The Natural Society: A Basis for Green Anarchism – Richard Hunt

The Natural Society — A community of no more than about 500 people, the maximum that one person can know, autonomous, self-sufficient and technologically disinterested. It’s not worth the effort.

A grubby sort of utopia, but the others can’t work; capitalism and socialism are both based on the theory of `Division of Labour’ which makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. The wealth of trade and industry does not `trickle down’. The crops the peasants, the wealth, are eaten or otherwise used up. All that’s left to `trickle down’ back to the peasants is soot, sewage, scrap and shoddy.

The wealth of the core is caused, not by trade and industry, but by starvation of the periphery, whose land is used to feed the core.

* * *

The nation-state is not a social contract between the governed and the governors; it is a prison in which the governed are, and always were, forced by laws, born of religion, to obey on pain of violence. How then will society evolve without these constrictions? What is the natural society?

It seems likely that, for a society to live a peaceful, orderly life without laws of Obedience, it should be no larger than about 500 people, which is about the maximum number that one person can know. “There is an architects’ rule of thumb to the effect that the capacity of an elementary school should not exceed 500 pupils if the principal is to know all of them by name — and it has been stated that when a group exceeds 500 persons, it requires some form of policing,” (J.Pfeiffer).

This figure of about 500 seems to be a natural grouping. “Among the least advanced of the food gatherers, the average size of the tribe is between 300 and 400 persons. In the Andamans the figure was 400 to 450 and Kazywicki calculates the average size of 123 Australian tribes as between 300 and 600 souls,” (A.S.Diamond). “The Australian data show an amazing constancy of numbers for the dialectical tribe, statistically approximating 500 persons.” (Pfeiffer).

How then would this size of grouping apply today?

An island in the Scillies with about 500 people would have few problems of reorganization or basic subsistence. They would have fish in plenty; they would have sheep for meat and wool; they would have timber for fuel and building. But they might get bored with a diet of lobster and roast lamb, so they would do some extra weaving and exchange their cloth and fish for flour or marmalade or caviar. “A Tonkin peasant was only occupied in his fields for about 125 days a year, a Chinese peasant for 120 and a Korean peasant for 140; the Japanese figures were of the same order. The peasants thus had ample time at their disposal and so would engage in industry and trade.” (Gourou).

So, with plenty of time, the islanders might decide to put in a little more work to save for a deep freeze, or a record player or an automated cloth factory. Groups who have tried this sort of life today have found it more work, not less, but this is because the goverment demands more than half their incane in direct and indirect taxation. They therefore have to work twice as hard. They are also building up an infrastucture, irrigation, water and wind power, farm buildings etc., that a peasant society has been able to do over the long centuries. Nor do they work on a social level because they never take their grandparents.

The left wing usually assumes that small communities will be somewhere to the right of the neo-fascists, but anthropologists don’t seem to bear this out; “most of these peoples hold very strongly to the view that wealth should not be too unevenly distributed.” (L. Mair) “Over the past 50 years in Thak, there has been a gradual equalization of land holdings towards the five plot level. MacFarlane suggests that the numerous cross-cutting bonds, linking everyone with everyone else, has reduced conflict and maintained a kind of non-competitiveness,” (Gellner and Humphrey).

In fact, in a small community wealth is a bit of an embarrassment. “The possession or acquisition of wealth created difficulties for a rich villager. His fellow citizens who consider themselves his equals, and were as often as not related to him, overwhelmed him with requests for grain and money.” (Gourou). The rich man is gradually and painlessly relieved of his burden; but only as long as it is an enclosed, inward-looking society with plenty of crosscutting bonds and mutual dependence.

Consider Jeff who farms 200 acres on the island, No one else has got more than two acres. Now Jeff likes to drink with his friends but he can’t hop over to other islands every night. If he wants any company but his wife’s, he’ll have to go down to the local, the only pub. But while he’s got 200 acres and everyone else has only got two, although they will be polite, they won’t be that friendly, Jeff is on his own until he gets rid of a lot of his land. A person can only hold on to wealth as long as he doesn’t have to mix socially with those without wealth, and in a small autonomous community that is impossible.

Of course, the community, like every other animal society, will have a peck order; but it will be of respect and influence, not wealth and obedience. “A chief is a sacred person, without political authority. Indeed the Nuer have no government and their state might be described as an ordered anarchy.” (Evans-Pritchard), “The influence of chiefs was uncertain, and no one would acknowledge any authority to his own will. A chief received deference, indeed, but not obedience… No chief could carry his will against a single dissentient.” (Diamond)

Consider Major General John Weston, retrd. When our island decided to go autonomous, to pay no taxes and to get nothing back, the major general, if he stayed, would lose his army pension. He might go back to his London flat, but he might decide to stay. He’s got a good sized garden and likes the idea of fending for himself; it takes him back to his young days. He can no longer afford the daily help and when he goes to the pub, It’s mild, not double malt whisky. His position In the peck order has taken a jolt, a major general no longer carries much weight. But supposing he had been in the tank corps and had a real interest and knowledge of engines, and could help mend generators, back up the peck order he goes. He drinks mild but he commands respect.

And how would the island, without laws, cope with law and order? The local bobby no longer gets paid by the government, so he has joined a friend on a fishing boat, and is not around when two neighbours come to blows about a fallen fence. Wives run for help and the two are separated, the smaller one with a bloody nose. There is a general feeling that both of them acted childishly, but that the bigger one should not have allowed himself to get into the fight; it is made gently clear that the next time the smaller one would get support. But it the dispute is not settled, friends would persuade them, for the sake of peace, to find someone to arbitrate between them. If they both felt that the Major General would be unbiassed, they might ask him. A leopardskin chief “gave his final decision as an opinion couched in persuasive language and not a judgement delivered with authority. The verdict is only accepted because both parties agree to it.” (Evans-Pritchard)

But if the little bloke had been Jeff, the farmer with 200 acres, he would have got no support. “Serves him right.” Jeff depends for his protection on the goodwill of the community and he can never have that and 200 acres as well. “Conflict was first of all a matter between individuals, then a concern of the families and finally of the bands. The delinquent person was cautioned, ridiculed, gossipped about and shamed into conformity.” (Haviland) The problem of our present society is that families have broken up; grandparents live away from parents who live away from children, so that the family sanction for good behaviour is considerably weakened. The community sanction, in towns, vanished long ago. Our problem of law and order is caused mainly by the disintegration of the small community.

The island could get along without us very well. But what about the mainland? What about the people of Penzance? They would be alright for food as long as they like fish, but they would have to obtain wood and timber. The clay pits are not far away, so they could manufacture pottery and poultices to exchange for the natural resources that they needed. They would settle into exclusive street groups of about 500 people, each with their own factory, and each competing with other street groups. But since manufacturing is harder work than agriculture, there would be a move out of the towns and into the villages. Jeff’s two sons and their families would go back to the island. (They had had to leave because the government had taken half the islands income away by taxation and spent it on the mainland, creating employmont at the core at the expense of the periphery). The Major General’s niece in London would go to stay with him, until the rest of the island considered that enough was enough.

In the more densely populated areas, the land would be worked more intensively and, to the extent that they were not self-sufficient in natural resources, they would go into manufacture. A community might have a steel works or a car factory, or a hospital, or a university.

It might be thought that these smaller factories would be less efficient than the present ones because they would lack the economies of scale; but about the only profitable British steelworks, in Manchester, employs 250 people. A survey (Economica ’68) showed that the smaller companies were on the whole, more profitable than the larger. This is probably because the economies of scale are negated by the diseconomies of anonymity.

What about health? Once again we are confronted with a basic misunderstanding of primitive society. They are in fact healthier than we. Of the Bushmen “10% were determined to be over sixty years of age, a proportion which compares favourably to they percentage of elderly in industrial populations.” (Lee) “Australia presents us with a spectacle of a continent from the pathology of which entire classes of disease prevalent in other divisions of the globe were until comparatively recent times, completely absent. Thus the whole class of eruptive fevers, smallpox, scarlet fever and measles, so fatal elsewhere, were unknown. Epidemic cholers, relpsing fever, yellow fever, whooping cough and diphtheria were equally absent, as also was syphilis.” (Davidson). Urban man is riddled with disease and spends about £10 a week curing that disease. Primitive man is healthy.

But that doesn’t mean to say that our accumulated knowledge would just disappear. There would still be hospitals, medicines, doctors and nurses, run as communities.

It is important (and I recognise that this will stick in the throats of the liberal humanists) for the even distribution of wealth, for a caring society and for the maintenance of order, that the community should be a totally separate geographical and social entity. If there is much social mixing between groups, if people work outside the group, it will weaken the community bond; and primitive societies recognized this by their use of dialect and costume to differentiate themselves from their neighbours. Xenophobia is the key to the cormunities success.

If Jeff can go drinking with rich friends outside, if he works outside, he won’t depend on the group for friendship, he won’t need their help in times of illness; he bas no need to conform to their mores or to give up his 200 acres and the group falls apart into the unstructured society we have today, destroyed by the concept of the Brotherhood of Man.

The Natural Society will not be cultured or liberal or advanced or powerful or hardworking or great; it will be warm and well-fed; it will be peaceful, healthy. lazy and parochial. Perhaps that sort of society is not for you, but unbolt the door for those who want to go through. And there may be quite a number, for there would be no taxation which would double your income; it would mean a small plot of land and it would mean being your own boss. And it would work because it has already worked, all over the world.

* * *

It’s a grubby sort of Utopia, perhaps, but there are very good reasons why the more visionary societies won’t work. And to understand those reasons we have to look deep into history.

It is now accepted in the anthropological world that primitive man is well-fed, long-living peaceful and happy. Today the !Kung Bushmen “obtain a better than subsistence diet in an average work week of twelve to nineteen hours.” (Haviland) The pygmies in the Ituri Forest work still less. Neither of than cultivate for as a Bushman said, “Why should we grow things when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world.” If there were a few more mongongo nuts in the Home Countries we’d probably say the sane thing.

This disinclination to work has been so widely observed that frustrated planners and economists have given it a jargon name, the `leisure preference’.

Agriculture started, not because man was suddenly imbued with the Protestant Work Ethic, or conversely because it was less work, but because he was hungry. It started when a population had grown beyond the level which the land could support at a hunter-gatherer economy. There was just not enough game or wild fruit and vegetables. One of the first places to start cultivation, Mesopotamia, had suffered a disastrous change of climate when the rain belt moved north at the end of the Ice Age. In spite of what our educators say, that `Fertile Crescent’ was in fact a desert by 5000 BC., during the `Thermal Maximum’.

Again, in spite of what our educators tell us, agriculture means more work. More food is produced but the labour input is higher per unit of food, The hunter-gatherers don’t cultivate because, intelligently, they know it means more work.

The first form of cultivation, in forested areas, is known as `cut and burn’, where a small area is cut down and burnt, cultivated for a few years, then left to grow wild again to recoup its fertility and a new area is cleared. But as the population increases, all the forest gradually has to be cut down and subsistence agriculture has to replace `cut and burn’ and it means more work. “Even alter `cut and burn’ has been abandoned, when the work admittedly becomes more laborious, most cultivators in Africa are still only occupied for a fraction of what we would regard as a normal working year; two-four hours a day on average.” (Clark)

Whereas hunter-gatherers move round their territory as certain trees come into fruit and certain animals move their annual way, the cultivators in order to protect both their growing and stored food, are forced to stay put. This has certain advantages. They can build more comfortable dwellings, they can use pottery utensils which would have been too heavy to carry around. But these advantages are only side effects of a deteriorating situation forced on them by their growing numbers.

Thus the first important developement of progress has been totally misunderstood by everyone, including the economists. Instead of agriculture being the invention of a creative species which brought increasing leisure, we find that it is caused by a scarcity of resources brought on by a growing population and that it means harder work.

When early American colonists first arrived in the almost uninhabited fertile lands of the eastern seaboard, they brought with them the relatively sophisticated techniques of European agriculture. But with all the virgin land available, there was no need for their old intensive methods and they quickly reverted to `cut and burn’ because it was less work. Technologically they regressed.

When a tribe in Java was driven off their cultivated land into the jungle by the Dutch, they forgot their agriculture and reverted to hunter-gathering. They did not find the comforts derived from agriculture worth the extra work. They regressed and they indicate an unexpected motive of human behaviour. Like every other particle and organism in Nature, man obeys the Law of Least Work.

Do’t try to understand the contorted motivations of mountaineer, artist or industrialist. Just ask yourself how hard you would work if you were warm and well fed and all your friends and family were outside in the sun. How bored with leisure would you have to get to go and work on a factory production line? Many people say they enjoy their work. What they mean is that they enjoy the company of their colleagues, they enjoy the competition of business or they enjoy the exercise of authority. It is not the work itself that they enjoy.

So if we find man working hard, instead of praising him for his industry, we must ask what are the adverse conditions which have forced him into this undesireable situation.

Why, for example, did man start making cloth?

As the population grows, all the cultivatable land has to be used. But as the forest is reduced, so is the amount of game it can support; fur and leather become scarce. In order to keep warm the people are reduced to weaving, and this is harder work; and though cloth has the advantages of comfort, workability and appearence. These are only side-effects of a shortage of animal skins. Cloth is less durable, more expensive and harder work. Once more, when man is working hard, it is not just for the pleasure of it.

But because the new technology is more expenive, it is first used by the rich as status symbols or armaments. In Scandinavia bronze scythes were in use long after iron had replaced bronze for swords. It was only when bronze became as expensive as iron, because of a shortage of tin, that iron scythes replaced the bronze. Cloth would first have been the mark of wealth until the increasingly expensive leather forced the whole population to wear cloth. We are seldom better off because we have what used to be luxuries. Chicken meat is a contemporary example, since beef has become so expensive.

But leather and food are not the only resources in short supply. As the forests are cut down, timber also becomes short and takes on an exchange value. A farmer with no trees on his land must sell off some of his food for firewood and building timber (fuel and raw materials). Therefore although he is growing more food, he cannot support so many people actually on the farm. The poorest, forced off the farm, have to make things which will persuade the farmer to exchange for food. He will only do this if they put more labour into the artifact than he would do himself. Specialization is harder work and it is caused by poverty, not leisure. “Certain orthodox views of evolution are better turned around; the amount of work per capita increases in proportion to technological advance and the amount of leisure decreases.” (Sahlins)

The blacksmith in myth is often lame, such as Hephaistos, Vulcan or Wayland Smith. In less advanced societies the smiths are of the lowest castes or classes. In Baluchistan “they lived in their own segregated camps and were employed by the company in their traditional menial capacity of sweepers and blacksmiths.” In more general terms mythology bears out this analysis in another way. It nearly always describes a golden age that was in the past.

To exchange his food the farmer must go to market. Roads and bridges have to be built; carts with wheels have to be constructed; more efficient tools have to be made and all this extra work has to be included in the cost of the food. The more intensive agriculture becomes, the more work is involved: “the need to support a larger population from a given area of land is going to call for an increased input of labour per unit of food produced — particularly when we take into account the labour which will have to be used for private investment in the form of improvements in farms and public investment in means of transport, irrigation, etc.” (C. Clark)

* * *

When a farmer grows a surplus of food, he has created wealth; but kept too long the food goes bad so it is convenient to exchange it for cattle which live longer, give milk and can be exchanged back for food. Cattle, besides being food themselves, are a store of value for more perishable foods. At this point there is no wealth other than natural resources.

Now, supposing an artisan needs food and makes a plough and exchanges it with the farmer for food. This he eats. The famer now has a plough worth, say, a bushel of corn. But it is a diminishing store of value. The plough deteriorates and each year is worth less food. By the end of its life, say, twenty years, how much wealth has been created? If the plough has contributed to producing more food, then wealth, food, has been created. But the plough itself has vanished; it is not wealth. Work does not create wealth; it just moves it around a bit, in this case, food from farmer to artisan.

If a potter also needed food, and the farmer’s surplus was limited, the potter and the plowright would have to share that surplus. All the artifacts are only worth the available agricultural surplus (and fuel and raw materials). If you double the artifacts you halve their value. Wealth is increased, not by the manufacture of artifacts, but by an increase in the supply of natural resources. At this point there is still no wealth other than natural resources.

Now supposing a man brings in a nugget of gold. The farmer reckons it is pretty and doesn’t tarnish. He reckons he could always exchange it for a bushel of corn. But if there is no corn, it has no value. If he exchanged it for a plough, the plough is still only a diminishing store of value for natural resources. The import of gold has created no wealth. But if, in a period of food shortage, the potter and tht’ plowright and the gold trader all wanted food, the available food surplus would be divided into three. That is to say, a unit of currency will reduce the value of an artifact. All the artifacts plus the gold are now worth the farm surplus.

The value of surplus natural resources equals the value of all the artifacts on the market plus all the currency plus all the stores of value plus all the credit.

Adam Smith said, wrongly, “Consumption is the sole end and purpose of production.” It is not. Acquisition of natural resources is the sole end and purpose of production. But every economist since Smith has made Snith’s mistake, and so built the edifice of modern economics on a fundamentally false premise. No wonder economists are in a pickle.

If bad weather produces a low crop the farmer will not be able to buy the artisans’ products; There will be unemployment. If the. forrester has a fire, he will not be able to exchange his timber for artifacts. There will be unemployment.

The amount of surplus natural resorces determines the amount of available employment.

If the level of employment is determined by resource production, and if a farmer decides to spend his surplus on a plough share from Canada rather than clothes from Hong Kong, then employment in one place can only be at the expense of employment in another. Employment in London must be at the expense of employment in the Scottish Highlands or Mozambique.

* * *

Among the primitive hunter-gatherer, groups number about 25 people. When the population density increases, and they are forced to cultivate, they coalesce into groups of about 500, the maximum number of people that one person can know; and they use dialect and costume as a means of identification to the tribe; and a means of excluding outsiders.

In a natural economy, as its numbers grew above the optimum 500, it would split into two because of increasing dissention, each cultivating its own half of the territory more and more intensively; each, to the extent that it needed to import raw materials, manufacturing one product, jealous of its knowledge and techniques. This is to a certain extent what happened in South East Asia. The group would need no chiefs or rules or policing: “when a group exceeds 500 persons it needs sole form of policing,” (Pfeiffer). It would have a natural peck order, but those at the top could not demand obedience of the others. “The chief has no institutionalized authority and little disciplinary power.” (Haviland). “The chieftain is usually spokesman of his group and master of its ceremonies with otherwise little influence, few functions and no privileges. One word from him and everyone, does as he pleases.” (M. Sahlins). “There is no centre of authority in the village and moreover it is custcmary to avoid public responsibility… for fear of exciting jealousy.” (M. Douglas)

But, particularly in Europe, the natural economy became distorted by the priests.

The seeds of this distortion go right back to the most primitve societies though religion was, at this stage, far less significant and demanding than we had been lead to believe. The Andaman Islanders fear their god, indeed; but also take great delight in cheating him by breaking his rules in certain circumstances where they believe that he can’t see. His rules came from witch doctors; “long established customs may be altered overnight as a result of a revelation by some seer, only to have the new customs, overthrown themselves in the course of time by the next revelation.” (L. Cipriani)

But this less than wholehearted obedience to the laws of the god as handed down by a seer was the unlikely means whereby the elite grew to power. In a small group the seer was always a prophet in his own land; he was Fred Smith, he had warts and B.O. and wasn’t amazingly successful with women; he obviously had the `power’, but he was equally obviously still only a man. It had never been possible for him to demand obedience of the rest of the tribe. But now, with the growth of religion, the situation changes and man makes a momentous departure fran the Natural Society. It was now possible for the group to grow beyond the size of 500 and still be an ordered society, but this depended on the acceptance by the population of a god, of his prophet and of his laws. Without that acceptance order could not be maintained in an anonymous society.

The behaviour of the Eskimos shows that the development of religion is not a progress in thought but an accomodation to more densely populated living in a more anonymous grouping: “the poople have two ways of grouping themselves, and to those two ways correspond two judicial systems, two moral systems, two sorts of domestic economy and of religious life. To a real community of ideas and interests in the dense agglomeration of the winter, are opposed an isolation, a social atomization and an extreme moral and religious poverty in the dispersal of the sunner.” (Mauss)

But acceptance of a religious fiat brought far more dangers than advantages. The seer or prophet could not demand obedience, and the autocratic chief that we think of as typical, begins to emerge.

