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.


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

July 29, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Thanks for reposting this here. I hope it can still be useful for activists engaged in ecological politics.

    We have more articles from a social ecology perspective here:

    I wish you all good luck in your efforts for a free ecological society, wherever you are.
    Eirik Eiglad


    Comment by Eirik Eiglad | April 13, 2011 | Reply

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