in bloody fights against nobles and monarchs. Even today the ideal of a “Commune of communes” remains a latent threat to modern nation-states.

To nurture this ideal and create a Communalist society a coherent set of radical ideas is indispensable. Any serious alternative to the capitalist system must also fight the ideological obscurantism that rides on the contemporary tide of cultural barbarism. As Communalists, our ideological alternative must constitute a coherent whole and always be linked to practical politics. Although changing social circumstances and new political experiences must inform ideology, this ideological alternative rests on several fundamental principles that radicals must staunchly defend in both words and practice.

A radical alternative can become a reality only if it has an underlying ideology as well as a responsible movement that is willing to militantly oppose all forms of oppression, exploitation, and violations of human rights while fighting for new structures that can give form to social freedom. In this struggle radicals must develop and advance conscious strategies for citizen empowerment, while they wholeheartedly engage in municipal politics.

Communalism, and its politics of libertarian municipalism, can bring radicals out of the reformist cul-de-sac of Realpolitik and futile communitarian efforts. We cannot change society by throwing illegal street parties, sending petitions to politicians, or holding large protest rallies. We must build a new political organization, guided by a clear set of principles and bylaws, which seek to collectively provide the spearhead of larger radical movements for democracy and social change. Our political practice must seek to heighten social consciousness and provide the most relevant solutions to our current problems. They must be presented to the public through a broad range of plans, programs, reports, campaigns, and projects. Communalists are actively engaged in popular movements, public forums, radical fronts, and citizens’ initiatives, as well as in running candidates in municipal elections – always seeking to restructure our municipalities and radically change existing society. As a result of our Communalist activities we hope to function as a political vanguard, continually seeking to attain the municipalities of the future.

Capitalism does not have the honor of being the best history can yield. On the contrary, it functions like a tumor ultimately ravaging both society and the natural world, while diluting all our humane institutions and values. The municipality offers the promise of a future in which we finally can become truly human. Capitalism has had its day; it must be replaced by an ecological, humanist and democratic alternative.

Notes

1. This article was drafted by Eirik Eiglad, based on the ideas of Murray Bookchin.

2. Despite parliamentary commitments to neo-liberalist policies, state regulations remain indispensable mechanisms for balancing the instability of the market, and social democracy may well gain a broad revival as economic crisis intensifies, something the growth of new movements like ATTAC (Association pour une Taxation des Transactions financières pour l’Aide aux Citoyens) indicate.

3. After the fall of the Berlin wall, leading European Social Democrats reformulated their political position, defining their proper place now in the center and not to the Left, as seen in the “Third Way” embodied by the politics of Britain’s Tony Blair, or in the “Neue Mitte” (The “new center”) promoted by Germany’s Gerhard Schröeder.

4. “And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” This quote is from an interview in Woman’s Own, 3 October 1987, pp. 8-10.

5. Naomi Klein, “The Vision Thing,” in The Nation, July 10, 2000, p. 21. Emphasis added.

6. The demand for a taxation of financial transactions that, due to an editorial by Ignacio Ramonet in Le Monde Diplomatique December 1997, contributed to the formation of ATTAC.

7. For an overview of the ideas of Murray Bookchin, see The Murray Bookchin Reader, ed. Janet Biehl (London: Cassell, 1997) and Remaking Society: Pathways to a Green Future (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1989). For the Communalist political approach, known as libertarian municipalism, readers should particularly consult Bookchin’s From Urbanization to Cities: Toward a New Politics of Citizenship (London: Cassell, 1995), and Janet Biehl’s clear exposition in The Politics of Social Ecology: Libertarian Municipalism (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1997).

8. It must be absolutely clear that we use the word commune in the continental sense, as a municipality (and as a potentiality for a free political community); not in the sense of a cooperative or collective, a relatively small group of people sharing premises and responsibilities.

9. The Communalist ideal has never existed in history, anymore than socialism, communism, anarchosyndicalism, or, in its “pure” form, capitalism.

10. From a dialectical perspective, the purpose of revolutionary organizations is to help bring the free communes or municipalities into existence, thereby transcending their current state as limited political entities. (To use Hegelian language, the commune an sich should not to be regarded as a standard for revolutionary demands, but we have to educe its logic, recovering its true nature as a commune für sich. The commune an und für sich will be a liberated human community.)