Once a society grew larger than 500, when there was a degree of anonymity, some, who didn’t know the seer, could be persuaded that he was something special, that he really had the ear of God. And if the people could be persuaded to do what he said, his family and friends were not slow to see the potential. It was in their interests to boost his superman image and it was in his interests to let them do it. The individual. depended on the oligarchy and the oligarchy on the individual.

The prophet, backed by the oligarchy, could now put on the pressure. In Israel, “Moses told the people, `You must obey all the commandments of the Lord, your God, following his instructions to the last detail, going the whole way he has laid out for you; only then will you live long and prosperous lives in the land you are to enter and possess.’” (Deuteronomy)

Just in case the carrot wasn’t enough, the stick was applied. “He, (the Lord), issued the following command to Moses: `Execute all the tribal leaders of Israel. Hang them up before the Lord in the broad daylight so that his fierce anger will turn away fran the people.’ So Moses ordered the judges to execute all who had worshipped Baal.” (Numbers 26)

Having established the principle of Obedience to the Law, the Lord proceeded to take His people to the cleaners, “A tenth of the produce of the land, whether grain or fruit, is the Lord’s and is holy. If anyone wants to buy back this fruit or grain, he must add a fifth to its value. And the Lord owns every tenth animal of your herds and flocks,” etc. (Leviticus 27)

And where did this money go? To the prophet-king, Moses, and his family and friends, who could now buy their henchmen, bureaucrats, policemen, soldiers, priests. etc. to reinforce their position. Thus they were able to live in comfort, without the need to work, by forcing the inhabitants to hand over part of their agricultural produce. They were also able, after a little chat with the Lord, to rewrite the rules when changed circumstances might threaten their income.

Rules protect the rulers, not the ruled.

Very often the elite gained their position by invasion, Moses in Israel, William the Conqueror in England. The invaders took it by the sword but legitimized the theft in connivance with the religions and the theory of “The Divine Right of Kings”. Of course the population can only be conned in this way as long as they believe in the same god. That is why it was so useful to convert all the Africans in the colonies to Christianity. Once a population believes that a ruler is chosen by God, then it is a simple matter to demand Blind Obedience (or obedience to the law; it is the same thing) of the population.

The peasants were now forced to produce a surlus (for a surplus is never produced volountarily) and that surplus was stored in the palaces, the garrisons, the abbeys, and the castles. Therefore the poorest peasants with the least land were forced to go to where the surplus was kept to earn back by labour the food which had been taken fron them. It was the extortion of a food surplus from the land by the Establishment which brought the need to invent writing. The first written clay tablets were lists of agricultural stores in the temple warehouses of Mesopotamia.

Thus towns and cities grew up around these castles and abbeys. They have no independent economic validity. They produce no wealth, for work does not create wealth. They are simply places where the extracted surplus was spent. If a king goes away and the surplus is no longer brought to the city, then the city dies. In 1570 Akbar the Great built a city at Fatehpur Sikri. Fourteen years later he left, taking the surplus with him. So the people had to leave too. All that remained was an elegant skeleton of a beautiful sandstone city. “The private dwellings and the shops decayed and disappeared; the walls, mosque, mint, treasury, canvansary, palaces and other public places remained; no industry has since come near.” (J. Galbraith)

The idea that people only work for others because of poverty is admittedly an unusual concept in our society but more primitive peoples would accept it totally. In Nepal “Each of the larger settlements in the valley has, attached to it, a number of low caste families, either blacksmiths, leather-workers or tailors,” (Gellner and Humphrey). In Polynesia, “in some villages there is a despised community of craftsmen and traders, highly skilled in wood-carving and basketry.” (Diamond). “Where and is cheap, where eveyone who so pleases can obtain a piece of land for himself, not only is labour very dear, as respects the labourers’ share of the profits, but the difficulty is to obtain combined labour at any price.” (Gibbon Wakefield)

Once an establishment can control a population by laws of obedience, it can adjust the laws to suit itself. In England the local Guild Merchant paid gold to the king and in return received the monopoly of the wholesale trade of the area. It received a charter to hold a markat or fair. This means, in reality, that the rest of the countryside is forbidden to have a market, a situation which the population is forced to accept, however unwillingly by the laws of obedience. Farmers have to come to the market town where their selling price is forced down by the monopoly and the buying price for cloth etc. is forced up. (And if you think this sort of monopoly no longer exists, just try selling your glut of lettuces in your local High Street. They’ll find a hundred reasons why you can’t. It is still illegal to hold a market without permission and two have recently been forbidden here in Reading,) The division of trade into wholesale and retail was the means whereby the monopoly was enforced.

And just as trade was monpolized, so was manufacture. Capitalism was not the product of the accumulation of capital or entrepreneurial flair, but of monopoly enforced by the laws of obedience. Commerce was forbidden to the poor on all but the lowest levels.

Cities are biologically unhealthy; the fertility rate declines as the density increases; growth is mainly by immigration. Cities are medically unhealthy: “the mortality rate for all causes is often well above the national average.” (Coates and Rawston) As for crime: “statistical studies have shown that the frequency of crime is several times higher in the cities than in the rural areas,” (Glozer)

For the Establishment cities were centres of luxury and leisure and since it was only they who had the leisure to write, it is their judgement of cities which has remained. The inhabitants of Hogarth’s Gin Alley would hardly have agreed with Dr. Johnson about London. By removing any surplus, by taxation, from the periphery to the centre, employment is created in the city at the expense of employnent at the periphery. This is the basic reason for the flight to the cities. But the economists don’t know that.

* * *

Once a nation has outgrown its own food and resources we reach the final stage of economic growth. There are two methods of importing, barter and theft.

Athens used the first. In order to get grain she had to persuade the Black Sea tribes to sell their corn to her. In return she had to produce an artifact that was cheaper than the indigenous product. She had to destroy the indigenous pottery industry causing unemployment. Were these lands owner-occupied, the famers would have sold any occasional surplus. But since the establishments owned the land, they were able to sell off the food in return for gold or the status baubles of civil1zation to the detriment of the farm workers who now had to work much harder producing food for both themselves and Athens and they had to pay more for their corn being in direct carpetition with the Athenians. It was therefore in Athens’ interest to support the authority of the local establishment against the local peasantry, (as it was in our interests to support the Shah of Iran).

Rome manufactured nothing. She sent her armies into the wheat producing countries and I `taxed’ them. This theft method does not need the support of the local elite as Boadicea found out. When the Roman population declined in the third century. Rome had no further need for the extensive wheat lands. The Roman Empire declined and fell. And as the population declined, so technology regressed, as we might expect. “The fall of Rome was made manifest in the restoration of a culture designed not for cultivation but for the exploitation of the natural wilderness.” (Duby)

Great Britain used a mixture of the two systems. She got herself an empire and she got herself industrialized. By the end of the 18th century her population was rising sharply. The serious timber shortage finally made it necessary to dig for coal on a large scale and to build the vast network of canals, roads and railways needed to transport it, and other necessities, all over Britain. Never before or since has a population worked so hard while this infrastructure was being built. Only when it was finished was child labour outlawed. Once more a shortage of natural resources has produced new techniques which require more labour.

We think we work less hard than peoples of the past because we compare ourselves with those days of the early Industrial Revolution; but that time was exceptional. In ancient Greece, “the effect of the dormant periods meant that for almost half the year there was little to do on the farms.” (A. French) In mediaeval Flanders there the woolworkers were amongst the poorest and most hard-working in Europe. “holidays were frequent since all Holy Days were usually appointed obligatory days of rest… Even when only the Apostles’ Days were observed, the total annual holiday would be longer than now, particularly since work commonly stopped at the mid-day dinner bell on the vigil (the previous day) or each feast… The ordinances of Arras decreed that there should be no work for four days at Christmas, eight days at Easter and eight at Pentecost.” (Camb.Econ.Hist.Eur.)

The peasants, of course workcd less hard. “At Thaxsted a virgater had worked 137 days in winter and summer (together) and 38 days the harvest, on the basis of five days a week, four weeks holidays at Christmas, Easter and Whitsun and 61 Saints days in winter and summer and 4 in the harvest season.” (N.Kenyon)

Britain had to import food or she would starve. The people we exported to didn’t absolutely need our goods, so we had to produce them cotton in Lancashire, cutlery in Sheffield, more cheaply than they could make them themselves. We had to work harder than they did by the input of more labour, including more investment in machinery and more infrastructure. So much for the Protestant Work Ethic and the lazy native.

Also, since no one grows more than needed, the food producing countries had to work harder to produce for both themselves and us. As with Athens, we bartered with the local el te to the detriment in terms of unemployment and higher food prices of the local inhabitants. It is no different today.

About 1870 there began the Great Depression which lasted for twenty years and no economist has explained it. By about 1870 corn began to arrive from America and because it was much cheaper, Britain did not have to produce so many goods to buy the necessary food. The demand for steel slumped etc.etc.

The economists failed to explain it because they thought that consumption and not the acquisition of natural resources was the object of production. But in this case the British population obeyed the law of least effort and worked only as hard as was necessary to stay warm and well fed. The depression was a depression for commerce and industry, but not for the majority of the population. Wages levelled out but prices dropped. They didn’t need to work and they didn’t! This is a good example of a trade depression which improves the life of the common man. The same was true in the time after the Black Death or the 1930s Depression when the 80% of the population who were employed enjoyed the same lower prices.

In 1868 the Japanese were suddenly allowed by their establishment to trade with the outside world, to import food. For two centuries there had been malnutrition, food shortage and famine. There was no industry for there was no surplus natural resources to buy. At first food imports were paid for in gold until they were able to build up an exporting industry. Their econanic miracle was simply the pent up pressure for food, fuel and raw materials for a dense population.

I have tried to show that progress and economic growth are simply functions of population density, of the need to stay warm and well fed 1n the face “of increasing demands by the establishment, dictatorial or democratic. And I have tried to show that it is not a one way street. If the population falls significantly, or if the establishment becomes less rapacious, then technology regresses as during the Dark Aaes or atter the the Black Death, the period known as the golden age of the peasant, or in early colonial America or quite recently in South America.

* * *

But if economic growth and progress are the products of a deteriorating situation, why do we seem to be wealthier than the underdeveloped countries?

Part of the problem lies in the definition of poverty and standard of living. The hunter-gatherer knows no scarcity. Food and heat are abundant. He has been called the first affluent society. The only things a pygmy will take from civilisation are a steel knife, tobacco and the occasional top hat. He has a per capita gross domestic product of nil. He is warm and well fed; he has every thins he needs or wants. He has no money. How poor is he?

The inhabitants of India or Mongolia with an income of say £100 survive. In Britain with such an income we would be dead of cold and starvation within two months. The fact is that in these less developed countries much of what is vital for life is free; timber, wild fruit and vegetables, game, etc. In Britain we have to pay for water. In Tokyo they even have to pay for oxygen. So we are not living the good life simply because we have a high gross domestic product, whatever the politicians may say.

I have already shown that work does not create wealth so that the number of factories or artifacts we have is no indication of prosperity. But Britain does possess a great deal of potential wealth. The British Empire taxed its colonies. It creamed off their surplus and removed it to Britain, where it was converted into buildings, furniture, pictures, etc., which still retain their store of value in terms of food, fuel and raw materials. To this extent Britain is wealthier than most.

To what extent do the trappings of an affluent society indicate wealth? 69% of British women work and three quarters of those are of the poorer classes. They can mostly do their shopping only once a week, so that for them a refrigerator is not a luxury but a necessity, and without a car how do you carry a week’s supply at shopping; and when you work all day, the same could be said of hoovers or convenience foods etc.

One real measure of affluence is the amount of meat, fruit and vegetables in a diet. Today we rely more and more on cereals and sugar, the cheapest form of protein and calories.

There is another reason why we might appear to be more wealthy than is the case. Since most credit has no backing of natural resources, we have bought cars with paper money that promises to pay in food that havn’t yet been grown or coal that hasn’t yet been mined or copper we havn’t worked to acquire.

It seems likely that Britain lives as she does by exchanging her store of value built up by, the Victorians and by living on tick.

One more aspect of the apparent wealth of a country is that an image that a country gives does not give the whole story. American films have given the impression of great general wealth. As I have already shown a high GDP is no indication. If there is great individual wealth, it can only be at the expense of the general population. The oil tycoons are wealthy because the small farmers and the black urban worker, for instance, were poor. Recently kwashiorkor, a disease of malnutrition has been found in the South-West.

The underdeveloped countries are certainly poor, not because they have a low G.D.P. or because they have few artifacts to act as stores of value, but poor because their natural resources are sold abroad at a profit to the local elite alone, creating high local prices; and poor because the import of manufactured goods causes unemployment. They are poor because we are rich: they are unemployed because we are employed.

* * *

The immediate problem today is considered to be how to get the world out of recession and thus provide employment and create wealth. The solution is considered to be to get the leading economies to reflate (print money) in concert, so giving the consumers more spending power to let them buy more cars and refrigerators from other countries (us) and so create employment and wealth. The economists believe that if a factory has produced a car, it has created wealth which can be spent to create yet more wealth. By their theories the new car can be bought with the car that was built twenty years before and is now gently turning to rust.

The economists believe that if Germany and Japan reflate (print money), their populations will buy our products, giving us employment to make things for them to buy etc. But Germany and Japan are not that stupid. America is. She printed billions and, surprise, surprise, she’s got inflation.

The economists believe that work created wealth and they think that thee extended boom from 1940 to 1970 proves them right. But it seems much more likely that recent economic growth has been bought on the vast Keynesian extended credit. We bought refrigerators and machines which make refrigerators and paid their producers with paper money promising to pay with non-existent natural resources. We created employment with credit and now the new restrictions on the money supply is slowing down that credit, causing unemployment.

The second major economic problem is considered to be how to make the underdeveloped countries as rich as the developed ones. For us there is a simple and inconvenient answer: to get out, to stop buying food and raw materials from them, which would reduce their prices and their need to work so hard feeding both themselves and us; and to stop selling them our manufactured goods, which would reduce their unemployment.

The result would be that we would starve and have rocketing unemployment. Happily for us there is no immediate chance of this policy being put into practice, since it would hurt their elites too much. The only thing we have to fear is the unlikely chance of land reform whereby the latifundias are divided up into owner occupied plots.

The only real way to help the underdeveloped countries is for us to reduce our population until we are self-sufficient.

* * *

Gradually in every country the Divine Right of Kings became unacceptable and the king’s laws of obedience were quietly transferred to an elected oligarchy and are for the moment generally accepted by the population, even though the underlying power to demand obedience had vanished since few governments today claim that they are divinely inspired.

But without divine inspiration it is necessary for governments to convince the population that they have access to some higher knowledge than is generally available. This is the reason for the elevation of the expert to sainthood, The expert has replaced the priest, but his feet of clay are becoming increasingly visible.

While they continue to demand Blind Obedience to their own laws, they are aware of its invalidity. At the Trials of Nuremberg the plea by the Nazi leaders that they were only obeying orders was rejected.

But even it one accepts the legitimacy of the nation-state, its policies cannot work. The assumption of the capitalist societies is that if the captains of industry make fortunes then that money will `trickle down’ to the poor and everyone will become richer. I have shown that since work does not create wealth, and since wealth is only natural resources and therefore finite, one man can only be wealthy by taking wealth from another. Wealth, in theory, can never `trickle down’, and experience over the centuries has proved this in practice. Even the economists are now rejecting the `trickle down’ theory.

Thus capitalism can never produce a more egalitarian society. It can never produce more employment for all since employment is dependent on the supply of natural resources and not on some mythical business confidence.

Socialism and capitalism make the same mistake. They assume that industrialization will increase wealth. But work does not create wealth. It just moves it around a bit. So if they obtain more raw materials, they are only richer because others are poorer. If they increase employment, it is only at the cost of other countries’ unemployment. We have hospitals and theatres because poorer countries starve.

In this analysis of progress, I have tried to show that economic growth is the means whereby we obtain natural resources from less densely populated countries in order to avoid being cold and hungry. It is not a measure of wealth; it is harder work. We didn’t choose economic growth, we were forced into it. But both capitalism and socialism assume that it is a desireable end in itself. Their economic policies are geared to encouraging something which is in fact produced by the deteriorating circumstances of an increasing population; so that there is no way that they can improve life and increase economic growth at the same time. The two things are contradictory.

But just as inevitable as the economic failure of the present political systems is their failure in the social field. The increasing crime rate is caused, say the right, by the ending of corporal punishnent and going soft on the criminal. The left says it is caused by poverty. Both are wrong. It is caused by the ending of the religious sanction and the ending of the community sanction.

We no longer believe in Hell, so that if priests threaten fire and brimstone to make us behave, we are not impressed. But, more important, our grandparents no longer live next door and our uncles no longer live down the street. So if we misbehave, their disapproval has less influence, we are less ashamed.

In a small community where everyone knows everyone else, if Johnny Jones decides to scrump apples. and if Mrs. Smith sees him, he’ll know she will tell his mother. He’d think again. And if Johnny bad scrumped and been caught, his father would have been subject to a certain amount of humorous criticism in his local that evening. He’d have gone home and persuaded Johnny against the idea in the future. But in an anonymous society, Mrs. Smith doesn’t know Johnny or Johnny’s mother, and his father doesn’t drink in the local or work with his neighbours. There are no sanctions on Johnny.

Capitalism, by its removal of the surplus from the periphery to the core has broken up the villages and forced the population into anonymous towns. Socialism and the Welfare State is no better. When the state pays an old age pension, for instance, the pensioner no longer relies on the community or his children. The children can go off and the pensioner dies alone. The grandchildren will be brought up without the undemanding affection and approval of the grandparents, aunts and uncles. A chile of overstrong parents is now totally alone, forced to be alone by the Welfare State, to grow up neurotic, insecure and delinquent. Of course most children can cope. But it only needs a few delinquents for society to be impossible.

So unless we rebuild the small independent communities, we are heading for total social breakdown and no amount of flogging or redistdbution of wealth will avert it.

* * *

It is usually argued that discipline is essential to the efficient running of any organization. A hierarchic, disciplined society depends on a carefully cultivated assumption that it is natural and necessary. I have already shown that it is not particularly natural. Is it necessary?

I suggest that the work done on the ground by the Social Services is carried out efficiently in spite of and not because of the hierarchic structure. Were the managements of the Old Peoples’ Homes and the Social Service managements to be struck by indisposition, the staffs would cheerfully carry on. They are responsible, intelligent and concerned. Management in this case is clearly superfluous, so that obedience is similarly superfluous.

Nor is management particularly clever and the higher you go the less particularly clever it is, because the further from the ground that that the decision is made, the less chance there is of it being right. It has been said, for instance, that all the major decisions taken by the British governments in the last hundred years have been wrong. And in a tight hierarchic structure, a wrong decision taken at the bottom, challenged, is bound for disciplinary reasons to be supported all the way to the top. In a recent case of two London Transport computer operotors, they were disciplined for painting a rest room without permission. It was not the painting that was in question but the discipline. The cases were dealt with through all the stages of our agreed disciplinary machinery in which the grounds were that the men disobeyed instructions. Notice that whether it was a good or bad thing to paint the room was not considered relevat. Obedience was the only issue and the decision, right or wrong, was bound, for disciplinary reasons, to be supported right to the top. The whole `disciplinary machinery’ is a clever and totally fraudulent charade. The rules are fixed to allow the individual no chance. Carefully unstated, but proved in the courts, is the implicit demand for blind obedience in every contract of employment.

Establishments maintain the fiction that any decision can be questioned on appeal to a higher authority, but even when this actually happens, they will still demand blind obedience to the decision of the highest authority.

Thus obedience is not for efficiency but for the maintenance of the power of the establishment. For instance, when we colonized Africa, it was impossible to assert our authority, (to remove the surplus by taxation) without a chief, therefore one had to be imposed to act as a hostage for the obedience of each village. “When chiefs proved recalcitrant or nonexistant, they were replaced or installed by colonial nominees,” (B. Davidson) As a carrot the chief was given extra privileges and cash, a higher rate of pay. It was in the colonizers’ interests to have a chief; it was in the chiefs’ interest; it was in no one else’s.

The only purpose of discipline and obedience is to maintain the power of the elite.