11. The intent of Social Democracy was to base their state on a majority (unlike the Bolsheviks), in a fundamental transformation of the bourgeois state, as they believed that the workers eventually would become the majority.

12. An observation that in no way denies the fact that there are degrees of centralization and of statecraft.

13. Even at the height of the October Revolution most Russian anarchists were amazingly not engaged in practical politics. Instead they were involved in building communitarian enterprises, like the Moscow collectives (eventually stormed by the newly established secret police, the Cheka, in December 1918). This lack of political strategy actually caused many anarchists to join the Bolsheviks.

14. Anarchist notions of communes vary a great deal (the Spanish anarchosyndicalist CNT even called for economic or industrial communes), but the actual form and content of their communes have remained hopelessly undefined. Despite his admiration for medieval free cities, even Peter Kropotkin was unable to clearly define this libertarian ideal, assigning it a multitude of meanings in his writings.

15. These flaws haunt the weary adherence to traditional class analysis, with due focus on the hegemonic role of the proletariat in effecting major social change. Today only marginal sects still follow these formulas rigidly, but rather popular radical currents still seriously try to persuade us to follow strategies for empowering people qua “producers” and “consumers,” some even presenting detailed schemes for integrating “increased influence” into “humanized” market exchanges – prime examples of the deep impact that capitalist thinking has had on radical theory.

16. The adjective civic describes a connection to a city, town, or municipality, not only a distinction from military or ecclesiastical issues. See The New Oxford Dictionary of English, ed. Judy Pearsall (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998). Words like civic, civil, citizen, city and even civilization have a common etymological origin in the Latin concept of civitas, a “union of citizens,” again suggesting that cities – and not states – provided the real incentives for the development of politics and of citizenship.

17. Citizenship implies actualizing our human potentiality as political beings and is therefore a universal concept. Indeed, only a revitalization of citizenship makes possible a real “globalization from below,” as confederalism and cosmopolitanism are historically and logically connected to this ideal.

18. This essay does not attempt to explore the rich and fecund philosophical soil in which Communalist ideology is rooted. See Murray Bookchin, The Philosophy of Social Ecology: Essays on Dialectical Naturalism (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1995) for a thorough introduction.

19. It must be emphasized that power was actually given to the CNT-FAI in July 1936, first by the workers who had victoriously resisted the fascist rebellion in Barcelona, looking to the anarchists for leadership, then by Lluis Companys, the head of the Catalan state, who politely offered to let the CNT-FAI establish its own government! This fact is revealed in most of the general works on the Spanish Revolution, even though anarchist authors usually downplay CNT–FAI’s refusal of Companys’ offer. For an interesting anarchist exposition, see Agustin Guillamón, The Friends of Durruti Group: 1937–1939 (Edinburgh and San Francisco: AK Press, 1996).

20. Quote used to introduce part 5, “Anarchism in Action,” in Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism (London: Fontana Press, 1993), p. 429. Emphasis added. 

From the previous website ISSUE # 1 OCTOBER 2002

http://www.communalism.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=177:communalism-as-alternative&catid=84:movement&Itemid=2

http://socialecologylondon.wordpress.com/2007/06/25/democratizing-the-municipalitythe-promise-of-participatory-budgeting-by-sveinung-legard/

July 29, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Bases for Communalist Programs – Eirik Eiglad

Theory does not hold a high status in current radical movements. (1) “Don’t theorize!” seem to be the watchword of many self-designated radicals today, instead emphasizing activism and protest. Not only does much of what currently passes for the Left have a strong anti-theoretical thrust, but some new social movements even promote irrationalism as a virtue. Consequently they are embedded in a quagmire of pragmatism, lifestyle orientations, and apolitical attitudes. Alternatives to this intellectual degeneration are direly needed. Social ecology and its communalism stand out in this respect with a coherent political philosophy and a revolutionary approach. (2) 

The Emergence of Social Ecological Communalism

Social ecology emerged in response to the decline of a traditional radicalism that had been based exclusively on the struggle between wage labor and capital. After the Second World War, radically new developments in capitalism diminished the numerical size of the proletariat. At the same time the success of social-democratic parties in several parts of the Western world relieved some of the most immediate economic and social problems created by the market economy, leading to a close collaboration between trade unions and governments in making capitalism more palatable. In the following years, despite the claims of Marxists, it became clear that the workers’ movement did not constitute the hegemonic force for social change.

In the early 1960s a new radicalism developed around new issues that burst onto the social agenda. Women’s oppression and ecological devastation, racism and the Vietnam war led to strong new social movements, along with a variety of citizens’ initiatives – none of which could be encompassed by movements based on factory-oriented issues. These radical tendencies greatly influenced popular attitudes. But regrettably, their movements had strong limitations and did not actualize their potentialities to become truly liberatory social forces.

In fact, they remained fragmented and were often appropriated, in an eclectic manner, by the existing culture. This resulted in an upsurge of “identity politics” and the decline of coherent radical approaches that call for fundamentally altered social relationships. Several struggles were melded with existential and even personal issues, dismissing the need for more in-depth theoretical inquiry, and their organizations became strictly issue-oriented and of an ad hoc nature. This development within the “new social movements,” as they were to be called, was coupled with developments within the universities: after the failure of the Left to implement a liberatory and cooperative society, hundreds of disillusioned radicals swarmed into the universities and, in the name of anti-totalitarianism, started an academic crusade against the objectivity of the revolutionary project. (3)

Disgusted by the dogmatism and authoritarianism of the established workers’ parties, which had led to Stalinist totalitarianism in the East and social conservatism in the West, these academics did not stop by criticizing vulgar Marxism and authoritarian forms of organization. In the name of postmodernism, ethical relativism, and “social deconstructionism,” they pursued their opposition to totalitarianism in a paranoid manner. Progress was dismissed as an illusion, education was depicted as authoritarian, ideology was considered dogmatic, and reason itself was dismissed – features that define any meaningful social theory. As they withdrew from the public sphere and into universities, they disdained even the very values that had inspired revolutionaries for more than a century and a half. Instead of redefining the revolutionary project, these former radicals essentially abandoned it wholesale, at most engaging in ad hoc criticisms of certain features of the existing society.

But the basic relationships that make up this society still have to be fundamentally altered. Not only does the social problem of exploitation still exist, but other forms of alienation and oppression demand our attention as well, like growing centralization, social homogenization, and the commodification of ever-greater spheres of cultural life. Furthermore, ecological imperatives make it necessary for us to reconsider society’s role in the biosphere. The roots of these evils are basically located in social structures of domination and particularly in the economic system of capitalism. The dynamic of the market economy and its competitive imperatives will continually reap profits at the expense of human beings and the biosphere. A revolutionary social approach is obviously needed to do away with capitalism and hierarchies once and for all. Such an endeavor must transcend traditional forms of socialism and anarchism, and certainly everything that passes for “leftism” or “radicalism” today. Nonetheless we must retain the best features of the traditional Left, like its commitment to reason, its constructive utopianism, its class analysis, and its participation in public life and social struggles – while broadening them. We cannot allow our politics to be arbitrary; rather, we must ground it both ideologically and historically in radical social theory and the revolutionary tradition.

Social ecology, responding to this challenge, has come up with a coherent political philosophy. Initially launched in 1964 by the radical American thinker Murray Bookchin, this approach united the liberatory ideas of social anarchism with ecological issues and still managed to retain the best of the Marxist tradition, especially its critique of capitalism. (4) Its project for revolutionary social change took the form of libertarian municipalism. The creation of an ecological society requires a large-scale decentralization of social life to a human scale and a transition to ecological forms of production. According to this social ecological analysis, capitalism and the state are essentially the main causes of the present social and ecological crisis and must be eliminated, along with all forms of hierarchy and domination. Radical activists have to create new liberatory social relations and institutions. The fundamental solution to our social and ecological problems is to empower the people and to create a libertarian socialist society.