We have been conditoned for hundreds of years to believe that we are too incompetent, too stupid, to be responsible for our own lives, that we must be led, that we must have leaders. Are you that incompetent? Are you that stupid? And if you do not think you are, who are you to say that everyone else is? While everyone will angrily reject the idea that they themselves are totally inadequate, they will happily say that everyone else needs to be told exactly what to do, that they need leaders. Grow up! Take charge of your own lives and let others take charge of theirs; you’re old enough now to do without leaders.

After forty years of government ineptitude, has’t it begun to dawn on you that your leaders are only ordinary mortals and know no better than you how to run your life. Haven’t you realized yet that economists simply don’t understand the economy, that psychologists don’t understand human nature, that educational experts know nothing about teaching children. How nuch chaos will you accept before you tell them to flutter off.

Those who are scared to do without leaders are the cause of our problems. So we are stuck with politicians who lead us with charismatic bravura from one crisis to the next. They are not gods; their experts are not infallible. How many more ridiculous laws must they pass before we tell them to crawl back under their stones? If the primitive societies can do wthout leaders why can’t we?

* * *

Civilization has reached a watershed. For the first time in thousands of years in mankind’s history, the peoples are beginning to question the existence of the gods and the right of others to demand blind obedience, the power to order their lives. Slowly and powerfully, in Eritraea, in Britanny, in Scotland, in the neighbourhood associations of America. in the islands of the Caribbean, smaller groups are eroding the power of the Leviathans. Since the middle of the century the average size of the state has been diminishing. But the process is slow; the rulers are reluctant to abdicate power.

Devolution is inevitable, but the process could be traumatic or it could be painless, If the present policies of the rulers are continued much longer, there will be social and economic breakdown and millions will suffer and die. he Natural Society will be achieved but the process will be agonising.

If devolution is urged forward with all deliberate speed the crash might be avoided; but there is not too much time. At a mininum vote for any candidate that offers more devolution, who is against the Common Market, for instance, whatever his other idiot policies. But lest events overt“ake this slow process, get out, find others, and together put forward ideas to strengthen your community, to resist governmental, bureaucratic interference. You must persuade others that the problems of society lie, not with the right or with the left I but with the whole centralized system.

But if you are going to form a group, be careful not to elect a commitee. Don’t abdicate power to an inner clique; and no rules! Don’t let the majority tyrannize over the minority. Action must be by consensus.

If we honestly want peace and laughter, there is no alternative but the Natural Society. It will be unsophisticated, but you cannot get rid of poverty, or war, or unhappiness without losing your discos and your symphony concerts. They are all offspring of the same tyranny, obedience to the rulers.

Rules protect the rulers, not the ruled. Those words will ring across the world and change that world. No longer will the establishments be able to con the peoples out of their possessions, to tyrannize over them with their theories and philosophies for their days in the sun are a1most over, and their hypocritical, predatory world will be replaced by a more gentle, honest, peaceful, Natural Society.

* * *

The writer gratefully acknowledges the use of quotes from the books of these authors:

  • Lidio Cipriani. The Andaman Islanders, Weidenfeld & Nicholson. 1966. p 76.
  • Colin Clark. Population Growth and Land Use. Macmillan 1967.
  • B.E.Coates and E.M.Rawstrom. Regional Variations in Britain, 1971.
  • Basil Davidson. Africa in Modern History. Allen Lane. 1978, p108.
  • Sir Stanley Davidson, Human nutrition and Dietetics. Edinbugh. 1969.
  • A.S.Dianond. Thp Evolution of Law and Order, Watts. 1951.
  • Mary Douglas. “The Lele of Masai”. in African Worlds. Ed. C.Darryl Forde. O.U.P. 1954, p14.
  • Georges Duby. The Early Growth of the European Economy. Weidenfeld & Nicholson. 1974. p21.
  • E.E.Evans-Pritchard. The Nuer. Clarendon Press. 1940.
  • A.French. The Growth of the Athenian Economy. Routledge Kegan Paul 1964. p6.
  • David Gellner and Caroline Humphrey. “Gurkha Swords into Ploughshares”. New Society. 17.8.78.
  • Gourou. Man and Land in the Far East. Longman. 1975.
  • William A.Haviland. Anthropology. Holt, Rhinehart & Winston Inc.
  • Nora Kenyon. “Labour Conditions in Essex in the reign of Richard II”. Economic History Review. 1934.
  • J.K.Galbraith. The Age of Uncertainty. B.B.C.-Andre Deutsh. 1977. p304.
  • Richard B.Lee, “What Hunters do for a living”. in Lee and DeVore (Eds) Man the Hunter. Chicago. 1968. p36.
  • Brian Hugh Macdermot, The Cult of the Sacred Spear. p179.
  • Sylvia A.Matheson. The Tigers or Baluchistan. O.U.P. 1975. p18.
  • Lucy Mair. An Introduction to Social Anthropology. O.U.P. 1965, pg 192.
  • John Pfeiffer, The Emergence of Man. Harper Row. 1972. p 334.
  • Marshall Sahlins. Tribalism. Prentice Hall Inc. 1968.

August 5, 2010 Posted by | anti-endustriyalizm, anti-kapitalizm, anti-otoriter / anarşizan, sistem karsitligi | Leave a comment

Artificial Scarcity in a World of Overproduction: An Escape that Isn’t

The one strategy open to crisis-ridden capitalism that doesn’t risk class antagonism is the creation of artificial scarcity through regimes of intellectual property. Sander explains, however, that the ‘production of innovation’ is no replacement for the production of value

Whether today’s global overcapacity is seen as cause or effect of the economic crisis, one thing is certain: it isn’t easy to make a profit in a world awash with overproduction. Capitalism is born in conditions of scarcity and is unable to function outside of them. So it seems logical that the crisis creates a tendency to restore these conditions artificially. But how does this affect the chances of the global economy to find a way out of its present predicament?

Most analyses of how the present crisis arose focus on the mechanics of the formation of bubbles. Debates are raging about what measures need to be taken to prevent them in the future but these are like discussions on how to treat the skin lesions of an Aids patient. The problem lies deeper. Regardless of their specifics, bubbles are always a failure of capital to live up to its promise. The money that fed those bubbles was invested as a claim on future profit. When it becomes clear that this profit will not materialise, the bubble implodes. When this happens in one sector, the blame can be assigned to the mismanagement, delusions and malfeasance that occurred in that sector. In the housing market crisis in the US, there was certainly plenty of blame to go around; likewise in the credit market crisis that followed. And in the car industry too. But by now, entire economies are imploding bubbles. There are again specific reasons why this happens first here and not there, but the chain of imploding bubbles is getting so long that specific reasons can no longer account for what is becoming a general phenomenon. The underlying problem is no different in Greece than in the housing crisis: not enough profit is being generated to satisfy the claims of the capital invested in it.

Image: Unsold cars line an airfield at Bicester, Oxfordshire, December 2008

The debt crisis keeps escalating, despite all the talk about the nascent recovery. Of course the crisis does not follow a course of linear descent but the expectation that a deep recession must lead to a strong recovery just like winter leads to spring is just magical thinking. And it is magical thinking to talk about ‘the stalled economy’ as if it were a car that could be started with the jump lead of a stimulus package. I doubt if there are many economists who really believe in that image. Most of them realise that the anti-crisis measures can, at best, prevent the unravelling for some time, time that will be much needed to restructure the economy.

But how? Austerity measures are imposing themselves. Consumers, workers, companies, governments must spend less to make room for future payments to capital because otherwise, the value of existing capital collapses. But all these austerity measures, which will become sharper as time goes by, undercut demand. The overcapacity of the economy increases. Opportunities for productive investment diminish. The trend pushes owners of capital towards speculative investment, to the formation of new bubbles of fictitious wealth whose implosions will create new shocks. Governments are inevitably driven to contradictory policies. What they create with one hand, they destroy with the other. Their austerity measures undermine their recovery policies, and the latter, by creating new debt, new claims on future profit, undermine the former. What is the way out of this dilemma?

A New Paradigm for Growth?

There is none, as far as I can see; at least none that avoids a steep devalorisation of capital, with devastating consequences for the reproduction of society. The best we can hope for is that this traumatic experience will make it clear that the very foundation of the world economy, production for profit, has become obsolete. But if you’re a politician or an economist working for a think tank or a government, you have of course to believe that ‘yes, we can’, that the shocks can be absorbed and that a new paradigm for growth can emerge from them. From this hope, three strategic priorities follow. None of them is new, but the present situation gives them a new urgency.

1. Raise profits by lowering wages. More specifically, combine as much as possible Fordist production (mass production based on assembly-line labour) with the lowest possible wages. That means intensifying globalisation. Use the oversupply on the global labour market, enlarged by the crisis, to push wages wherever possible under the value of labour power, that is, under the cost for the wage earner to reproduce his life. There is no limit to that except the resistance of the working class. The fact that paying wages under the value of labour power destroys labour power is not a limit when that labour power is abundant. As any overproduced commodity, labour power must devalorise. This cannot be resisted from within the logic of capital. Resisting thus becomes in practice refusing to be a commodity, rejecting the value-form.

2. Raise profits by cutting faux frais, by shedding as much as possible superfluous constant and variable capital. That means getting rid of unneeded factories, machinery and workers and lowering as much as possible the costs that the management of the superfluous population entails. Not an easy task of course. The help of the trade unions, who by their function as managers of labour power understand that what they deal in is a commodity that ultimately must bow to the logic of the market, will be indispensable.

3. Raise profits by artificially creating conditions of scarcity. Develop a global, parallel economy centred in the most advanced countries that is sheltered by its exclusive market positions from the deflationary trend that inevitably engulfs most of the world. That entails shifting the centre of gravity of the economy, of profit making, from the production of goods to the production of innovation, of new knowledge for the production of goods; a shift away from economies of scale (whose yield turns negative as overcapacity grows) to the goal of constant adaptation, constant recreation of scarcity.

The limits of those first two strategic goals are not objective; they depend on overcoming the will to survive of human beings, on defeating their capacity to imagine themselves as something other than commodities. But that is not the scope of this article. It is the development of the third goal and the limit it encounters that I want to look at in the rest of this text.

The Tao of Undersupply’

Let’s return to the question of how to make a profit in a world awash with overproduction? Hugh MacLeod formulates the problem this way:

For every mid-level managing job opening up, there’s scores of people willing and able. For every company needing to hire an ad agency or design firm, there’s dozens out there, willing and able. For every person wanting to buy a new car, there’s tons of car makers and dealers out there. I could go on and on. I could also go on about how many good people I know who are caught in oversupplied markets, and how every day they wake up, feeling chilled to the bone with dread and unease. So maybe the thing is to get into ‘The Tao of Undersupply’. If only 100 people want to buy your widgets, then just make 90 widgets. If only 1000, make 900. If only 10 million, make 9 million. It isn’t rocket science, but it takes discipline.1


It takes more than discipline though. And sometimes it takes rocket science too. The problem with Hugh’s strategy is that when there is a hole in the market, capital will fill it. Someone else will make those widgets, unless there’s a way to prevent him or her. There is.

There is the blunt weapon of protectionism, but the blowback more often than not defeats its purpose. Then there is the market control achieved through the concentration of capital. That is of course a constant tendency throughout capitalism’s history but it accelerates in periods just before convulsions of major proportion: around the turn of the 19th and 20th century, in the late 1920s and in the past decade. The present crisis conditions further facilitate the concentration of capital. Stronger companies buy up embattled rivals at bargain prices and tie others to them in so-called ‘strategic alliances’ that establish control over the market through networks rather than through outright monopolies or explicit cartel-agreements. In many sectors the number of decisive players has been so far reduced that de facto monopolies (diamonds) or oligopolies (oil, bauxite, aeroplanes) have a tight grip on the global market. This tendency is perhaps most visible in the production of finite, raw materials, but is present throughout the economy, from software and banking to processed foods and retail. For those giant conglomerates there is no need for an explicit collusion in order to exercise their joint capacity to fix prices above the value of their products and to jointly reduce supply in support of that goal (such as when the major oil companies reduced their refining capacity in the past decade).2


Image: Unsold cars in Spain

While the unprecedented degree of concentration of capital assures that the ‘traditional’ way of obtaining surplus profits through monopolistic or oligopolistic control over existing markets will remain important, there is another way to those surplus profits that is more striking, more typical of our times: the commodification of knowledge.

A World of Patents

A company that introduces a new commodity (or a new method to produce commodities, which itself is a commodity) in the market, has by definition a monopoly over it and thereby the opportunity to set its price above its value, as high as the market can bear. In this respect, it doesn’t matter if the newness is real or artificially created. Through massive propaganda, Nike succeeded in convincing consumers that an Air Jordan is something different and better than other sneakers, for which it could charge a price unrelated to the value created by the workers in Indonesia who produced these shoes (whose wages, by the way, were but a fraction of the money it paid to Michael Jordan for appearing in commercials for the product). Of course, such marketing campaigns cost money that also has to be calculated into the price, but at the same time they serve as thresholds that keep smaller companies, unable to spend so much on marketing, out of the market. As a result, marketing claims an ever larger share of the total costs of big companies.


 Image: The Chumby PCB assembly factory in China

When Apple recently introduced its iPad, the newness was more than a perception but the same mechanism applies. As the exclusive seller of this product, Apple is able to command a price far above what it costs to make the product in its factories in China.3 Nobody else can make an iPad. Its production is protected by patents. The search for artificial scarcity is both a cause and a result of the vertiginous growth of information technology, biotechnology and other knowledge-based development and their widespread application in all branches of industry. As a result, the growth of patents, after following a slow but quite steady course since the late 19th century, exploded in the 1980s. Intellectual property rights became a keystone in the international trade agreements concluded since, and both American and European authorities repeatedly lengthened the duration of patents and copyrights.

There are patents on everything. In total there are more than 32 million of them, and almost two million new ones are filed every year, including the right to use, develop and sell technologies, programs, products, methods of research and production, procedures, even scents and colours, by anybody but the patent-owner and those licensed by them. Even a large part of our genes now fall under patents and cannot be studied without paying a license to their ‘owner’.

Obviously, that is quite profitable to the latter. Patents last on average 20 years and can be renewed, while it takes a pharmaceutical company typically one to three years to recoup the R&D costs of new products. The wild growth of patents is not limited to sectors where you might expect it, that are geared towards the development of new consumer goods such as pharmaceuticals. In the field of electrical machinery for instance, between 2002 and 2006, companies filed 92,082 new patent applications in the US; 264,686 in Japan, 49,477 in Germany, 24,514 in China and 8,757 in the UK.4

As the British economist Arnold Plant wrote:

It is a peculiarity of property rights in patents (and copyrights) that they do not arise out of the scarcity of the objects which become appropriated. They are not a consequence of scarcity. They are the deliberate creation of statute law, and, whereas in general the institution of private property makes for the preservation of scarce goods, tending […] to lead us ‘to make the most of them,’ property rights in patents and copyrights make possible the creation of a scarcity of the products appropriated which could not otherwise be maintained.5


Microsoft declared in 2004 (quite shamelessly, since many of its own products such as Word and Excel are derivative of unpatented inventions by others) that its goal was to file 3,000 new patents a year, an increase of 50%. The company is right on target. Toyota obtained more than 2,000 patents on its Prius alone. Its goal is to make it impossible for others to develop hybrids without paying a hefty price to Toyota. These examples explain why the pace of technological change is much less impressive than the steep increase of patents would suggest. Since they cover so many things, they effectively prevent the development of new products by unlicensed competitors. Many patents are not even applied to new products. Their owners simply wait until others develop something similar in order to extort a fee. This road to surplus profit takes armies of researchers and, even more so, armies of lawyers to enforce the artificial scarcity which is constantly under threat, since knowledge is by its nature communicative and derivative of other knowledge. Only big powerful companies can afford them, so this is another threshold that keeps unwanted competitors out. More generally, it also requires real armies, the power of states to maintain a world order in which artificial scarcity is protected.

No Way Out

At the centre of the trend towards an economy based on artificial scarcity stands IT, which has driven capitalism’s tendency to lower the value of commodities to its most extreme point. Since it costs next to nothing to reproduce digital goods, their social value, in Marxist terms, is also next to nothing. They are in effect abundant and can only be made profitable by sabotaging the law of value, by limiting competition to prevent the market from establishing their prices freely. Other companies that base their profit strategies on artificial scarcity express the same tendency. Their actual production costs are usually very low but their profits are not. But what is the source of these profits? Since it requires ever less labour time to reproduce their commodities (the cost of R&D may be high but has no bearing on the cost of reproduction), the part of it that is unpaid, surplus value, must fall too and thus cannot explain the rise of their profits. The profit is surplus value but it comes from elsewhere: it is paid by the customers.

That’s why it is a fallacy to think that a global advanced economy based on artificial scarcity could function on a parallel level, sheltered from the general crisis. It sucks value from elsewhere and thus effectively taxes the rest of the economy. The more it takes in, the heavier the tax. It is therefore dependent on the capacity of the rest of the economy to pay that tax, and thus on its ability to create new value. That doesn’t look good.

So despite the desire of capitals based on artificial scarcity to extricate themselves from the mess (highlighted by Germany’s reaction to the debt crisis in Greece), there’s no way out. On the contrary, by siphoning off capital to production with relatively little value creation, it aggravates the general problem. However, it is to be expected that capitals geared towards artificial scarcity will continue to reap higher than average profits, even when the average rate of profit continues to decline. Thus production of these commodities will attract more than its share of capital. That makes it a prime candidate for the formation of new bubbles (as they have been before), heralding new shocks for a system desperately clinging to scarcity.



2 See

3 Just recently, the 2000 workers of ‘United Win’ in Suzhou, China – a contractor for Apple Computers – waged a strike to protest the cancellation of their annual bonus and the poisoning of workers as a result of the use of the chemical substance N-hexane, used to clean touch screens. See

4 All figures on patents come from the database of the World Intellectual Property Organisation

5 Arnold Plant, ‘The Economic Theory Concerning Property for Inventions’, quoted in

Sander <sander AT> is an editor of the review Internationalist Perspective

( He lives and works in New York.

August 5, 2010 Posted by | anti-kapitalizm | Leave a comment

Bridging the Unbridgeable Chasm: On Bookchin’s Critique of the Anarchist Tradition – John Clark

One of Murray Bookchin’s best-known works is Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm.[1] In it, he argues that two quite distinct and incompatible currents have traversed the entire history of anarchism. He labels these two divergent tendencies “social anarchism” and “lifestyle anarchism,” and contends that between them “there exists a divide that cannot be bridged.”

The idea that there is an “unbridgeable chasm” between two viewpoints that share certain common presuppositions and goals, and whose practices are in some ways interrelated, is a bit suspect from the outset. It is particularly problematic when proposed by a thinker like Bookchin, who claims to hold a dialectical perspective. Whereas nondialectical thought merely opposes one reality to another in an abstract manner, or else places them inertly beside one another, a dialectical analysis examines the ways in which various realities presuppose one another, constitute one another, challenge the identity of one another, and push one another to the limits of their development. Accordingly, one important quality of such an analysis is that it helps those with divergent viewpoints see the ways in which their positions are not mutually exclusive but can instead be mutually realized in a further development of each.

Nevertheless, Bookchin contends that there is an absolute abyss between two tendencies within contemporary anarchism. One is what he depicts as an individualist and escapist current that he sees as increasingly dominating the movement, while the other is a communally oriented and socially engaged form of anarchism, which he sees as in a process of continual retreat. Bookchin argues that this stark dichotomy has its roots in the history of anarchism, and that certain flaws in the very mainstream of historical anarchism have contributed to the ways in which the contemporary movement has gone astray. He presents his “unbridgeable chasm” thesis as follows: “Stated bluntly: Between the socialist pedigree of anarcho-syndicalism and anarcho-communism (which have never denied the importance of self-realization and the fulfillment of desire), and the basically liberal, individualistic pedigree of lifestyle anarchism (which fosters social ineffectuality, if not outright social negation), there exists a divide that cannot be bridged unless we completely disregard the profoundly different goals, methods, and underlying philosophy that distinguish them.”

It will be argued here that this analysis is based on a fallacious reading of the history of anarchism. It will be shown that the anarchist tradition has been investigating the dialectic between the individual and social dimensions of freedom with considerable seriousness throughout its history. An apt depiction of the anarchist view of the relation between the personal and social dimensions is found in Alan Ritter’s concept of “communal individuality.” Ritter, a careful student of classical anarchist thought, explains that in espousing communal individuality, the anarchist tradition asserts that personal autonomy and social solidarity, rather than opposing one another, are inseparable and mutually reinforcing. He sees the theoretical defense of this synthesis to be “the strength of the anarchists’ thought.”[2] One might add that one of the great achievements of anarchist practice has been the actualization of this theoretical synthesis in various social forms, including personal relationships, affinity groups, intentional communities, cooperative projects, and movements for revolutionary social transformation. In the analysis that follows, Bookchin’s critique of the record of anarchism in these areas will be assessed.[3]

One can find in Bookchin’s “Lifestyle Anarchism” article the seeds of his later break with anarchism. For in it he indicts not only the supposed “lifestyle” tendency but the anarchist tradition in general for a failure to reconcile what he calls “autonomy” and “freedom.” At the beginning of Unbridgeable Chasm he claims that “For some two centuries, anarchism — a very ecumenical body of anti-authoritarian ideas — developed in the tension between two basically contradictory tendencies: a personalistic commitment to individual autonomy and a collectivist commitment to social freedom.”

Despite the centrality of this claim to his critique, Bookchin never produces significant evidence that what anarchists have historically and in recent times defended as “personal autonomy” and “social freedom” are “basically contradictory.” To do so would have required him to take one of two approaches. First, he could discuss the history of these two concepts as they are expressed by various thinkers and organizations in the tradition and show that they are contradictory conceptually. He does not, however, do this. Second, he could survey anarchist practice and demonstrate that the application of these two concepts in practice has led inevitably to contradictory results. He also fails to do this.

Conversely, the invalidity of Bookchin’s claims could be demonstrated in two ways. First, one or more cases in which anarchists have developed concepts of individual autonomy and social freedom that are clearly non-contradictory could be presented. Second, one or more cases could be cited in which concepts of individual autonomy and social freedom have been applied in practice in complementary, noncontradictory ways. In the following discussion, Bookchin’s contentions will be refuted in both of these ways; however, a mere refutation of Bookchin’s claims would not do justice to the achievements of anarchism. I will therefore seek to show that not only can we find those “one or more cases,” that minimally refute Bookchin, but also that there has been and still is today a rich and highly developed anarchist tradition that synthesizes the personal and social dimensions of freedom, rather than opposing them to one another.

Individual and Society in Anarchist Thought

According to Bookchin “anarchism’s failure to resolve [the] tension [between individual autonomy and social freedom], to articulate the relationship of the individual to the collective, and to enunciate the historical circumstances that would make possible a stateless anarchic society produced problems in anarchist thought that remain unresolved to this day.” It would indeed be absurd to state that anarchist theory has entirely “resolved the tension” between the personal and social dimensions. In fact, only a nondialectical, abstractly idealist approach could anticipate the dissolution of this tension in real history or propose a theory that aims at “resolving” it.[4] However, anarchist thought and practice have certainly made significant contributions to “articulating the relationship between the individual and the collective.” As mentioned, Ritter in his study of classical anarchist theory shows that a conception of “communal individuality” runs through the tradition. What is striking when one looks at this tradition is its consistency in upholding the importance of both poles of the individual/social polarity. Emma Goldman is particularly notable for her incomparable manner of affirming both solidarity and individuality, but many major anarchist thinkers, including those considered the most archetypal social anarchists, have maintained a very strong commitment to personal freedom and what Bookchin calls “autonomy.”[5]

William Godwin, who is often called “the father of philosophical anarchism,” believed firmly that a free and just society must be based on the maximum liberty for each individual. Central to Godwin’s entire political philosophy and ethics was what he called “the right of private judgment.”[6] This right was based on the concept that each person’s decisions on matters of crucial moral and practical importance should be guided to the greatest possible degree by his or her own reason and judgment, and that neither coercion nor social pressure should interfere with the exercise of this right. Godwin’s carefully argued position constitutes one of the most extreme defenses of a kind of individual autonomy in the history of political theory. Nevertheless, he also held that the individual’s judgment should in all cases be directed toward the greatest good for all of society. Indeed, he contended that one has no right to make personal use of anything that one happens to possess if it could create more good by being devoted to some larger social purpose. For Godwin, individual freedom and personal autonomy are intimately connected to social freedom and the common good. The affirmation of such an interrelationship pervades the mainstream of classical anarchist thought since Godwin and achieves a much higher level of development in the work of later thinkers.

Mikhail Bakunin, perhaps the best known of all anarchist theorists, is a paradigm case of a social anarchist who stresses both dimensions. While Bookchin claims that “Bakunin emphatically prioritized the social over the individual,” in reality, one of Bakunin’s central theses is that one does not ordinarily have to do such prioritizing because the welfare of society and the self-realization of the individual person are complementary rather than in conflict. In one of Bakunin’s best-known passages he addresses the compatibility between individual and social freedom. He says that the liberty that he defends is

the only liberty worthy of the name, the liberty which implies the full development of all the material, intellectual, and moral capacities latent in every one of us; the liberty which knows no other restrictions but those set by the laws of our own nature. Consequently there are, properly speaking, no restrictions, since these laws are not imposed upon us by any legislator from outside, alongside, or above ourselves. These laws are subjective, inherent in ourselves; they constitute the very basis of our being. Instead of seeking to curtail them, we should see in them the real condition and the effective cause of our liberty — that liberty of each man which does not find another man’s freedom a boundary but a confirmation and vast extension of his own; liberty through solidarity, in equality.[7]

Unfortunately, Bookchin completely ignores passages such as this one that conflict with the idea of “prioritizing.” On the other hand, he cites the following statement by Bakunin on behalf of his position:

Society antedates and at the same time survives every human individual, being in this respect like Nature itself. It is eternal like Nature, or rather, having been born upon our earth, it will last as long as the earth. A radical revolt against society would therefore be just as impossible for man as a revolt against Nature, human society being nothing else but the last great manifestation or creation of Nature upon this earth. And an individual who would want to rebel against society . . . would place himself beyond the pale of real existence.

One must wonder how carefully Bookchin read this passage before citing it, because it does not in fact support his view. Bakunin’s point here is that any idea of revolting against society is an illusion; however the concept that one cannot revolt against society does not imply the view that society should be “prioritized over the individual.” Using Bookchin’s fallacious method of reading this passage, one would be compelled to conclude that Bakunin also believed that nature should be “prioritized over the individual,” since he says that we also cannot revolt against nature. But he did not hold such a position. The actual point of the passage is to lend support to Bakunin’s general argument that the good of the individual and the social good, rather than conflicting, are compatible with one another. From such a perspective, the prioritization problematic adopted by both extreme individualists (who prioritize the individual) and authoritarians (who prioritize society) involves a false dilemma.

Elisée Reclus also affirmed the inseparable unity between personal and social freedom. He presents a very detailed defense of individual freedom in areas of speech, conduct, association, and many other areas, but always in the context of growing communal ties based on mutual aid and social cooperation. In an early statement he affirms that “for each individual man liberty is an end,” but at the same time “it is only a means toward love and universal brotherhood.”[8] Throughout his writings, he consistently stresses the theme that anarchism strives for a society based on both freedom and solidarity. Like Bakunin, Reclus rejects versions of socialism that “prioritize” the collective over the individual, rather than affirming both. He attacks “some communist varieties” that “in reaction against the present-day society, seem to believe that men ought to dissolve themselves into the mass and become nothing more than the innumerable arms of an octopus” or “drops of water lost in the sea.”[9] He launches an extensive critique of authoritarian socialism based precisely on its failure to recognize the freedom and autonomy of each person. Reclus asserts that the anarchist ideal “entails for each man the complete and absolute liberty to express his thoughts in every area, including science, politics, and morals, without any condition other than his respect for others. It also entails the right of each to do as he pleases while naturally joining his will with those of others in all collective endeavors. His own freedom is in no way limited by this union, but rather expands, thanks to the strength of the common will.”[10] Throughout his works Reclus argues consistently that community and solidarity can never be separated from liberty and individuality.

Kropotkin had similar views. For example, he states quite specifically that communism is not only compatible with individualism, but is in fact the foundation for the only authentic form of individualism. “Communism,” he says, “is the best basis for individual development and freedom; not that individualism which drives man to the war of each against all — this is the only one known up till now — but that which represents the full expansion of man’s faculties, the superior development of what is original in him, the greatest fruitfulness of intelligence, feeling and will.”[11] In another passage in which he expresses similar ideas it is noteworthy that in doing so he invokes the value of individual autonomy. According to Kropotkin, “free workers would require a free organization, and this cannot have any other basis than free agreement and free cooperation, without sacrificing the autonomy of the individual to the all-pervading interference of the State.”[12] Individual autonomy, in the context of free social cooperation is thus an essential value in the view of this great anarchist philosopher.

The Political Discourse of Freedom and Autonomy

Bookchin claims, however, that an opposition between personal autonomy and social freedom has plagued the entire anarchist tradition. He contends that individualists and lifestyle anarchists in particular “call for autonomy rather than freedom,” and that as a result they “forfeit the rich social connotations of freedom.” This is not, according to Bookchin, a marginal phenomenon limited to extreme individualists. Rather, he claims, there is a “steady anarchist drumbeat for autonomy rather than social freedom” and this “cannot be dismissed as accidental, particularly in Anglo-American varieties of libertarian thought, where the notion of autonomy more closely corresponds to personal liberty.” He contends, moreover, that the “roots” of what he sees as the insidious concept of autonomy “lie in the Roman imperial tradition of libertas, wherein the untrammeled ego is ‘free’ to own his personal property — and to gratify his personal lusts. Today, the individual endowed with ‘sovereign rights’ is seen by many lifestyle anarchists as antithetical not only to the State but to society as such.”

Bookchin’s discussion of autonomy and freedom is fundamentally flawed since he ignores the fact that actual usage simply does not correspond to his fanciful account. He holds that “while autonomy is associated with the presumably self-sovereign individual, freedom dialectically interweaves the individual with the collective.” Neither claim is correct. The term “autonomy” does not by definition imply a sovereign ego and is quite often used by the proponent in ways that explicitly reject an egoistic standpoint. Conversely, the term “freedom” is not necessarily related to any sort of “dialectical interweaving” and is very often used in senses that contradict such a conception. The right wing, for example, incessantly stresses its commitment to a “freedom” that has no such connotations.

Though many anarchists historically have used the term “autonomy,” there has certainly been among them no “steady drumbeat” in which “social freedom” is rejected as contrary to “autonomy.” Contemporary anarchists also do not often engage in this particular kind of tub-thumping. Rather, they usually consider the two concepts to be complementary and indeed inseparable. A great many collectivist, syndicalist, and communist anarchists have used the term in a sense that is entirely compatible with their conception of social freedom. The Spanish sections of the First International in a statement in 1882 stated that “In our organization, we already practice the anarchist principle, the most graphic expression of Freedom and Autonomy.”[13] Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were at one point members of a group called “Autonomy.” A quotation that is found frequently on anarchist websites is communist anarchist Luigi Galleani’s definition of anarchism as “the autonomy of the individual within the freedom of association.”[14]

One of the most prominent usages of the term “autonomy” in the last few decades has been its reference to “autonomist Marxism,” a direct actionist, decentralist tendency that emerged in Italy in the 1960s and has had a significant influence since. It is also associated closely with the thought of Cornelius Castoriadis, who was one of the most important and sophisticated left theorists of the last century, and was noted for his support for decentralism, self-management, and antistatism. It has also been used by the “Autonomes” in France, activists who were influenced by Socialism or Barbarism and other anti-authoritarian tendencies, and who have been important in grassroots struggles on behalf of the unemployed and immigrants and in the global justice movement. Finally, it has been used by the German “Autonomen,” who were strongly influenced by anarcho-communist ideas and have been known for militant direct actionist tactics. In all of these instances, the term has been associated with socially engaged, anticapitalist, anti-authoritarian movements that have rejected the strategy and practice of vanguard parties and left-wing unions and have advocated direct action, wildcat strikes and other diverse forms of militant social struggle. Thus, the term has an extensive history in recent political movements on the left, and its widespread usage in this connection has nothing to do with untrammeled egos, personal lusts, or the Roman Empire.

Bookchin’s linguistic usage in this case is an unusually excellent example of what philosophers call “Humpty Dumpty Language.” As that character says in Alice in Wonderland, “When I use a word . . . it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” While this strategy may have been appropriate in Wonderland, in rational discourse it is essential to consider what a word means for the language community in which it is used. In cases in which a person’s usage is to be used to determine what that person thinks, the crucial point to consider is obviously what that person intends by such usage, not what one would like it to mean.

A closely related element of Bookchin’s critique of anarchist views of freedom is his contention that “essentially . . . anarchism as a whole advanced what Isaiah Berlin has called ‘negative freedom,’ that is to say, a formal ‘freedom from,’ rather than a substantive ‘freedom to.’” It would be quite significant if Bookchin could substantiate this charge, since anarchist theorists have argued that one of the great strengths of the anarchist position is that it offers a more comprehensive and inclusive conception of freedom than the one-sidedly negative conception of freedom in classical liberalism, neoliberalism, and right-wing libertarianism, and the one-sidedly positive conception of freedom in welfare statism and various authoritarianisms of right and left. Anarchism can justly claim that it has to a greater degree than any other political theory strongly affirmed both the negative and positive aspects of freedom.

Anarchism’s radical critique of force and coercion and its corresponding support for negative freedom are well known. Indeed, those who are unfamiliar with anarchist thought often identify anarchism with the mere belief in a voluntaristic society without coercive laws; however, one of the most striking aspects of anarchist thought is its very strong emphasis on the positive dimension of freedom. Bakunin is an excellent example. Though he emphasizes the threat to negative freedom posed by the coercive and repressive power of the state, his major focus is on the positive dimension. In a classic statement on this topic he says that freedom is “something very positive, very complex, and above all eminently social, since it can only be realized by society and only through the strictest equality and solidarity of each with all.”[15] He contends that the first “moment or element” of this freedom is also “eminently positive and social: it is the full development and the full enjoyment by each person of all human faculties and capacities, by means of education, scientific instruction, and material prosperity, all of which are things that can only be provided to each through collective labor . . . of the whole society.”[16] He adds that there is also a “second element or moment of freedom” that is negative. It consists, he says, “of the revolt of the human individual against every authority, whether divine or human, collective or individual.”[17] Interestingly, even Bakunin’s “negative moment” of freedom does not correspond to what Berlin defined as “negative freedom,” which, as important as it may be, nevertheless consists of the basically empty and indeterminate condition of merely being uncoerced. Even Bakunin’s “negative” moment of freedom is actually an expression of positive freedom, since it entails action and striving and has determinate content.

Bakunin is far from alone in the anarchist tradition in espousing such a positive conception of freedom. With the exception of some individualist anarchists and anarcho-capitalists, anarchist theorists consistently give a positive dimension to freedom. In his exhaustive (over 750 page) survey of anarchist theory and practice, Peter Marshall concludes that while anarchists in general propose a considerable expansion of negative freedom, most also focus heavily on the positive conception, including freedom as the ability “to realize one’s full potential.”[18] He explicitly points out that a hostile critic, Marxist Paul Thomas, “errs in thinking that anarchists are chiefly concerned with a negative view of liberty.”[19] It is rather surprising that Bookchin, even when he still considered himself to be an anarchist, could so badly distort the historical anarchist position in a similar manner. On the other hand, the fact that he could imagine that he had invented a position (a strong libertarian concept of positive freedom) that was highly developed for over a century and a half hints at how he could finally reject anarchism rather contemptuously (and ignorantly) as being theoretically inadequate.

Bookchin on Classical Individualist Anarchism

In order to depict a supposed absolute dichotomy between his two forms of anarchism, Bookchin is compelled to present a highly distorted picture of individualist anarchism. According to his account “as a credo, individualist anarchism remained largely a bohemian lifestyle, most conspicuous in its demands for sexual freedom (‘free love’) and enamored of innovations in art, behavior, and clothing,” and “most often . . . expressed itself in culturally defiant behavior.” In other words, it existed in a form that would have made it an ideal precursor to what Bookchin depicts as the “lifestyle anarchism” of more recent times.

But this one-sided individualist anarchism, convenient as it may be for Bookchin’s argumentative strategy, exists much more in his imagination than in actual history. The classic American individualists — Josiah Warren, Lysander Spooner, Benjamin Tucker, and similar figures — simply do not fit into this mold.[20] One would never guess from his description that a figure like Tucker (the most important of the individualists) was concerned primarily with showing rent, profit and interest to be forms of economic exploitation and with formulating proposals for a just economy. Neither would they imagine that the great American individualist “looked upon anarchism as a branch of the general socialist movement.”[21] Ronald Creagh, author of the most comprehensive study of American anarchism, comments that “it is interesting to note that Josiah Warren and S. P. Andrews insisted on ‘the sovereignty of the individual’ but at the same time created the Modern Times community,” and “perhaps under Warren’s influence, one of the very first workers’ associations called themselves ‘sovereigns of industry.’”[22] Whether or not one agrees with their position, one must recognize that the individualist anarchists had highly developed ideas of social transformation and did not focus most of their energies on “Bohemianism.” In the end, American individualist anarchism fits very poorly into Bookchin’s model of lifestyle anarchism avant la lettre.

Moreover, much of the cultural radicalism that Bookchin depicts as typical only of individualist anarchism was in fact practiced widely by social anarchists also. Many communist and collectivist anarchists advocated “free love” and other forms of cultural nonconformity. For example, in the “Resolutions from the Zaragoza Congress of the CNT” (1936) one finds that “Libertarian communism proclaims free love regulated only by the wishes of the man and the woman.”[23] In addition, nudism, vegetarianism, and a kind of proto-ecologism spread within the Spanish anarchist movement, in part through the influence of communist anarchists such as Reclus, who harshly criticized authoritarian and bourgeois morality as repressive and hypocritical. Alan Antliff has done extensive and quite meticulous research that shows the ways in which anarchist avant garde artists have long been engaged in the project of social liberation.[24] And in the American libertarian communalist movement, one also finds the coexistence of anarcho-communist theory, support for revolutionary unionism, and cultural radicalism.[25]

Bookchin also tries to associate terrorism within the anarchist movement primarily with individualist currents. He claims that “it was in times of severe social repression and deadening social quiescence that individualist anarchists came to the foreground of libertarian activity — and then primarily as terrorists,” and that “those who became terrorists were less often libertarian socialists or communists than desperate men and women who used weapons and explosives to protest the injustices and philistinism of their time, putatively in the name of ‘propaganda of the deed.’” Bookchin’s understanding of the history of anarchist “terrorism” or propaganda of the deed, as exhibited in such statements, is highly defective.