Social ecology led to the development of a communalist ideology – maintaining this fundamental analysis – that gives us a vision of a rational ecological society, as well as a tangible framework for radical social and political practice. The politics of communalism – libertarian municipalism – defines an attempt to strengthen and restructure the municipalities at the expense of the centralized state. It aims at creating and empowering popular assemblies in the municipalities and making them forums where all citizens collectively can participate in shaping their own future. These popular assemblies will decide upon all important community issues, like education, defense, health care, production, and distribution. The democratic municipalities will unite and form confederations, a form of interregional organization, in which individual members of a confederal council are mandated and recallable by their respective popular assemblies.

Communalists make a clear distinction between the democratic assemblies, which make all policy decisions, and councils and committees, which undertake administrative and coordinative functions. These municipal confederations must challenge, confront, and ultimately replace the state and centralized power as such. Communalism will furthermore replace capitalism with a municipalized economy, guided by principles of sharing and solidarity. Democratized municipalities will be carefully tailored to their natural surroundings, by means of ecological technologies and knowledge, trying to create an ecological balance between land and city.

Although libertarian municipalism has been consciously articulated through social ecology circles the last thirty years, it nonetheless has deep roots in social struggles. Historically, communalist politics is anchored in the age-old struggle between the independence of the cities and the imperialistic ambitions of the state. On the one hand, citizens in the past fought to preserve and expand civic virtues and municipal freedoms, and on the other, nobles, kings and emperors made every effort to suppress local autonomy and confederation. (5) This tension has exploded from time to time in bloody civil wars and revolutionary upheavals, most notably in the Great French Revolution of 1789-94 and in the Paris Commune of 1871, wherein citizens of Paris demanded the replacement of the French state by a confederation of municipalities. (6)

Communalism as a Dialectical Approach

While postmodernism and its philosophical and ethical relativism have focused their attention on the ideological legitimation of the status quo, social ecologists launched a feasible alternative for a revival of a radical Left with a view toward fundamentally altering this society. (7) Nevertheless, communalism is more than the political theory and practice of libertarian municipalism. One has to explore communalism as a coherent political philosophy to be able to fully understand its revolutionary social approach. It contains not only a libertarian politics and a nonhierarchical social analysis but also a philosophy that give communalism its developmental and ethical thrust – namely, dialectical naturalism.

Dialectical naturalism is a way of understanding society and the natural world by explaining them as developmental phenomena. (8) In this respect nature is its own evolution, just as society is its own history. Biological or cultural phenomena cannot be properly explained merely in terms of their fixity, their form, or their factual existence; they must be cumulatively connected to their past and their future. A naturalist dialectics must explore their potentialities and their internal logic, in order to educe what they should become if reason is to prevail. The ethical “should be,” which can be objectively grounded, must always be a guideline for challenging and correcting the existing state of affairs, and to guide us beyond the reformism, pragmatism, and subjectivism promoted by radicals today. Such a dialectical understanding, with its tremendous ethical implications, is indispensable to an explanation of the political dimension of communalism.

First of all, dialectical naturalism anchors the struggle for a rational society in humanity’s long and painstaking development towards more expansive forms of social consociation and human subjectivity. More specifically, it places this struggle in the context of society’s potentialities for cooperation, freedom, and self-consciousness. Since history has not been a unilinear expansion of freedom and self-consciousness, humanity should seek to consciously develop cooperative and libertarian institutions that further its own development. (9) Thus, a libertarian socialist society is not a personal choice or an “imaginary” (as advanced by certain recent social ecologists) but is to be regarded, after thorough studies of the emergence of human culture and its social institutions, as social organization in its most rational form. Communalists consider the present society as irrational and seek out what is rational in human history in an attempt to improve the human condition, and to remake our relationship between society and the natural world. Such a dialectical analysis negates the apparent “reality” of global state capitalism, as well as the pragmatic “realism” of reformist politicians, lobbyists, and activists, for the actualization of humanity’s potentialities for social freedom and rationality. (10)

Second, a dialectical approach is necessary to understand the latent tension between the state and the municipality. This historical conflict is in its essence antagonistic, and a revival of community life and municipal democracy can be actualized only with the destruction of the state. In contrast to the municipality, which potentially and in its full actualization is a vibrant direct democracy, the state, a centralized and professionalized apparatus with a social monopoly of violence, is by virtue of its internal logic never democratic but totalitarian, as the last century has shown. From time to time this latent tension between the municipality and the state bursts out in ravaging social conflicts, but mostly the conflict is a silent one, in which municipal freedoms steadily lose ground to professional statist elites. There can be no compromise with the state in creating a libertarian and ecological society, because all power that municipalities achieve will be at the expense of state power, and vice versa. This recognition is one of the main features of libertarian municipalism and defines its proper historical role.