Many of the most famous figures, such as Ravachol, Vaillant, and Emile Henry, were certainly “social anarchists” (generally anarcho-communists), and not individualists, as were well-known theorists such as Reclus, Kropotkin (at times), Most and Malatesta, who supported their acts or at least refused to condemn them.[26] Ravachol explained his actions as a result of both his “personal need” for vengeance against the bourgeoisie and his desire “to aid the anarchist cause” and “work for the happiness of all people.”[27] Far from exemplifying Bookchin’s self-indulgent “lifestyle anarchism,” Ravachol offers a much better example of self-abnegating “revolutionary asceticism.” Indeed, he proclaimed at his trial that he had “made a sacrifice of [his] person” for “the anarchist idea.”[28] Vaillant, another well-known propagandist of the deed, described his bombing of the National Assembly in good class-struggle anarchist fashion as “the cry of a whole class which demands its rights and will soon add acts to words.”[29] Emile Henry, an intellectually gifted young man, put aside his personal fortunes to commit acts that would, he said, make the “golden calf” of the bourgeoisie “rock violently on its pedestal” until that class was finally overthrown. He proclaimed that his attentats were carried out in the name of “anarchy” with its “egalitarian and libertarian aspirations that strike out against authority.”[30] Marshall, one of the most painstaking chroniclers of anarchist history, concludes that “it is quite wrong and anachronistic to call the practitioners of ‘propaganda by the deed’ at the end of the nineteenth century ‘lifestyle anarchists.’ They were . . . part and product of a social movement which was consciously anarchist and socialist.”[31]

A key claim in Bookchin’s assessment of individualist anarchism is that it “came to prominence in anarchism precisely to the degree that anarchists lost their connection with a viable public sphere.”[32] Bookchin’s use of the word “precisely” implies that an examination of the historical evidence would clearly show a powerful, indeed a one-to-one correlation between the decline of anarchist mass movements and the rise of individualist anarchism. In effect, he claims to have discovered a law-like regularity in the history of anarchism. It is noteworthy, however, that he makes not even the most cursory attempt to support his claim with historical evidence. His failure to do so is wise on his part, since the empirical evidence shows him to be quite precisely wrong. American individualist anarchism, for example, clearly does not fit into his historical model. Perhaps the most important chapter in the entire history of individualist anarchism took place in the United States between the establishment of Josiah Warren’s “Time Store” in the late 1820s and the suspension of publication of Benjamin Tucker’s journal Liberty about eighty years later. Its emergence and flourishing did not in fact follow the decline of mass anarchist movements. Quite to the contrary, it was during the heyday of individualist anarchism that anarchism as a mass social movement in the United States also saw its most rapid development. The later decline in the fortunes of social anarchism had much to do with the assimilation of radical immigrant groups and then with the growing ascendancy of communism on the left after the Russian Revolution. It had nothing to do with its energy being sapped by rampant individualist bohemianism.[33]

Neither does the history of European anarchism lend support to Bookchin’s thesis. Individualist anarchism in Europe has roots in some aspects of thinkers such as de la Boetie, Godwin and Proudhon but developed most under the influence of Stirner and Nietzsche in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and became a particularly prominent current around the turn of the century. Thus, its growth also did not follow any retreat of anarchists from the public sphere, but rather coincided with the spread of socially engaged anarcho-syndicalist and anarcho-communist movements. If Bookchin’s thesis had any merit one would expect a significant development of European individualist anarchism to have taken place after the destruction of the Spanish anarchist movement in 1939 and the general decline and relative inactivity of anarchist social movements throughout the 1940s and 1950s; however, a flourishing of individualist anarchism did not take place in that period. Once again, Bookchin’s thesis is clearly falsified.

Finally, we might consider the more recent revival of individualist anarchism in the United States. After a decline early in the twentieth century, it reemerged in the 1960s and early 1970s in the form of anarcho-capitalism; however this growth of individualism was not followed by a decline of social anarchism. Rather, it occurred at the same time that social anarchism was having a revival in the United States and elsewhere. Individualist anarchist Murray Rothbard was developing a certain following at the same time that social anarchist Murray Bookchin was. Thus, in case after case, the kind of correlation that Bookchin’s thesis would predict simply did not occur.

Lifestyle Anarchism as the New Individualism

We will now examine in more detail some significant aspects of Bookchin’s attack on contemporary anarchism. He describes lifestyle anarchism and what he sees as its pernicious effects on contemporary anarchism as follows:

Today’s reactionary social context greatly explains the emergence of a phenomenon in Euro-American anarchism that cannot be ignored: the spread of individualist anarchism. In the traditionally individualist-liberal United States and Britain, the 1990s are awash in self-styled anarchists who — their flamboyant radical rhetoric aside — are cultivating a latter-day anarcho-individualism that I will call lifestyle anarchism. Its preoccupations with the ego and its uniqueness and its polymorphous concepts of resistance are steadily eroding the socialistic character of the libertarian tradition.

Bookchin claims that not only is contemporary anarchism losing its traditional leftist orientation, it is in fact becoming “apolitical” under the influence of the egocentric, reactionary values of the dominant culture:

Ad hoc adventurism, personal bravura, an aversion to theory oddly akin to the antirational biases of postmodernism,[34] celebrations of theoretical incoherence (pluralism), a basically apolitical and anti-organizational commitment to imagination, desire, and ecstasy, and an intensely self-oriented enchantment of everyday life, reflect the toll that social reaction has taken on Euro-American anarchism over the past two decades.

It was the supposed dominance of such individualist, apolitical, escapist, and self-indulgent qualities among today’s anarchists that eventually led Bookchin to disassociate himself from anarchism and conclude that it is a failed project with no promise at this point in history; however, his depiction of contemporary anarchism is not accurate. Not only does he wildly exaggerate its weaknesses, he also overlooks the enormous strengths that have resulted in its importance in the global justice movement, and more generally in movements for the liberation of humanity and the earth.

According to Bookchin, “what passes for anarchism in America and increasingly in Europe is little more than an introspective personalism that denigrates responsible social commitment; an encounter group variously renamed a ‘collective’ or an ‘affinity group’; a state of mind that arrogantly derides structure, organization, and public involvement; and a playground for juvenile antics.” He contends, moreover, that the political consequences of these alleged developments have been disastrous. He indicts “the insularity of lifestyle anarchism and its individualistic underpinnings” for “aborting the entry of a potential left-libertarian movement into an ever-contracting public sphere.”

If Bookchin had been right in this diagnosis of anarchism in 1995, the past decade would certainly have been a period of extreme quiescence for the movement; however, already by the late 1990s the kind of young anarchists whom he bitterly disparaged were at the forefront of the global justice movement, in effect taking a “left libertarian movement” conspicuously into the center of a significantly expanding global public sphere and dwarfing any impact that Bookchin’s “libertarian municipalism” has ever had on any public sphere anywhere. Thus, history has passed judgment on his claims about contemporary anarchism’s lack of potential for entry into what we now see to be a revitalized arena of global politics.

But what of his most distinctive contentions concerning the attributes of this contemporary anarchism? Has the anarchist movement in general (“what passes for anarchism”) in fact “denigrated” social commitment? Have anarchist collectives and affinity groups functioned primarily as “encounter groups”?[35] Have anarchists tended to reject structure, organization and public engagement? It obviously cannot be denied that the phenomena that Bookchin decries can be found within the anarchist movement today. Indeed, tendencies toward excessive individualism, adventurism, and detachment from social reality have always been present within anarchism and have been addressed by members and groups within the movement. Well over a century ago, Reclus pointed out how some anarchists who initiate noble cooperative economic projects often become insulated in their small world: “One tells oneself that it is especially important to succeed in an undertaking that involves the collective honor of a great number of friends, and one gradually allows oneself to be drawn into the petty practices of conventional business. The person who had resolved to change the world has changed into nothing more than a simple grocer.“[36] Yet it would have been absurd for anyone in Reclus’ day to conclude that because of such tendencies the entire anarchist movement was turning into an association of simple grocers.

It is clear that the anarchist movement today also faces enormous challenges in its project of developing truly liberatory social forms, and many of those challenges are internal to the movement. Those who focus one-sidedly on the personal dimension or on their own small projects must be encouraged to think through the larger social and political dimensions and preconditions of what they value most in their own lives and endeavors. Correspondingly, those who overemphasize political programs and grand designs must be encouraged to understand the dialectical relationship between the transformation of subjectivity, the emergence of small primary groups and communities, and the possibilities for largescale social transformation. Such limited perspectives certainly exist in anarchism today, but it must also be recognized that much is being achieved in the ongoing project of pursuing many-sided personal and social liberation.

When Bookchin observes the diverse efforts of primarily young anarchists to create liberatory social alternatives, he dismisses their endeavors as entirely worthless: “all claims to autonomy notwithstanding, this middle-class ‘rebel,’ with or without a brick in hand, is entirely captive to the subterranean market forces that occupy all the allegedly ‘free’ terrains of modern social life, from food cooperatives to rural communes.” In Bookchin’s dogmatic assessment, such activists are not merely influenced by the dominant system but are entirely captive to it. Projects such as cooperatives and intentional communities do not merely sometimes go wrong, but “all” such projects are “occupied” by capitalist forces. Any freedom supposedly attained there is not real but merely “alleged.” This is Bookchin’s version of Margaret Thatcher’s “TINA” (There is No Alternative). For anarchists and left libertarians there is simply no alternative to his strategy of libertarian municipalism. We are to believe that this is so obvious that no real analysis of the empirical evidence of experiences in cooperatives, intentional communities, collectives, or affinity groups is necessary.

On Consensus as Disguised Egoism

An area in which Bookchin’s attacks on the contemporary anarchist movement is particularly harsh is its commitment to consensus decision-making. Bookchin has long been very hostile to this procedure, which he has attacked as a form of tyranny of the minority and a barrier to creating a viable movement for social change. In his view, consensus exaggerates the importance of personal self-actualization and group transformation at the expense of political effectiveness, and is a misguided assault on democracy itself.

In his arguments against consensus, Bookchin often assumes invalidly that it is incompatible with any acceptance of democratic decision-making. He also often concludes falsely that its advocates are extreme individualists and elitists. This is true of his attack on Susan Brown for her arguments for consensus and against the inherent right of the majority to make decisions, and more specifically for her agreement with Marshall that according to anarchist principles “the majority has no more right to dictate to the minority, even a minority of one, than the minority to the majority.”[37] Most anarchists who affirm this principle and advocate consensus as the ideal also recognize the need to use decentralized direct democracy to make decisions on some levels of organization, about certain matters, and in certain situations. What they reject is any absolute, inherent, or unconditional right of the majority to make decisions for the group. This position is based on a recognition of the fallibility of majorities and of the dangers of social pressure and conformist impulses. It is also an acknowledgment that majority rule is at best a necessary evil, and that even if it is accepted in some cases, it is always better to find more libertarian, voluntaristic means before resorting to less libertarian, more coercive ones.

Whether or not they have labeled the enforcement of the will of the majority as a form of “dictating,” anarchists have always been concerned about the inevitable possibility that majority decisions might conflict with deeply held values of some group members. Most have stressed the importance of recognizing and indeed nurturing what Godwin called “the right of private judgment.” This is why the anarchist tradition (contra Bookchin) has placed so much emphasis on the right of secession. For most anarchists, this is also not an absolute, inherent or unconditional right. Nevertheless, anarchist groups and communities often try to build into their structures provisions for dissenting members to opt out of particular policies and activities to which they have strong principled objections. As voluntary associations, and unlike states, they accord members who wish to end their association the greatest practically possible opportunity to disassociate without penalty. For similar reasons, anarchist groups and communities seek the greatest possible consensus decision-making (or when truly possible, consensual cooperation without formal decision-making) before resorting to majoritarian democracy.

In Bookchin’s view, the advocate of consensus, by “denigrating rational, discursive, and direct-democratic procedures for collective decision-making as ‘dictating’ and ‘ruling’ awards a minority of one sovereign ego the right to abort the decision of a majority.” There are a series of false assumptions in this short statement. It is simply not true that support for consensus implies that one opts for irrationality. Both consensus and majority-rule are rational decision-making processes that can be debated coherently. On the other hand, the failure to recognize that the imposition of the will of a majority on a minority (whether justified or not) is a form of “ruling” indicates either confusion or bad faith. Furthermore, Bookchin fails to grasp the fact that even if one supports the institution of democratic decision-making,one can still uphold the principle that one must ultimately follow one’s own conscience and in some cases disobey the majority. Such recognition of the need to follow ones conscience does not imply an appeal to some “sovereign ego.” Far from appealing to egoism, advocates of consensus usually base it on respect for persons and the belief that consensus leads to more cooperative relationships and a more authentic and developed expression of the group’s judgment and values. In the real world, an anarchist who finds it necessary to reject the will of the majority is much more likely to base that rejection on the good of the community than on the sovereignty of the ego.

Bookchin also argues that consensus decision-making “precludes ongoing dissensus — the all-important process of continual dialogue, disagreement, challenge, and counterchallenge, without which social as well as individual creativity would be impossible”; however, in reality there is nothing inherent in consensus that must preclude these things, and there is something inherent in it that encourages them. If consensus is to be reached by finding an alternative that is acceptable to all, it will sometimes be necessary to continue dialogue when it might have been cut off by majority vote. Furthermore, the fact that a consensus decision is reached in no way implies that differences in outlook will completely disappear from that point on, or that differences of opinion will be less likely to occur. Indeed, there is some reason to think that the respect for diversity inherent in consensus processes will in fact encourage and reinforce such multiplicity.

Bookchin’s strong defense of majority rule as the privileged mode of decision-making and his dismissal of other possible processes reflect the fact that he is much less concerned than many anarchist theorists about the dangers of social pressure and conformist mechanisms within groups. His fear that people might decline into a “herd,” a peril that he incongruously associates with individualism, seems to dissolve when he turns his attention to an institution like the municipal assembly.[38] The anarchist commitment to seeking consensus is on the other hand based on a realistic recognition that conformism, instrumentalist thinking, and power-seeking behavior are everpresent dangers in all decision-making bodies.

Finally, Bookchin claims that consensus decision-making inevitably fails. “If anything,” he remarks, “functioning on the basis of consensus assures that important decision-making will be either manipulated by a minority or collapse completely.” This conclusion amounts to no more than a hasty generalization based on very little evidence concerning groups actually using it (for example, Bookchin’s personal recollections of the Clamshell Alliance almost twenty years earlier). If one wishes to assess accurately the practice of the contemporary anarchist movement, it is necessary to look at empirical studies and careful documentation of this practice.

The Role of Affinity Groups and Primary Communities

Bookchin’s attack on contemporary anarchist practice is based in large part on a basic assumption about the nature of society. He contends that it is the municipality that is “the living cell which forms the basic unit of political life . . . from which everything else must emerge: confederation, interdependence, citizenship, and freedom.”[39] He also claims that “like it or not” the city is “the most immediate environment which we encounter and with which we are obliged to deal, beyond the sphere of family and friends, in order to satisfy our needs as social beings.”[40] In reality, however, there is no one privileged “basic unit of political life,” and to seek one results in a very nondialectical reduction of the political problematic. Furthermore, there are in fact many overlapping natural and social environments “with which we are obliged to deal,” all of which are mediated in many ways. The city or municipality is neither the “most immediate” social environment nor “the living cell” on which all else depends.

A dialectical approach recognizes that deeply transformative social change must take place at many levels simultaneously. I would argue that this implies economic alternatives such as worker cooperatives, consumer cooperatives, labor-exchange systems, land trusts, cooperative housing, and other noncapitalist initiatives — in short, an emerging solidarity economy. It implies neighborhood and local radical, direct actionist political organization (including a movement for strong town and neighborhood assemblies) that helps generate a radical democratic grassroots politics. It implies the creation of cooperative, democratic media, including strong dissident and community-based radio, television and print media. It implies the creation of local institutions such as bookstores, cafes and community centers for the nurturing of liberatory art, music, poetry, theater, and other forms of cultural expression. It implies the flourishing of cooperative households, small intentional communities and affinity groups. None of these activities should be dismissed a priori as forms of self-indulgence or as tangential or contradictory to some single privileged political strategy.

It is in fact in many of these areas that a large part of grassroots anarchist activism is taking place today. While Bookchin bases his stereotypes of contemporary anarchism at best on impressionistic observations, others have engaged in careful research on the movement and its practice. Political scientist Francis Dupuis-Déri has studied affinity groups and other forms of anarchist organization during many years of experience as a participant observer in the global justice movement.[41] Dupuis-Déri shows that one reason why the global justice movement has grown rapidly is that it has created “in the shadow of the black flag” (as he phrases it) a strong radical political culture, a growing system of counterinstitutions in which this culture is expressed, and small group structures in which members can begin to transform their own relationships in accord with the ideals of the movement. Members have initiated a spectrum of projects fitting into many of the forms of liberatory social expression just mentioned. According to the News from Nowhere group, these diverse activities “form a self-organized matrix dedicated to the construction of alternative social relationships.”[42]

Central to the development of this “matrix” is the most basic self-organization on the molecular level, in the form of the affinity groups that are perhaps the most distinctive aspect of the movement. The affinity group as a specific organizational form had its origin in the Spanish anarchist movement; however, it is part of a long tradition that includes various small religious communities (especially those of radical and dissident sects), numerous experiments in small intentional communities, and the political “circles” of the nineteenth century. The affinity group structure was revived in the antinuclear movement of the 1960s and 70s. It has played a part in other recent social movements including feminism, gay liberation, and the ecology movement, and has achieved its greatest recent flourishing in the global justice movement. In the nineteenth century, Reclus stressed the centrality of such small groups to the process of liberatory social transformation. Dupuis-Déri cites anarchist writer and pedagogue Sébastien Faure’s statement that affinity is “the only principle that is in keeping with the spirit of anarchism, since it threatens neither the aspirations, the character, nor the freedom of anyone,”[43] and adds that the affinity group might thus serve as the basic unit of an anarchist organization or society.[44]

According to Dupuis-Déri the affinity group structure has been adopted widely in current anarchist and anarchist-influenced movements in the form of “an autonomous activist unit created by between five and twenty people on the basis of a common affinity with the goal of carrying out political actions together.” Such groups have their basis in “friendship” (amitié) which implies “reciprocity and common interests, indeed common activities that friends engage in and which maintain and reinforce the bond of friendship.”[45] The members “decide among themselves the criteria for inclusion in or exclusion from their group” and its “creation and functioning” is “to a large degree determined by ties of friendship.”[46] Each group is “autonomous” in the sense that it is not under the direction of any larger organization, but is rather directed according to the interests and commitments of the members. Members of the group “share a similar sensibility regarding their choice of causes to defend and promote, targets to prioritize, type of actions to carry out and the manner of doing so, the degree of risk they are willing to take, etc.”[47] Observers note that there is typically a pervasive ethos of egalitarianism, antihierarchy, participation, and commitment to the good of the group. Dupuis-Déri stresses the fact that the highly participatory nature of the affinity group makes possible a much higher level of political reflection and deliberation than is typical of the hierarchical and putatively representative institutions that most associate with democracy.[48]

Whereas Bookchin attacks consensus as hyperindividualist and ineffectual, Dupuis-Déri shows that real-world affinity groups have explored consensus as a means of achieving both group solidarity and practical efficacy. According to his interviews, group members “feel that the primary affinitive or amical bond at the heart of their group more or less naturally implies a desire and will to seek consensus.”[49] In his view, consensus is a purely anarchist form of decision-making, while majority rule compromises anarchist principles. “Anarchy is distinct from (direct) democracy in that decisions are made collectively by consensus in anarchy and by majority vote in democracy.”[50] The widespread anarchist option for consensus is based on both principle and practicality. “Stories and personal accounts concerning affinity groups show that the participants generally prefer anarchy to direct democracy, both for moral reasons (democracy is perceived as synonymous with majority tyranny) and political ones (consensus promotes greater group cohesiveness, a spontaneous division of labor, and a feeling of security).”[51]

While Bookchin charges that current affinity group practice and consensus processes encourage self-absorption and quietism, Dupuis- Déri’s research shows that affinity groups and other forms of microsocial organization have served to expand the public sphere and create a forum for participatory deliberation. He observes that “small-scale political communities — a squat, an activist group, a crowd of demonstrators, and an affinity group — provide political spaces where decisionmaking processes can be egalitarian and can function by means of deliberative assemblies, in which a meeting room, an auditorium, or even a street occupied by demonstrators may serve as the agora.”[52] The import of Dupuis-Déri’s findings is that the contemporary anarchist movement has been engaged in an important experiment in the libertarian tradition of communal individuality. It is an endeavor to unite a politics of direct action, inspired by a sense of social justice and solidarity, with a practice of participatory, egalitarian community based on love and respect for each person.