Finally, communalists bring this dialectical approach into the sphere of activism. Communalism declares that confederations of democratic municipalities make up the institutional framework of a rational and ecological society. The revival of the public sphere would provide a vast scope for radical activists. Communalists, to be sure, must develop clear programs for how they can gradually make this vision come true. The social revolution we yearn for involves a long and uneven process. Carefully elaborated programs are therefore essential and constitute a dialectical moment of our activist work. Ultimately calling for a total remaking of society along libertarian and egalitarian lines, our programmatic demands help us to act as revolutionaries in a period of reaction. In fact, communalist programs are the link between our ideals and the reality in which we live. These programs make it possible for us to retain our utopian aspirations while we engage in practical politics and activism.

This capitalist society obliges communalists to take the most committed stance against it, yet everyone has to acknowledge that revolutionary change involves a process of maturation. A social revolution will not be the result of someone snapping two fingers or throwing a brick, especially today, when we are not likely to mobilize great masses of people under the banners of municipal democracy and social revolution. (11) The Great French Revolution was itself the result of a long social maturation by the citizens of Paris and became possible only after nearly a century of Enlightenment social thought and philosophy.

This is not to say that we are obliged to wait until the population spontaneously rises, or confine ourselves to merely spreading ideas. Communalism advances a politics that aims at mobilizing, educating, and empowering the people through the establishment of popular assemblies and the introduction of a radical social agenda. (12) In this respect, the social revolution will be the “final conflict” that defeats capitalism and the state once and for all. Insofar as social processes are not predetermined, the creation of a rational society must be the most conscious endeavor on the part of radical activists: “The world of facts is not rational but has to be brought to reason.” (13) Radicals have to bring a rational society to its actualization by rational insight and purposeful will, for which a dialectical approach and organized human agency are indispensable.

Communalist Programs

Karl Marx clearly understood this responsibility when he stated that we should seek not only to understand the world but also to change it. (14) Communalist organizations must develop programs and thereby bring their philosophical approach from the realm of social analysis and theory to the realm of political activism. Programmatic demands can present radical municipalist ideas in a clear and concise manner. More specifically, those demands must range from our ideal of a future society to our most immediate concerns. In revolutionary theory this escalation has been properly designated as maximum demands and minimum demands, as well as the necessary transitional demands. The idea of maximum and minimum programs was first consciously developed by the Socialist International and still has considerable validity today. A programmatic practice helped the growth and influence of many socialist parties and radical organizations, but alas, their limited understanding of the state led not to a socialist society but to their own eventual degeneration and cooptation.

Communalists must draw from this programmatic approach to create the most adequate revolutionary practice suited to our time. It is obvious that communalists should engage in everyday social struggles and participate in everyday political life. In this respect communalism adds a new dimension to traditional anarchism and socialism, because it recovers political life as an authentic sphere of revolutionary activity. Engagement and participation need not take the form of liberal reformism if we visualize our long-term aims by radicalizing all our demands at every phase along the way. Communalist demands must place immediate struggles within the context of more profound social questions and make the need for a revolutionary change more urgent in the consciousness of the people. There are material, cultural and psychological needs which have to be met before a revolution will be successful, and communalists respond to this with their programs and activities.

The dialectics of communalist programs lies in their developmental intention, in the radical escalation of demands. During the Great French Revolution of 1789-94 there was a tide of new revolutionary institutions, many of which – ironically – were created by the monarchy and the national assembly but were mutated by the people to meet their growing needs and democratic aspirations. The Parisian sections, for example, were constructed out of the district electoral assemblies that were established by the monarchy to choose deputies to the Estates-General. With the establishment and empowerment of the sectional assemblies, the opening of these sections to the most impoverished segments of society, and the election of a large number of committees that undertook various responsibilities, this revolution reached sweeping proportions and even threatened the Jacobin state itself.