It must be conceded that to this point most affinity groups in the global justice movement have not been based on “affinity” in its strongest sense, since they are formed by participants who usually had no personal ties prior to joining together for a particular protest or political action. Nevertheless, many groups have been formed by activists who converged for a specific political action and then discovered that they had a deeper basis for affinity in common values and sensibilities. In addition, some groups have grown out of years of common political work and existing longterm personal relationships. Some groups remain together only for the duration of a particular action or project, but others become permanent associations in which the members consciously plan their collective futures. Dupuis-Déri notes that despite these differences in level of affinity and ongoing commitment to the group, the members of most groups accept the further development of affinity as a goal to pursue within the group and recognize that the group functions more effectively to the degree that it is attained.[53]

A crucial issue is whether affinity groups and other small communities of liberation can spread throughout all levels of society, moving beyond their present marginality without losing their radicality. Can they expand their scope, so that while they may remain in part a manifestation of oppositional youth culture, they will also become a more generalized expression of the striving for a new just, ecological society? Can they successfully incorporate a diversity of age groups, ethnicities and class backgrounds? It is not possible to investigate these issues here, but research on small primary communities (including affinity groups, base communities, small intentional communities and cooperatives) provides evidence that they have the potential to play a significant liberatory role in society today.[54]

The extent to which this potential will be realized remains to be seen; however, it is clear that the contemporary anarchist movement has already made important contributions to this developing experiment in communal individuality. I have focused here on anarchist participation in the global justice movement; however, my close observation of the recovery effort over the past two years since Hurricane Katrina has led me to conclusions similar to those of Dupuis-Déri. Among the volunteers there have been many hundreds, and perhaps thousands, committed to or influenced by anarchism. I have met many of them and worked closely with some. Though most have qualities that Bookchin associates with the lifestyle anarchism that he vilifies, what has struck me most about them and moved me deeply is their commitment to solidarity and mutual aid and their love and respect for the people and communities they serve. The values and work of many anarchist volunteers is documented extensively in the thousands of documents in Francesco di Santis’s “Post-Katrina Portraits” project, which in part “celebrates those who came from afar in solidarity with the self-determination of [the gulf region’s] peoples.”[55] Bookchin’s thesis that there is an “unbridgeable chasm” between forms of anarchism that stress individuality and those that stress social solidarity is refuted by the history of both anarchist theory and anarchist practice. The bridge is crossed many times each day by those who practice the anarchist ideal of communal individuality in their everyday lives.


[1]^ Murray Bookchin, Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm (San Francisco and Edinburgh: AK Press, 1995). Subsequent quotes from this work will not be cited in the text. Citations here from that work can be found online in the Anarchy Archives at Citations of his other works will refer to the published print versions. I would like to express my appreciation to David Watson, Ronald Creagh, Spencer Sunshine, Peter Marshall, and Mark Lance for their very helpful suggestions, which improved this text considerably.

[2]^ Alan Ritter, Anarchism: A Theoretical Analysis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 3.

[3]^ This discussion will not cover Bookchin’s extensive claims in Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism concerning neoprimitivist and antitechnological tendencies in contemporary anarchism. These claims have been analyzed very carefully and refuted quite devastatingly in David Watson’s chapters “Dreams of Reason and Unbridgeable Chasms” and “Social Ecology and Its Discontents” in Beyond Bookchin: Preface to a Future Social Ecology (Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia: 1996), 189-248.

[4]^ In fact, one weakness of some anarchist theories, and certainly of Bookchin’s own thought, is the tendency to exaggerate the degree to which this tension could be largely dissolved if certain institutional changes were introduced.

[5]^ An excellent statement of Goldman’s position is found in her essay “The Individual, Society and the State,” in Alix Kates Shulman, ed., Red Emma Speaks: Selected Writings & Speeches by Emma Goldman (New York: Vintage Books, 1972), 86-106.

[6]^ See John P. Clark, The Philosophical Anarchism of William Godwin (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), 134-147.

[7]^ Michael Bakunin, “The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State” at

[8]^ John Clark and Camille Martin, ed. and trans., Anarchy, Geography, Modernity: The Radical Social Thought of Elisée Reclus (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2004), 50.

[9]^ ibid., 53 — 54.

[10]^ ibid., 158-159.

[11]^ Peter Kropotkin, “Anarchism: Its Philosophy and ldeal” at

[12]^ Peter Kropotkin, “Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles” at

[13]^ Quoted in Robert Graham, ed., Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Volume 1: From Anarchy to Anarchism (300CE-1939) (Montréal: Black Rose Books, 2005), 125.

[14]^ Quoted, for example, in the Anarchist FAQ at

[15]^ Oeuvres (Paris: Stock, 1895), I: 313. My translation. This is from his vast, mostly unpublished text, The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution, in the section called “God and the State.” This text should not be confused with another one that was somewhat confusingly published as a book under the same title.

[16]^ ibid., 313-314.

[17]^ ibid., 314.

[18]^ Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible (London: HarperCollins, 1992), 36.

[19]^ ibid.

[20]^ The standard history of American individualist anarchism is James J. Martin’s Men Against the State (DeKalb, IL: Adrian Allen Associates, 1953; Colorado Springs, CO: Ralph Myles Publisher, 1970).

[21]^ ibid., 226-227.

[22]^ Personal correspondence. Creagh’s Histoire de l’anarchisme aux États-Unis (Grenoble: La Pensée sauvage, 1981) is based on his exhaustive 1164-page dissertation on American anarchism in the nineteenth century, L’anarchisme aux États-Unis (Paris: Didier Erudition, 1986).


[24]^ See Allan Antliff, Anarchist Modernism: Art, Politics, and the First American Avant-Garde (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), and Anarchy and Art: From the Paris Commune to the Fall of the Berlin Wall (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2007).

[25]^ See Ronald Creagh, Laboratoires de L’Utopie: Les Communautés Libertaires Aux Etats-Unis (Paris: Payot, 1983), especially Ch. VIII, “Au-delà de l’Imaginaire,” pp. 183-197.

[26]^ Bob Black makes a similar case in his critique of Bookchin in Anarchy After Leftism (Columbia, MO: C.A.L. Press, 1997), 46-49.

[27]^ George Woodcock, Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements (New York: World Publishing Co., 1962), 309.

[28]^ ibid, 310. Bookchin may have gotten the idea that propaganda of the deed is linked to individualism in part from Woodcock, who incorrectly describes it as “carrying individualism to a Stirnerite extreme.” (p. 307) However, Woodcock himself contradicts this diagnosis by saying that the terrorists acted on behalf of “justice, ” (which is anathema from a Stirnerite perspective) and he quotes statements of their own that show a commitment to social anarchism. Tuchman adds to the confusion by stating that Ravachol was “almost” an “ego anarchist” but “not quite,” in view of his “streak of genuine pity and fellow-feeing for the oppressed.” Barbara W. Tuchman, “Anarchism in France,” in Irving L. Horowitz, The Anarchists (New York : Dell Publishing Co., 1964), 446.

[29]^ Woodcock, Anarchism, p. 311.

[30]^ Quoted in Marshall, Demanding the Impossible, p. 438.

[31]^ Peter Marshall, personal correspondence.

[32]^ There is some ambiguity in Bookchin’s argument here. At some points, as here, he claims that the decline of social anarchism is followed by the rise of individualist or lifestyle anarchism; however, at other times he argues that individualist or lifestyle anarchism is dangerous because it contributes to the decline of social anarchism, which would mean that the rise of the former would precede rather than follow the decline of the latter.

[33]^ For a meticulously detailed and quite fascinating study of an immigrant anarchist community, including discussion of the effects of assimilation, see Tom Goyens, Beer and Revolution: The German Anarchist Movement in New York City, 1880-1914 (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2006).

[34]^ Bookchin goes to great lengths lamenting the pernicious influence of postmodern thinkers on contemporary anarchism, and above all that of Nietzsche. For reasons of space, the details of his serious misunderstanding of Nietzsche will not be discussed here. Nietzsche’s significance for anarchism is explored at length in John Moore with Spencer Sunshine, eds., I Am Not A Man, I Am Dynamite: Friedrich Nietzsche and the Anarchist Tradition (Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia, 2004) and outlined in Spencer Sunshine, “Nietzsche and the Anarchists” in Fifth Estate 367 (Winter 2004-05), 36-37. Bookchin’s obliviousness to the nature of postmodernist thought is indicated by his belief that it has an “aversion to theory.” In fact, postmodernists are quite preoccupied with theory and especially what they typically refer to as “French Theory.”

[35]^ Bookchin once had a much more positive if deeply self-contradictory view of affinity groups. In Post-Scarcity Anarchism he says that they constituted a “new type of extended family,” they “allow for the greatest degree of intimacy,” and they are “intensely experimental and variegated in lifestyles [sic].” Nevertheless, he contends in the same work that if they succeed in their revolutionary goals they will “finally disappear into the organic social forms created by the revolution.” [“A Note on Affinity Groups” in Post-Scarcity Anarchism, 221-222.] He does not explain how “the greatest degree of intimacy” can be attained in the various social forms he proposes for the future, specifically “factory committees,” “workers’ assemblies,” “the neighborhood assembly,” and “neighborhood committees, councils and boards.” The idea of replacing one’s extended family with a factory committee seems a bit disquieting. [“The Forms of Freedom” in Post-Scarcity Anarchism, p. 168.]

[36]^ Clark and Martin, Anarchy, Geography, Modernity, 168.

[37]^ Susan Brown, The Politics of Individualism (Montréal: Black Rose Books, 1993), 140.

[38]^ It is impossible to analyze this complex issue in detail here; however, I find that both Bookchin and Biehl seriously neglect problems with majority rule in their most detailed discussions of the program of libertarian municipalism, for example Bookchin’s “From Here to There,” in Remaking Society (Montréal: Black Rose Books, 1989), 159-204, and Biehl’s, The Politics of Social Ecology: Libertarian Municipalism (Montréal: Black Rose Books, 1999). Their typical modus operandi in such discussions is to gloss rather quickly over the problems with majoritarianism, to hastily dismiss opposing views as unworkable, and to invoke a future civic ethos as the ultimate solution to all problems. Thus, in “From Here to There,” Bookchin expresses his hopes that the citizens of the libertarian municipality will, like the ancient Greeks, “learn civic responsibility, to reason out one’s views with scrupulous care, to confront opposing arguments with clarity, and, hopefully, to advance tested principles that exhibited high ethical standards.” (179) Biehl explains vaguely that the “paideia” that Bookchin depends on will be created “in the course of democratic political participation,” “in the very process of decision-making,” and in “the school of politics.” (89) Not only is their version of “communal individuality” rather limited, the expectation that liberatory self-transformation can be effected overwhelmingly by one (currently nonexistent) institution seems wildly unrealistic. In short, there is far too much “there” and not nearly enough “here” in their analysis. For an extensive discussion of problems in Bookchin’s Libertarian Municipalism, see my essay “Municipal Dreams: A Social Ecological Critique of Bookchin’s Politics” in Andrew Light, ed., Social Ecology After Bookchin (New York: Guilford Publications, 1998), 137-190.

[39]^ Murray Bookchin, The Rise of Urbanization and the Decline of Citizenship (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1987), 282.

[40]^ Murray Bookchin, Remaking Society (Montréal: Black Rose Books, 1989), 183.

[41]^ Some of Dupuis-Déri’s extensive research is found in Les Black Blocs: La liberté et l’égalité se manifestent (Lyon: Atelier de Création Libertaire, 2005).

[42]^ Notes From Nowhere, ed., We Are Everywhere: The Irresistible Rise of Global Anticapitalism (London and New York: Verso, 2003).

[43]^ Francis Dupuis-Déri, “L’altermondialisation à l’ombre du drapeau noir: L’anarchie en héritage” in Eric Agrikoliansky, Olivier Fillieule, and Nonna Mayer, eds., L’altermondialisme en France: La longue histoire d’une nouvelle cause (Paris, Flammarion, 2005). My translation.

[44]^ ibid.

[45]^ Francis Dupuis-Déri, “Manifestations altermondialisation et ‘groupes d’affinité’: Anarchisme et psychologie des foules rationnelles.” Presented at a conference on “Les mobilisations altermondialistes,” December 3-5, 2003, available at, p. 3. My translation.

[46]^ ibid.

[47]^ ibid.

[48]^ For a detailed discussion of participatory deliberation (including the use of consensus) in affinity groups and in direct action movements, see Dupuis-Déri’s “Global protesters versus global elites,” forthcoming in New Political Science.

[49]^ Dupuis-Déri, “L’altermondialisation.”

[50]^ ibid.

[51]^ Dupuis-Déri, “Manifestations,” 6. The idea expressed here that democracy is necessarily a form of tyranny is an example of the hyperbole used by some advocates of consensus, and is in a way the mirror image of Bookchin’s view that consensus is never more than “the tyranny of structurelessness.”

[52]^ Dupuis-Déri, “L’altermondialisation.”

[53]^ Dupuis-Déri, “Manifestations,” 5-6.

[54]^ I discuss at some length the potential for small communities of liberation in “The Microecology of Community” in Capitalism Nature Socialism 60 (2004), 169-179, and “The Problem of Political Culture,” in Capitalism Nature Socialism 57 (2004), 103-108.

[55]^ Over a thirteen-month period di Santis drew several thousand portraits on which survivors and volunteers recorded their personal stories. Hundreds can be found online at and many are collected in a beautifully produced volume entitled The Post-Katrina Portraits, Written & Narrated by Hundreds, Drawn by Francesco di Santis. The work of volunteers, including many anarchists, is also documented extensively in many recent films, including Danish director Rasmus Holm’s Welcome to New Orleans, which can be found at and Farrah Hoffmire’s Falling Together in New Orleans: A Series of Vignettes, available at

August 5, 2010 Posted by | anti-kapitalizm, anti-otoriter / anarşizan, ekolojist akımlar | 1 Comment

Municipal Dreams: Social Ecological Critique of Bookchin’s Politics – John Clark

In the following discussion, Murray Bookchin’s libertarian municipalist politics is analyzed from the perspective of social ecology. This analysis forms part of a much larger critique, in which I attempt to distinguish between social ecology as an evolving dialectical, holistic philosophy, and the increasingly rigid, non-dialectical, dogmatic version of that philosophy promulgated by Bookchin. An authentic social ecology is inspired by a vision of human communities achieving their fulfillment as an integral part of the larger, self-realizing earth community. Eco-communitarian politics, which I would counterpose to Bookchin’s libertarian municipalism, is the project of realizing such a vision in social practice. If social ecology is an attempt to understand the dialectical movement of society within the context of the larger dialectic of society and nature, eco-communitarianism is the project of creating a way of life consonant with that understanding. Setting out from this philosophical and practical perspective, I argue that Bookchin’s politics is not only riddled with theoretical inconsistencies, but also lacks the historical grounding that would make it a reliable guide for an ecological and communitarian practice. [1]

One of my main contentions in this critique is that because of its ideological and dogmatic aspects, Bookchin’s politics remains, to use Hegelian terms, in the sphere of morality rather than reaching the level of the ethical. That its moralism can be compelling I would be the last to deny, since I was strongly influenced by it for a number of years. Nevertheless, it is a form of abstract idealism, and tends to divert the energies of its adherents into an ideological sectarianism, and away from an active and intelligent engagement with the complex, irreducible dimensions of history, culture and psyche. The strongly voluntarist dimension of Bookchin’s political thought should not be surprising. When a politics lacks historical and cultural grounding, and the real stubbornly resists the demands of ideological dogma, the will becomes the final resort. In this respect, Bookchin’s politics is firmly in the tradition of Bakuninist anarchism.

Democracy, Ecology and Community

The idea of replacing the state with a system of local political institutions has a long history in anarchist thought. As early as the 1790’s, William Godwin proposed that government should be reduced essentially to a system of local juries and assemblies, which would perform all the functions that could not be carried out voluntarily or enforced informally through public opinion and social pressure. [2] A century later, Elisée Reclus presented an extensive history of the forms of popular direct democracy, from the Athenian polis to modern times, and proposed that their principles be embodied in a revolutionary system of communal self-rule. [3] Today, the most uncompromising advocate of this tradition of radical democracy is Murray Bookchin, who has launched an extensive and often inspiring defense of local direct democracy in his theory of libertarian municipalism. [4] Bookchin’s ideas have contributed significantly to the growing revival of interest in communitarian democracy. For many years, he was one of the few thinkers to carry on the tradition of serious theoretical exploration of the possibilities for decentralized, participatory democracy. Perhaps the only comparable recent work has been political theorist Benjamin Barber’s defense of “strong democracy.” While Barber offers a highly detailed presentation of his position, and often argues for it persuasively, he undercuts the radicality of his proposals by accepting much of the apparatus of the nation-state. [5] Thus, no one in contemporary political theory has presented a more sustained and uncompromising case for the desirability of radical “grassroots” democracy than has Bookchin. Furthermore, he has been one of the two contemporary theorists of his generation (along with Cornelius Castoriadis) to raise the most important philosophical issues concerning radical democracy. [6] This critique recognizes the importance of Bookchin’s contribution to ecological, communitarian democratic theory and investigates the issues that must be resolved if the liberatory potential in certain aspects of his thought are to be freed from the constraints of sectarian dogma.

One of the strongest points in Bookchin’s politics is his attempt to ground it in ethics and the philosophy of nature. In viewing politics fundamentally as a sphere of ethics his political theory carries on the Aristotelian tradition. Aristotle saw the pursuit of the good of the polis, the political community, as a branch of ethics, the pursuit of the human good as a whole. He called this ultimate goal for human beings eudaimonia, which is often translated as “the good life.” Bookchin expands this concept of the larger good even further to encompass the natural world. Beginning with his early work, he has argued that the development of a political ethics implies “a moral community, not simply an `efficient’ one,” “an ecological community, not simply a contractual one,” “a social praxis that enhances diversity,” and “a political culture that invites the widest possible participation.” (1968)[7]

For Bookchin, politics is an integral part of the process of evolutionary unfolding and self-realization spanning the natural and social history of this planet. Social ecology looks at this history as a developmental process aiming at greater richness, diversity, complexity, and rationality. The political, Bookchin says, must be understood in the context of humanity’s place as “nature rendered self-conscious.” [8] The goal of politics from this perspective is the creation of a free, ecological society, in which human beings achieve self-realization through participation in a creative, non-dominating human community, and in which planetary self-realization is furthered through humanity’s achievement of a balanced, harmonious place within the larger ecological community of the earth. A fundamental political task is thus the destruction of those forms of domination which hinder the attainment of greater freedom and self-realization, and the creation of new social forms that are most conducive to these ends.

This describes “politics” in the larger, classical sense of a political ethics, but leaves open the question of which “politics” in the narrower sense of determinate social practice best serves such a political vision. While Bookchin has always emphasized the importance of such political precedents as the Athenian polis and the Parisian sections of the French Revolution, it was not always clear what specific politics was supposed to follow from this inspiration. Often he expressed considerable enthusiasm for a variety of approaches to political, economic and cultural change. In “The Forms of Freedom” (1968) he envisions a radically transformative communalism rapidly creating an alternative to centralized, hierarchical, urbanized industrial society. In terms reminiscent of the great utopian Gustav Landauer, he suggests that “we can envision young people renewing social life just as they renew the human species. Leaving the city, they begin to found the nuclear ecological communities to which older people repair in increasing numbers,” as “the modern city begins to shrivel, to contract and to disappear.” [9] The almost apocalyptic and millenarian aspects of Bookchin’s views in this period reflect not only the spirit of the American counterculture at that time, but also his strong identification with the utopian tradition.

Several years later, in “Spontaneity and Organization,” he sees the “development of a revolutionary movement” as depending on “the seeding of America” with affinity groups, communes and collectives. His ideas are still heavily influenced by the 1960’s counterculture (which his own early works in turn theoretically influenced), and he lists as the salient points of such entities that they be “highly experimental, innovative, and oriented toward changes in life-style as well as consciousness.” [10] They were also to be capable of “dissolving into the revolutionary institutions” that were to be created in the social revolution that he believed at the time to be a real historical possibility. [11] Indeed, he could write in 1971 that “this is a revolutionary epoch” in which “a year or even a few months can yield changes in popular consciousness and mood that would normally take decades to achieve.” [12]

Revolution in America (1969-1997)

Statements like this one express Bookchin’s deep faith in revolutionary politics, a faith which, while far from being spiritual, is certainly “religious” in the conventional sense of the term. Like religious faith, it shows great resilience in the face of embarrassing evidence from the merely temporal realm. One of the most enduring aspects of Bookchin’s thought is his hope for apocalyptic revolutionary transformation, and his quest to create a body of ideas that will inspire a vast revolutionary movement and lead the People into their great revolutionary future. His exaggerated assessment of the revolutionary potential of American society a quarter-century ago is not an isolated aberration in his thought. It prefigures many later analyses, including his recent discovery of supposedly powerful historical tendencies in the direction of his libertarian municipalism.

Bookchin himself points to his article “Revolution in America” for evidence of his astuteness concerning historical trends in the earlier period. [13] A careful examination of that text indicates instead a disturbing ideological tendency in his thought. In that article, published in February 1969 under the pseudonym “Robert Keller,” Bookchin wisely denies that there was at that time a “revolutionary situation” in the United States, in the sense of an “immediate prospect of a revolutionary challenge to the established order.” [14] However, he contends, as he reiterates several years later, that we have entered into a “revolutionary epoch.” His depiction of this epoch betrays the unfortunate theoretical superficiality that was endemic to the 1960’s counterculture, and shows a complete blindness to the ways in which the trends that he embraced so uncritically were products of late capitalist society itself. Furthermore, it hearkens back in the anarchist tradition to Bakuninism, with its idealization of the marginalised strata, its voluntarist overemphasis on the power of revolutionary will, and its Manichaen view of the future.

According to Bookchin “the period in which we live closely resembles the revolutionary Enlightenment that swept through France in the eighteenth century — a period that completely reworked French consciousness and prepared the conditions for the Great Revolution of 1789.” [15] Interestingly, what he sees as spreading through America society in a seemingly inexorable manner is a questioning of “the very existence of hierarchical power as such,” a “rejection of the commodity system,” and a “rejection of the American city and modern urbanism.” [16] He finds symptoms of these trends in the fact that “the society, in effect, becomes disorderly, undisciplined, Dionysian” and that “a vast critique of the system” is expressed for example in “an angry gesture, a `riot’ or a conscious change in life patterns,” all of which he interprets as “defiant propaganda of the deed.” [17] He praises various social groups for their contribution to the “new Enlightenment,” including, “most recently, hippies.” [18]

However, what is most interesting for those interested in Bookchin’s anarchism are his Bakuninesque statements concerning the transformative virtues of spontaneous violence. He claims that “the `rioter’ and the “Provo’ have begun to break, however partially and intuitively, with those deep-seated norms of behavior which traditionally weld the masses to the established order,” and that “the truth is that `riots’ and crowd actions represent the first gropings of the mass toward individuation.” [19] Elsewhere, he praises the “superb mobile tactics” used in a demonstration in New York, calls for “the successful intensification of these street tactics,” and stresses the need for these tactics to “migrate” to other major cities. [20] Overall, he takes a rather mechanistic view of the “revolutionary” movement that he sees developing. According to his diagnosis, the problem is that “an increasing number of molecules” (as the result of what he calls the “seeping down” of the “vast critique” mentioned earlier) “have been greatly accelerated beyond the movement of the vast majority.” [21] Switching rapidly from physical to biological imagery, he concludes that the challenge is for radicalized groups to “extend their own rate of social metabolism to the country at large.” [22]

Certain tendencies that have always impeded Bookchin’s development of a truly communitarian outlook are already evident in his conclusions on the place of “consciousness’ in this process. “What consciousness must furnish above all things is an extraordinary flexibility of tactics, a mobilization of methods and demands that make exacting use of the opportunities at hand.” [23] In this analysis, Bookchin expresses a Bakuninism (or anarcho-Leninism) that has been a continuing undercurrent in his thought, and which has recently come to the surface in his programmatic municipalism. His conception of consciousness at the service of ideology stands at the opposite pole from an authentically communitarian view of social transformation, which sees more elaborated, richly-developed conceptions of social and ecological interrelatedness (not in the sense of mere abstract “Oneness,” but rather as concrete unity-in-diversity) as the primary challenge for consciousness as reflection on social practice.

“Revolution in America” illustrates very well Bookchin’s enduring tendency to interpret phenomena too much in relation to his own political hopes, and too little in relation to specific cultural and historical developments. In this case, he fails to consider the possibility that the erosion of traditional character structures and the delegitimation of traditional institutions could be “in the last instance” the result of the transition from productionist (“early,” “classical”) capitalism to consumptionist (“late,” “post-modern”) capitalism. For Bookchin, “what underpins every social conflict in the United States, today, is the demand for the self-realization of all human potentialities in a fully rounded, balanced, totalitistic way of life.” [24] He asserts that “we are witnessing” nothing less than “a pulverization of all bourgeois institutions,” and contends that the “present bourgeois order” has nothing to substitute for these institutions but “bureaucratic manipulation and state capitalism.” [25] Amazingly, there is no mention of the enormous potential for manipulation of the public through mass media and commodity consumption — presumably because the increasingly enlightened populace was in the process of rejecting both.

Bookchin concludes with the Manichean pronouncement that the only alternatives at this momentous point in history are the realization of “the boldest concepts of utopia” through revolution or “a disastrous [sic] form of fascism.” [26] This theme of “utopia or oblivion” continued into the 70’s and beyond with his slogan “anarchism or annihilation” and the enduring message that eco-anarchism is the only alternative to ecological catastrophe. The theme takes on a new incarnation in his recent “Theses on Municipalism,” which he ends with the threat that if humanity turns a deaf ear to his own political analysis (social ecology’s “task of preserving and extending the great tradition from which it has emerged”) then “history as the rational development of humanity’s potentialities for freedom and consciousness will indeed reach its definitive end.” [27] While Bookchin is certainly right in saying that we are at a crucial turning-point in human and earth history, he has never demonstrated through careful analysis that all types of reformism (and indeed all other alternatives to his own politics) inevitably end in either fascism or global ecological catastrophe. His claims are reminiscent of those of Bakunin, who spent years writing a long work, one of whose major, yet quite unsubstantiated, theses was that Europe’s only options were military dictatorship or his own version of anarchist social revolution. [28]

Bookchin claims to be shocked (indeed, “astonished”) by such criticism of the Bakuninist aspects of his work. What amazes him is that “a self-proclaimed anarchist would apparently deny a basic fact of historical revolutions, that both during and after those revolutions people undergo very rapid transformations in character.” [29] However, while anarchism as a romanticist ideology of revolution might uncritically accept the inevitability of such transformations, anarchism as a critique of domination will retain a healthy skepticism concerning claims of rapid changes in character structure among masses of people.

It is important to take a much more critical approach than does Bookchin toward accounts of the history of revolutions. Revolutionaries have tended to idealize revolutions and explain away their defects, while reactionaries have tended to demonize them and explain away their achievements. For example, anarchists have had a propensity to emphasize accounts of the Spanish Revolution by anarchists and sympathizers, and to ignore questions raised about extravagant claims of miraculous transformations. It is seldom mentioned, as Fraser’s interviews in Blood of Spain reveal, that there were anarchists who believed that if the anarchists had won the war, they would have needed another revolution to depose the anarchist militants who were dominating the collectives. [30] Considering the problems of culture and character-structure that existed, this second revolution might have really meant a long process of self-conscious personal and communal evolution. While ideological apologists always contend that revolutionary movements are betrayed by renegades, traitors and scoundrels, a critical analysis would also consider the limitations and, indeed, the contradictions inherent in any given form of revolutionary process itself. [31]

Furthermore, it is necessary to point out that there is an important anarchist tradition that has stressed the fact that the process of “transformation in character” is one that can only progress slowly, and that what some, like Bakunin and Bookchin, would attribute to the alchemy of revolution is really the fruit of long and patient processes of social creativity. This is the import of Elisée Reclus’ reflections on the relationship between “evolution and revolution,” and even more directly, of Gustav Landauer’s view that “the state is a relationship” that can only be undone through the creation of other kinds of non-dominating relationships developed through shared communitarian practice. To overlook the continuity of development and to count on vast changes in human character during “the revolution” (or even through participation in institutions like municipal assemblies) leads to unrealistic expectations, underestimation of limitations, and ideological distortions and idealizations of revolutionary periods.

Finally, it should be noted that Bookchin misses the main point of the criticism of Bakunin’s and his own revolutionism. Beyond their idealization of revolutions themselves, both exhibit a tendency to idealize revolutionary movements (and even potentially revolutionary movements and tendencies) so that these phenomena are seen as implicitly and unconsciously embodying the ideology of the anarchist theorist who interprets them (as exemplified by Bookchin’s “Revolution in America,” his more recent observations on an emerging “dual power,” [32] and by almost everything Bakunin wrote about contemporary popular movements in Europe.) Not only revolutions, but these social movements are depicted as producing very rapid changes in consciousness and character that are in reality possible only through gradual organic processes of growth and development. Furthermore, the movements are attributed an inner “directionality” leading them to exactly the position the revolutionary theorist happens to hold, whatever the actual state of the social being and consciousness of the participants may be. Thus, Bookchin conclusion that my analysis “raises serious questions about [Clark’s] own acceptance of the possibility of revolutionary change as such.” [33] is correct. Indeed, I question his or any uncritical revolutionism that abstractly, idealistically, and voluntaristically conceives of “revolutionary changes” as existing “as such” (an sich) and overlooks the many historical, cultural, and psychological mediations that are necessary for them to exist as self-realized, consciously developed social practices (für sich)

Bookchin is much more convincing when he puts aside his revolutionary fantasies and focuses instead on a comprehensive, many-dimensional program of social creation. His vision of an organically-developing libertarian ecological culture has inspired many, and has made an important contribution to the movement for social and ecological regeneration. In “Toward a Vision of the Urban Future,” for example, he looks hopefully to a variety of popular initiatives in contemporary urban society. He mentions block committees, tenants associations, “ad hoc committees,” neighborhood councils, housing cooperatives, “sweat equity” programs, cooperative day care, educational projects, food co-ops, squatting and building occupations, and alternative technology experiments as making contributions of varying importance to the achievement of “municipal liberty.” [34]

While Bookchin has always combined such proposals with an emphasis on the importance of the “commune” or municipality in the process of social transformation, the programs now associated with his program of libertarian municipalism have taken precedence, while other approaches to change have received increasingly less attention. The municipality becomes the central political reality, and municipal assembly government becomes the preeminent expression of democratic politics.

Citizenship and Self-Identity

Bookchin contends that the “nuclear unit” of a new politics must be the citizen, “a term that embodies the classical ideals of philia, autonomy, rationality, and above all, civic commitment.” [35] He rightly argues that the revival of such an ideal would certainly be a vast political advance over a society dominated by self-images based on consumption and passive participation in mass society. [36] To think of oneself as a citizen contradicts the dominant representations of the self as egoistic calculator, as profit-maximizer, as competitor for scarce resources, or as narcissistic consumer of products, images, experiences, and even other persons. It replaces narrow self-interest and egoism with a sense of ethical responsibility toward one’s neighbors, and an identification with a larger whole — the political community. Furthermore, it reintroduces the idea of moral agency on the political level, through the concept that one can in cooperation with others create social embodiments of the good. In short, Bookchin’s concept challenges the ethics and moral psychology of economistic, capitalist society and presents an edifying image of a higher ideal of selfhood and community.

Yet this image has serious limitations. To begin with, it seems unwise to define any single role as such a “nuclear unit,” or to see any as the privileged form of self-identity, for there are many important self-images with profound political implications. A notable example is that of personhood. While civic virtue requires diverse obligations to one’s fellow-citizens, respect, love and compassion are feelings appropriately directed at all persons. If (as Bookchin has himself at times agreed) we should accept the principle that “the personal is political,” we must explore the political dimension of personhood and its universal recognition. [37]

Furthermore, the political significance of our role as members of the earth community can hardly be overemphasized. We might also conceive of this role as an expression of a kind of citizenship — if we think of ourselves not only as citizens of a town, city or neighborhood, but also as citizens of our ecosystem, of our bioregion, of our georegion, and of the earth itself. In doing so, we look upon ourselves as citizens in the quite reasonable sense of being responsible members of a community. Interestingly, Bookchin believes that acceptance of such a concept of citizenship implies that various animals, including insects, and even inanimate objects, including rocks, must be recognized as citizens. [38] This exhibits his increasingly rigid, unimaginative and quite non-dialectical approach to the life of concepts. Just as we can act as moral agents in relation to other beings that are not agents, we can exercise duties of citizenship in relation to other beings who are not citizens. [39] Furthermore, Bookchin himself uses the term “ecocommunities” to refer to what others call ecosystems. By his own standards of rationalist literalism, one might well ask him how human beings could achieve “communal” or “communitarian” relationships with birds and insects — or, more tellingly, how the bird or insect might be expected relate “communally” to (for example) Murray Bookchin.

Bookchin’s personal preferences concerning linguistic usage notwithstanding, in the real world the term “citizen” does not have the connotations that he absolutizes. The fact is that it indicates membership in a nation-state and subdivisions of nation-states, including states that are in no way authentically democratic or participatory. While Bookchin may invoke the linguistic authority of famous deceased radicals,[40] the vast majority of actually living people (who are expected to be the participants in the libertarian municipalist system) conceive of citizenship primarily in relation to the state, and not the municipality. The creation of a shared conception of citizenship in Bookchin’s sense is a project that must be judged in relation to the actually-existing fund of meanings and the possibilities for social creation in a given culture. [41] The creation of a conception of citizenship in the earth community is no less a project, and one that has a liberatory potential that can only be assessed through cultural creativity, historical practice, and critical reflection on the result. [42]

Bookchin seems never to have gleaned from his readings of Hegel the distinction between an abstract and a concrete universal. While superficially invoking Hegel, he overlooks the philosopher’s dialectical insight that any concept that is not developed through conceptual and historical articulation remains “vacuous.” Much of the present critique of Bookchin’s libertarian municipalism is a conceptual and historical analysis that draws out the implications and contradictions in his position, contradictions that are disguised through rhetorical devices, avoidance of difficult issues, and bombastic but irrelevant replies to criticism. [43] In short, his concepts often lack articulation. But just as often he seems to lack the ability to distinguish between what is and is not articulated. He does not realize that, in themselves, concepts like “citizen of a municipality” and “citizen of the earth,” are both “vacuous” and “empty” — that is, they are mere abstractions. Their abstractness cannot be negated merely by appealing to historical usage or to one’s hopes for an improved usage in the future. They can be given more theoretical content by an exploration of their place in the history of ideas and in social history, by engaging in a conceptual analysis, and by reflecting on their possible relationship to other emerging theoretical and social possibilities. Yet they remain abstractions, albeit more fully-articulated ones. They gain concrete content, on the other hand, through their embodiment in the practice of a community — in its institutions, its ethos, its symbols and images.

Bookchin apparently confuses this historical concreteness with relatedness to concrete historical phenomena of the past. When he finds certain political forms of the past to be inspiring, they take on for him a certain numinous quality. Various models of citizenship become historically relevant today not because of their relation to real historical possibilities (including real possibilities existing in the social imaginary realm), but because they present an image of what our epoch assuredly ought to be. It is for this reason that he thinks that certain historical usages of the term “citizen” can dictate proper usage of the term today.

Of course, Bookchin is at the same time aware that the citizenship that he advocates is not a living reality, but only a proposed ideal. Thus, he notes that “today, the concept of citizenship has already undergone serious erosion through the reduction of citizens to `constituents’ of statist jurisdictions or to `taxpayers’ who sustain statist institutions.” [44] Since he thinks above all of American society in formulating this generalization, one might ask when there was a Golden Age in American history when the populace were considered “citizens” in Bookchin’s strong sense of “a self-managing and competent agent in democratically shaping a polity.” [45] What has been “eroded” is presumably not the unrealized goals of the Democratic-Republican Societies, and other similar phenomena outside the mainstream of American political history. This remarkable form of “erosion” (a phenomenon possible only in the realm of ideological geology) has taken place between discontinuous historical models selected by Bookchin and the actually-existing institutions of contemporary society.

In addition to defending his concept of citizenship as the “true” meaning of the term, he also contends that its realization in society is a prerequisite for the creation of a widespread concern for the general good. He argues that “we would expect that the special interests that divide people today into workers, professionals, managers, and the like would be melded into a general interest in which people see themselves as citizens guided strictly by the needs of their community and region rather than by personal proclivities and vocational concerns.” [46] Yet this very formulation preserves the idea of particularistic interest, i.e., that defined by whatever fulfills the needs of one’s own particular “community and region” — needs which could (and in the real world certainly would) conflict with the needs of other communities and regions. There will always no doubt be communities that have an abundance of certain natural goods, all of which might fulfill real needs of the community, but some of which would fulfill even greater needs of other communities entirely lacking these goods or having special conditions that render their needs more pressing.

Of course, one might say that in the best of all possible libertarian municipalisms, the citizens would see their highest or deepest need as contributing to the greatest good for all — “all” meaning humanity and the entire planet. Bookchin does in fact recognize that such a larger commitment must exist in his ideal system. But he does not recognize that its existence implies a broadened horizon of citizenship: that each person will see a fundamental dimension of his or her political being (or citizenship) as membership in the human community and, indeed, in the entire earth community.

There is a strong tension in Bookchin’s thought between his desire for universalism and his commitment to particularism. Such a tension is inherent in any ecological politics that is committed to unity-in-diversity and which seeks to theorize the complex dialectic between whole and part. But for Bookchin this creative tension rigidifies into contradiction as a result of his territorializing of the political realm at the level of the particular municipal community. In an important sense, Bookchin’s “citizenship” is a regression from the universality of membership in the working class, whatever serious limitations that concept may have had. While one’s privileged being qua worker consisted in membership in a universal class, one’s being qua citizen (for Bookchin) consists of being a member of a particular group — the class of citizens of a given municipality.

Bookchin will, however, hear none of this questioning of the boundaries of citizenship. From his perspective, the concept of citizen “becomes vacuous” and is “stripped of its rich historical content” [47] when the limits of the concept’s privileged usage are transgressed. Yet he is floundering in the waters of abstract universalism, since he is not referring to any historically-actualized content, but merely to his idealized view of what the content ought to be. Citizenship is not developed (richly or otherwise) through some concept of “citizen” that Bookchin or any other theorist constructs. Nor can it be “developed” through a series of historical instances that have no continuity in concrete, lived cultural history. It becomes “richly developed” when concept and historical precedent are give meaning through their relationship to the life of a particular community — local, regional, or global. Bookchin, like anyone concerned with the transformation of society, is faced with a cultural repertoire of meanings that must be recognized as an interpretative background, from which all projects of cultural creativity must set out to recreate meaning. We cannot recreate that background, or any part of it (for example, the social conception of “citizenship”) in our own image, or in the images of our hopes and dreams. Yet our ability to realize some of our hopes and dreams will depend in large part on our sensitivity to that background, and our capacity to find in it possibilities for extensions and transformations of meaning.

The “Agent of History”

Bookchin asks at one point the identity of the “historical `agent’ for sweeping social change.” [48] In a sense, he has already answered this question in his discussion of the centrality of citizenship. However, his specific response focuses on the social whole constituted by the entire body of citizens : “the People.” Bookchin has described this emerging “People,” as a “’counterculture’ in the broadest sense,” and stipulated that it might include “alternative organizations, technologies, periodicals, food cooperatives, health and women’s centers, schools, even barter-markets, not to speak of local and regional coalitions.” [49] While this concept is obviously shaped and in some ways limited by the image of the American counterculture of the 1960’s, it reflects a broad conception of cultural creativity as as the precondition for liberatory social change. This is its great strength. It points to a variety of community-oriented initiatives that develop the potential for social cooperation and grassroots organization.

But just as problems arise from privileging a particular self-image, so do they stem from the privileging of any unique “historical agent,” given the impossibility of analytical or scientific knowledge of the processes of social creativity. It is likely that such agency will always be exercised in many spheres and at many overlapping levels of social being. It is conceivable that in some sense “the person” will be such a historical agent, while in another “the earth community” will be. In addition, as will be discussed further, alternatives deemphasized in his view of what contributes to forming such agency (such as democratic worker cooperatives) may have much greater liberatory potential than those stressed by Bookchin. From a dialectical holistic viewpoint, it is obvious that there will always be a relative unity of agency and also a relative diversity, so that agency can never have any simple location. While political rhetoric may require a reifying emphasis on one or the other moments of the whole, political thought must recognize and theorize the complexity of the phenomena. Bookchin’s concept is a seriously flawed attempt to capture this social unity-in-diversity.

The idea of “the People” as the preeminent historical agent is central to Bookchin’s critique of the traditional leftist choice of the working class (or certain other economic strata) for that role. Bookchin, along with other anarchists, was far ahead of most Marxists and other socialists in breaking with this economistic conception of social transformation. Indeed, post-modern Marxists and other au courant leftists now sound very much like Bookchin of thirty years ago, when they go through the litany of oppressed groups and victims of domination who are now looked upon as the preeminent agents of change. Bookchin can justly claim that his concept is superior to many of these current theories, in that his idea of “the People” maintains a degree of unity within the diversity, while leftist victimology has often degenerated into incoherent, divisive “identity politics.”