Unfortunately the revolutionaries failed to secure their sectional democracy and the revolution itself, largely due to their lack of organization and their failure to develop a coherent theory to guide their practice. Revolutionaries today cannot afford to let events blindly overtake the course of social revolution but must learn about the accomplishments, defeats, and shortcomings of past revolutions from careful historical studies. Communalism unites libertarian aims with libertarian means, and radical activists should work to introduce and gradually develop revolutionary institutions, as well as foster a new Enlightenment. Preparation and organization are crucial for the revolutionary project and the transition to a libertarian and ecological society. Radicals should use programmatic formulations and presentations as an indispensable key to this transition.

Nonetheless, I must emphasize that communalist programs are not intended to provide a blueprint for social reorganization. The utopian dimension of the revolutionary project is necessary to preserve the vision of a rational future. Above all, we have an ethical commitment to render the world rational, and no program or plan can ever be a substitute for this dialectical understanding. Rather, it complements it with practical action and democratic forms of organization.

Potentialities and the Need for Programmatic Change

A liberatory political movement must educe potentialities in communities and cultures, and these moments must be captured in its programs. These programs have to be flexible and adapted to local situations, addressing the pressing needs of the time by offering radical solutions to immediate problems. But although the minimum demands must be applied locally and regionally, certain maximum demands are required if the program is to remain communalist, such as the abolition of all forms of hierarchy and domination, the establishment of municipal confederations, and the implementation of a new system of moral economics. In short, communalists will fight for these demands with the intention of finally destroying the limits that capitalism and the state impose upon us and of actualizing a rational society.

The content of these programs can be educed from the liberatory potentialities latent in local traditions, institutional structures, social struggles, cultural traits, and especially human history itself. (15) To facilitate their actualization, communalists must give these programs a coherent and articulated form. Almost daily, issues come up that call for public attention, such as the closing of a school, the pollution of a river, racist attacks on immigrants, or the building of a shopping mall. When such issues arise, communalists should voice their opinion everywhere and relate particular issues with more general ones.

Consider, for example, a social problem such as the current attack on public services. In many parts of the industrial world, neoliberal capitalism is ravaging the welfare gains that once helped capitalism survive past crises. In Norway today, public services are gradually being destroyed in the name of privatization and rationalization, as if people, community life, and culture were expendable products to be abandoned or even sold in the marketplace. Many people clearly understand this, but they find it difficult to act against this process or even voice their opinions on the matter. Popular resistance to this policy is usually limited to working within the capitalist framework. In this respect, communalists have a great deal to offer with their ideas on municipalization, confederalism, and the establishment of popular assemblies. One may take nearly any kind of social or ecological problem, restate it in terms of a communalist program, and thereby seek to direct popular attention to the cause of a problem and not merely its effects.

In contrast to postmodernism and post-structuralism, communalism advances a coherent set of ideas that are socially relevant and applicable to our times. Its fundamental aim is to eliminate this bourgeois social order that impoverishes society and destroys the natural world. Once a true social force, the Left has now lost ground to an array of individualistic “imaginaries,” mysticism, various spiritualisms, and particularistic identities, or through personal rebellion. Capitalism and the state seem to be thoroughly entrenched and self-confident, and it will require a serious response – ultimately a determined, organized, and truly political movement – to shake their foundations. These institutions will not disappear of themselves, or because of changes in personal behavior or benevolent communitarian enterprises – an empowered people must overthrow them. This is not a game, an academic exercise or a theatrical act, and radical activists cannot do without the theoretical, political, and lived practice involved in social change – all united in a body of coherent political ideas.

Communalist programs can be formulated and presented differently, but they ultimately rest on the stamina and long-range commitment of the organizations that present these demands. Revolutionary communalists must build strong organizations that will energetically voice their demands and seek to expand social consciousness, as well as participate in restructuring municipalities. All countries and regions have their own specific traditions for popular government, while they share universal potentialities for citizenship and social revolution. Much depends on whether revolutionaries are able to take advantage of these possibilities, with education and empowerment, in order to bring humanity into a new historical stage of development.

Notes

1. This essay was originally published in Left Green Perspectives # 40 (February 1999). It has been slightly revised for publication here. (It was written a year before the resurgence of worldwide radical protests against “globalization,” marked by the large demonstrations in Seattle, November 1999, but has by no means lost its relevance.)

2. For a general overview of social ecology and communalist politics, the reader should study at least Murray Bookchin’s Remaking Society: Pathways to a Green Future (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1989), and Janet Biehl’s The Politics of Social Ecology: Libertarian Municipalism (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1997).

3. This academic current became widespread in France after the failure of the May-June events in Paris 1968.

4. Murray Bookchin’s “Ecology and Revolutionary Thought” was first written in 1964 and was republished in Post-Scarcity Anarchism (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1986). The first time libertarian municipalism was advanced was in an editorial by the Anarchos Group, “Spring Offensives and Summer Vacations,” Anarchos, no. 4 (June 1972), also written by Murray Bookchin.

5. For a thorough study of the historical and theoretical foundations of libertarian municipalism, see Murray Bookchin, From Urbanization to Cities: Toward a New Politics of Citizenship (London: Cassell, 1995).

6. Marxists and anarchists alike have cherished this political legacy, but it is only with libertarian municipalism that this “assemblyist” and “communard” tendency has received a careful theoretical, historical, and programmatic consideration.

7. Several radical theorists have tried to ground the struggle for a democratic politics on “social imaginaries” (Castoriadis) or a “democratic relativism” (Fotopoulos), but their categories tend to dissolve into the subjectivist arbitrariness of postmodernism, and they fail to explain why we should choose certain “imaginaries” or political approaches over others.

8. For a further elucidation of dialectical naturalism, see Murray Bookchin, The Philosophy of Social Ecology: Essays on Dialectical Naturalism (Montreal: Black Rose Books, rev. ed. 1995), as well as Janet Biehl, “Dialectics in the Ethics of Social Ecology,” in Finding Our Way: Rethinking Ecofeminist Politics (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1991). Bookchin’s Re-enchanting Humanity: A Defence of the Human Spirit Against Antihumanism, Misantropy, Mysticism, and Primitivism (London: Cassell, 1995) gives these philosophical ideas a historical embedding.

9. For a discussion of the difference between our human potentialities for creating a libertarian society and our capacities for building totalitarian regimes, see “History, Civilization and Progress” in Bookchin, Philosophy of Social Ecology, pp. 159–161.

10. The distinction that Hegel made in Science of Logic between “reality” (Realitaet) and “actuality” (Wirklichkeit) is fundamental to what we regard as the “real.”

11. The recent protests in Seattle, Prague and Genoa has certainly been massive mobilizations, but their contents have been vague, and – instead of producing a mature form of political creativity – are limited to mere acts of protesting. The struggle for a rational society must be a process of popular enlightenment and radical organization.

12. The popular assemblies will themselves be the most appropriate institutions to introduce and fight for our programmatic demands. (They will certainly be arenas for class struggle, as the demand for an end to exploitation is a crucial component of a communalist agenda.)

13. Herbert Marcuse, Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory (Boston: Beacon Press, 1941), p. 156, emphasis in original.

14. “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York and London: W.W. Norton & Co., 1972), p. 145.

15. See Dan Chodorkoff, “Social Ecology and Community Development,” in Society and Nature, vol. 1, no. 1 (1992); and Janet Biehl’s “The Revolutionary Potential of the Municipality,” speech delivered at the Libertarian Municipalism Conference in Plainfield, Vermont, 1999 (Unpublished manuscript); and particularly Murray Bookchin’s “The New Municipal Agenda,” pp. 201–245, in From Urbanization to Cities

From the previous website ISSUE # 6 MARCH 2005

http://www.communalism.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=183:bases-for-communalist-programs&catid=84:movement&Itemid=2

July 29, 2010 Posted by | anti-endustriyalizm, anti-kapitalizm, ekolojist akımlar, ekotopya heterotopya utopyalar, komünler, kolektifler, kooperatifler vb modeller, ozyonetim, sistem karsitligi | 2 Comments

   

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