But perhaps Bookchin, and, ironically, even some contemporary socialists go too far in deemphasizing the role of economic class analysis. Bookchin notes that while “the People” was “an illusory concept” in the 18th century, it is now a reality in view of various “transclass issues like ecology, feminism, and a sense of civic responsibility to neighborhoods and communities.” [50] He is of course right in stressing the general, transclass nature of such concerns. But it seems clear that these issues are both class and transclass issues, since they have a general character, but also a quite specific meaning in relation to economic class, not to mention gender, ethnicity and other considerations. The growing concern for environmental justice and the critique of environmental racism have made this increasingly apparent. Without addressing the class (along with ethnic, gender and cultural) dimensions of an issue, a radical movement will fail to understand the question in concrete detail, and will lose its ability both to communicate effectively with those intimately involved in the issue, and more importantly, to learn from them. The fact is that Bookchin’s social analysis has had almost nothing to say about the evolution of class in either American or global society. Indeed, Bookchin seems to have naively equated the obsolescence of the classical concept of the working class with the obsolescence of class analysis.

While “the People” are identified by Bookchin as the emerging subject of history and agent of social transformation, he also identifies a specific group within this large category that will be essential to its successful formation. Thus, in the strongest sense of agency, the “’agent’ of revolutionary change” will be a “radical intelligentsia,” which, according to Bookchin, has always been necessary “to catalyze” such change. [51] The nature of such an intelligentsia is not entirely clear, except that it would include theoretically sophisticated activists who would lead a libertarian municipalist movement. Presumably, as has been historically the case, it would also include people in a variety of cultural and intellectual fields who would help spread revolutionary ideas.

Bookchin is certainly right in emphasizing the need within a movement for social transformation for a sizable segment of people with developed political commitments and theoretical grounding. However, most of the literature of libertarian municipalism, which emphasizes social critique and political programs very heavily, has seemed thus far to be directed almost exclusively at such a group. Furthermore, it has assumed that the major precondition for effective social action is knowledge of and commitment to Bookchin’s theoretical position. This ideological focus, which reflects Bookchin’s theoretical and organizational approach to social change, will inevitably hinder the development of a broadly-based social ecology movement, to the extent that this development requires a diverse intellectual milieu linking it to a larger public. Particularly as Bookchin has become increasingly suspicious of the imagination, the psychological dimension, and any form of “spirituality,” and as he has narrowed his conception of reason, he has created a version of social ecology that is likely to appeal to only a small number of highly-politicized intellectuals. Despite the commitment of social ecology to unity-in-diversity, his approach to social change increasingly emphasizes ideological unity over diversity of forms of expression. If the “radical intelligentsia” within the movement for radical democracy is to include a significant number of poets and creative writers, artists, musicians, and thoughtful people working in various professional and technical fields, a more expansive vision of the socially-transformative practice is necessary.

Furthermore, a heavy emphasis on the role of a radical intelligentsia — even in the larger sense just mentioned — threatens to overshadow the crucial importance of cultural creativity by non-intellectuals. This includes those who create small cultural institutions, cooperative social practices, and transformed relationships in personal and family life. The non-hierarchical principles of social ecology should lead one to pay careful attention to the subtle ways in which large numbers of people contribute to the shaping of social institutions, whether traditional or newly evolving ones. Bookchin himself recognizes the importance of such activity when he describes the emergence of a “counterculture” that consists of a variety of cooperative and communitarian groups and institutions, and thereby promotes the all-important “reemergence of `the People.” [52] Why the intelligentsia, and not this entire developing culture is given the title of “historical agent” is not clearly explained. One must suspect, however, that the answer lies in the fact that the majority of participants in such a culture would be unlikely to have a firm grounding in the principles of Bookchin’s philosophy. The true agents of history, from his point of view, will require precisely such an ideological foundation.

The Municipality as Ground of Social Being

The goal of the entire process of historical transformation is, of course, the libertarian municipality. Bookchin often describes the municipality as the fundamental political, and, indeed, the fundamental social reality. For example, he states that “conceived in more institutional terms, the municipality is the basis for a free society, the irreducible ground for individuality as well as society.” [53] Even more strikingly, he says that the municipality is “the living cell which forms the basic unit of political life . . . from which everything else must emerge: confederation, interdependence, citizenship, and freedom.” [54] This assertion of the centrality of the municipality is a response to the need for a liberatory political identity that can successfully replace the passive, disempowering identity of membership in the nation-state, and a moral identity that can successful replace the amoral identity of consumer. The municipality for Bookchin is the arena in which political ethics and the civic virtues that it requires can begin to germinate and ultimately achieve an abundant flowering in a rich municipal political culture. This vision of free community is in some ways a very inspiring one.

It is far from clear, however, why the municipality should be considered the fundamental social reality. Bookchin attributes to the municipality a role in social life that is in fact shared by a variety of institutions and spheres of existence. It is not only the dominant dualistic ideologies of modern societies, which presuppose a division between private and public life, that emphasize the realm of personal life as as central to social existence. Many anarchists and utopians take the most intimate personal sphere, whether identified with the affinity group, the familial group or the communal living group, as fundamental socially and politically. [55] And many critical social analyses, including the most radical ones (for example, Reich’s classic account of Fascism and Kovel’s recent analysis of capitalist society) show the importance of the dialectic between the personal dimension and a variety of institutional spheres in the shaping of the self and values, including political values. [56]

One might suspect that Bookchin is using descriptive language to express his own prescriptions about what ought to be most basic to our lives. However, he sometimes argues in ways that are clearly an attempt to base his political norms in existing social reality. In his argument for the priority of the municipality he claims that it is “the one domain outside of personal life that the individual must deal with on a very direct basis” and that the city is “the most immediate environment which we encounter and with which we are obliged to deal, beyond the sphere of family and friends, in order to satisfy our needs as social beings.” [57]

First of all, these statements really seem to be an argument for the priority of the family and, perhaps, the affinity group in social life, for the city is recognized as only the next most important sphere of life. But beyond this rather large problem, the analysis of the “immediacy” of the city seems to be a remarkably superficial and non-dialectical one. To begin with, it is not true that the individual deals in a somehow more “direct” way with the municipality than other institutions (even excluding family and friends). Millions of individuals in modern society deal more directly with the mass media, by way of their television sets, radios, newspapers and magazines, until they go to work and deal with bosses, co-workers and technologies, after which they return to the domestic hearth and further bombardment by the mass media. [58] The municipality remains a vague background to this more direct experience. Of course, the municipality is one context in which the more direct experience takes place. But there is also a series of larger contexts: a variety of political sub-divisions; various natural regions; the nation-state; the society; the earth. [59] There are few “needs as social beings” that are satisfied uniquely by “the municipality” in strong contradistinction to any other source of satisfaction.

Bookchin has eloquently made points similar to these in relation to the kind of “reification” of the “bourgeois city” that takes place in traditional city planning. “To treat the city as an autonomous entity, apart from the social conditions that produce it” is “to isolate and objectify a habitat that is itself contingent and formed by other factors. Behind the physical structure of the city lies the social community — its workaday life, values, culture, familial ties, class relations, and personal bonds.” [60] It is important to apply this same kind dialectical analysis to libertarian municipalism, and thereby to develop it even further (even as certain of its aspects are negated in the process). The city or municipality is a social whole consisting of constituent social wholes, interrelated with other social wholes, and forming a part of even larger social wholes. Add to this the natural wholes that are inseparable from the social ones, and then consider all the mutual determinations between all of these wholes and all of their various parts, and we begin to see the complexity of a dialectical social ecological analysis. Such an analysis allows us to give a coherent account of what it is that we encounter with various degrees of immediacy, and what it is with which we deal with various degrees of directness, in order to satisfy our needs to varying degrees. This dialectical complexity is precisely what Bookchin’s dogmatic social ecology seeks to explain away through its rigid and simplistic categories. [61]

The Social and the Political

Bookchin is at his weakest when he attempts to be the most philosophical. This is the case with one of his most ambitious theoretical undertakings: his articulation of the concept of “the political.” Much as Aristotle announced his momentous philosophical discovery of the Four Causes, Bookchin announces his Three Realms. He points out that he has “made careful but crucial distinctions between the three societal realms: the social, the political, and the state. [62] In his own eyes, this discovery has won him a place of distinction in the history of political theory, for the idea “that there could be a political arena independent of the state and the social . . . was to elude most radical thinkers . . . .” [63] For Bookchin, the social and statist realm cover almost everything that exists in present-day society. The statist sphere subsumes all the institutions and activities — the “statecraft,” as he likes to call it — through which the state operates. The social includes everything else in society, with the exception of “the political.” This final category encompasses activity in the “public sphere,” a realm that he identifies “with politics in the Hellenic sense of the term.” [64] By this, he means the proposed institutions of his own libertarian municipalist system, and, to varying degrees, its precursors — the diverse “forms of freedom” that have emerged at certain points in history. For those who have difficulty comprehending this “carefully distinguished” sphere, Bookchin points out that “ [i]n creating a new politics based of social ecology, we are concerned with what people do in this public or political sphere, not with what people do in their bedrooms, living rooms, or basements.” [65]

There is considerable unintentional irony in this statement. While Bookchin does not seem to grasp the implications of his argument, this means that, whatever we may hope for in the future, for the present we should not be concerned with what people do anywhere, since the political realm does not yet exist to any significant degree. Except in so far as it subsists in the ethereal realm of political ideas whose time has not yet come, the “political” now resides for Bookchin in his own tiny libertarian municipalist movement — though strictly speaking, even it cannot now constitute a “public sphere” considering how distant it is from any actual exercise of public power. Thus, the inevitable dialectical movement of Bookchin’s heroic defense of the political against all who would “denature it,” “dissolve it” into something else, etc., culminates in the effective abolition of the political as a meaningful category in existing society.

There is, however, another glaring contradiction in Bookchin’s account of the “social” and “political.” He hopes to make much of the fact (which he declares “even a modicum of a historical perspective” to demonstrate) that “it is precisely the municipality that most individuals must deal with directly, once they leave the social realm and enter the public sphere.” [66] But since what he calls “the public sphere” consists of his idealized “Hellenic politics,” it will be, to say the least, rather difficult for “most individuals” to find it in any actually-existing world in which they might become politically engaged. Instead, they find only the “social” and “statist” realms, into which almost all of the actually-existing municipality has already been dissolved, not by any mere theorist, as Bookchin seems to fear, but by the course of history itself. Thus, unless Bookchin is willing to find a “public sphere” in the existing statist institutions that dominate municipal politics, or somewhere in that vast realm of “the social,” there is simply no “public sphere,” for the vast majority of people to “enter.”

While such implications already show the absurdity of his position, his theoretical predicament is in fact much worse than this. For in claiming that the municipality is what most people “deal with directly,” he is condemned to define the municipality in terms of the social — precisely what he wishes most to avoid. Indeed, in a moment of theoretical lucidity he actually begins to refute his own position. “Doubtless the municipality is usually the place where even a great deal of social life is existentially lived — school, work, entertainment, and simple pleasures like walking, bicycling, and disporting themselves . . . .” [67] Bookchin might expand this list considerably, for almost anything that he could possibly invoke on behalf of the centrality of “the municipality” will fall in his sphere of the “social.” The actually-existing municipality will thus be shown to lie overwhelmingly in his “social” sphere, and his argument thus becomes a demonstration of the centrality of that realm. Moreover, what doesn’t fall into the “social” sphere must lie in the actually-existing “statist” rather than the non-existent “political” one. In fact, his form of (fallacious) argumentation could be used with equal brilliance to show that we indeed “deal most directly” with the state, since all the phenomena he lists as lying within a municipality are also located within some nation-state. Indeed, this anarchist’s argument works even more effectively as a defense of statism, since even when one walks, bicycles, “disports oneself,” etc., outside a municipality one almost inevitable finds oneself within a nation-state. [68] Bookchin shows some vague awareness that his premises do not lead in the direction of his conclusions. After he lists the various social dimensions of the municipality, and as the implications of his argument begin to dawn on him, he protests rather feebly that all this “does not efface its distinctiveness as a unique sphere of life.” [69] But that, of course, was not the point in dispute. It is perfectly consistent to accept the innocuous propositions that the municipality is “distinctive” and that it is “a unique sphere of life” while rejecting every one of Bookchin’s substantive claims about its relationship to human experience, the public sphere, and the “political.”

Bookchin’s entire project of dividing society into rigidly defined “spheres” belies his professed commitment to dialectical thought. One of the most basic dialectical concepts is that a thing always is what it is not and is not what it is. However, this is the sort of dialectical tenet that Bookchin never invokes, preferring a highly conservative conception in which the dialectician somehow “educes” from a phenomenon precisely what is inherent in it as a potentiality. [70] Were he an authentically dialectical thinker, rather than a dogmatic one, he would, as soon as he posits different spheres of society (or any reality), consider the ways in which each sphere might be conditioned by and dependent upon those from which it is distinguished. In this connection, even those post-structuralist theorists of difference whom he dismisses with such uncomprehending contempt are more dialectical than Bookchin is, since they at least take the term “differ” in an active sense that implies a kind of mutual determination. In this, they work from the insight of Saussurian linguistics that the meaning of any signifier is a function of the entire system of significations. Bookchin, on the other hand, adheres to a dogmatic, non-dialectical view that things simply are what they are, that they are different from what they are not, and that anyone who questions his rigid distinctions must be either a dangerous relativist or a fool.

Gunderson, in The Environmental Promise of Democratic Deliberation, suggests how a more dialectical approach might be taken to questions dealt with dogmatically by Bookchin. Gunderson discusses in considerable detail the significance of deliberation as a fundamental aspect of Athenian democracy, the most important historical paradigm for Bookchin’s libertarian municipalism. He notes that while the official institutions of democracy consisted of such explicitly “political” forms as the assembly, the courts, and the council, the “political” must also be seen to have existed outside these institutions, if the role of deliberation is properly understood. As Gunderson states it, “much of the deliberation that fueled their highly participatory democracy took place not in the Assembly, Council, or law courts, but in the agora, the public square adjacent to those places.” [71] The attempt to constrain the political within a narrow sphere through the magic of definition is doomed to failure, not only when one begins to think dialectically, but also as soon one carefully examines real, historical phenomena with all their mutual determinations. In the same way that Bookchin’s non-dialectical approach flaws his theoretical analysis, it dooms his politics to failure, since it systematically obscures the ways in which the possibilities for “political” transformation are dependent on the deeply political dimensions of spheres that he dismisses as merely “social.”

Bookchin also demonstrates his non-dialectical approach to the social and the political in his discussion of Aristotle’s politics and Greek history. He notes that “the two worlds of the social and political emerge, the latter from the former. Aristotle’s approach to the rise of the polis is emphatically developmental . . . . The polis is the culmination of a political whole from the growth of a social and biological part, a realm of the latent and the possible. Family and village do not disappear in Aristotle’s treatment of the subject, but they are encompassed by the fuller and more complete domain of the polis.” [72] But there are two moments in Aristotle’s thought here, and Bookchin tellingly sides with the non-dialectical one. To the extent that Aristotle maintains a sharp division between the social and the political, his thought reflects a hierarchical dualism rooted in the institutional structure of Athenian society. Since the household is founded on patriarchal authority and a slave economy, it cannot constitute a political realm, a sphere of free interaction between equals. This dualistic, hierarchical dimension of Aristotle is precisely what Bookchin invokes favorably.

There is, on the other hand, a more dialectical moment in Aristotle’s thought, which, though still conditioned by hierarchical ideology (as expressed in the concept of “the ruling part”) envisions the polis as the realization of the self, family and village. Aristotle says that the polis is “the completion of associations existing by nature,” and is “prior in the order of nature to the family and the individual” because “the whole is necessarily prior [in nature] to the part.” [73] Implicit in this concept is the inseparable nature of the social and the political. Later, more radically dialectical thought has developed this second moment. An authentically dialectical analysis recognizes that as the political dimension emerges within society, it does not separate itself off from the rest of the social world to embed itself in an exclusive sphere. Rather, as the social whole develops, there is a transformation and politicization of many aspects of what Bookchin calls “the social” (a process that may take a liberatory or an authoritarian, and even a totalitarian, direction). In Hegel’s interpretation of this process, for example, the state emerges as the full realization of society, yet it is also the means by which each aspect of society is transformed and achieves its fulfillment.

In a conception of the political that is less ideological than Hegel’s, but equally dialectical (if we take the political as the self-conscious self-determination of the community with its own good as the end), the emergence of the political in any sphere will be seen both to presuppose and also to imply its emergence in other spheres. For Bookchin, on the other hand, the political remains an autonomous realm, and other spheres of society can only be politicized by being literally absorbed into that realm (as in the municipalization of production). This non-dialectical approach to the political is central to Bookchin’s development of an abstract, idealist and dogmatic conception of social transformation.

Paideia and Civic Virtue

One of the more appealing aspects of Bookchin’s politics is his emphasis on the possibilities for self-realization through participation in political activity. His views are inspired by the Athenian polis, which “rested on the premise that its citizens could be entrusted with `power’ because they possessed the personal capacity to use power in a trustworthy fashion. The education of citizens into rule was therefore an education into personal competence, intelligence, moral probity, and social commitment.” [74] These are the kind of qualities, he believes, that must be created today in order for municipalism to operate successfully. We must therefore create a similar process of paideia in order to combine individual self-realization with the pursuit of the good of the community through the instilling of such civic virtues in each citizen.

But there are major difficulties for this conception of paideia. The processes of socialization are not now in the hands of those who would promote the programs of libertarian municipalism or anything vaguely related to it. Rather, they are dominated by the state, and, above all, by economic power and the economistic culture, which aim at training workers (employees and managers) to serve the existing system of production, and a mass of consumers for the dominant system of consumption. Municipalism proposes that a populace that has been so profoundly conditioned by these processes should become a “citizenry,” both committed to the process of self-rule and also fully competent to carry it out.

This is certainly a very admirable goal for the future. However, Bookchin’s formulations sometimes seem to presuppose that such a citizenry has already been formed and merely awaits the opportunity to take power. He states, for example, that “the municipalist conception of citizenship assumes” that “every citizen is regarded as competent to participate directly in the `affairs of state,’ indeed what is more important, encouraged to do so.” [75] But the success of the institutions proposed by Bookchin would seem to require much more than either an assumption of competence or the encouragement of participation in civic affairs. What is necessary is that the existing populace should be transformed into something like Bookchin’s “People” through a process of paideia that pervasively shapes all aspects of their lives — a formidable task that would itself constitute and also presuppose a considerable degree of social transformation.

To equate this paideia primarily with the institution of certain elements of libertarian municipalism hardly seems to be a very promising approach. Indeed, to the extent that aspects of its program are successfully implemented before the cultural and psychological preconditions have been developed, this may very well lead to failure and disillusionment. A program of libertarian municipalism that focuses primarily on decentralization of power to the local level might indeed have reactionary consequences within the context of the existing political culture of the United States and some other countries. One might imagine a “power to the people’s assemblies” that would result in harsh anti-immigrant regulations, extension of capital punishment, institution of corporal punishment, expanded restrictions on freedom of speech, imposition of religious practices, repressive enforcement of morality, and punitive measures against the poor, to cite some proposals that have widespread public support in perhaps a considerable majority of municipalities of the United States. It is no accident that localism has appealed much more to the right wing in the United States, than to the Left or the general population, and that reactionary localism is becoming both more extremist and more popular. The far right has worked diligently for decades at the grassroots level in many areas to create the cultural preconditions for local reactionary democracy.

Of course, Bookchin would quite reasonably prefer to see his popular assemblies established in more “progressive” locales, so that they could become a model for a new democratic, and indeed, a libertarian and populist, politics. But far-reaching success for such developments depends on a significant evolution of the larger political culture. To the extent that activists accept Bookchin’s standpoint of hostility toward, or at best, unenthusiastic acceptance of the very limited value of alternative approaches to social change, this will restrict the scope of the necessary paideia, impede the pervasive transformation of society, and undercut the possibilities for effective local democracy. [76]

The Municipalist Program

Libertarian municipalism has increasingly been presented not only as a theoretical analysis of the nature of radical democracy, but also as a programmatic movement for change. Indeed, Bookchin has proposed the program of libertarian municipalism as a basis for organization for the Green movement in North America. However, a serious problem in his political analysis is that it slips from the theoretical dimension to the realm of practical programs with little critical assessment of how realistic the latter may be. His discussions of a post-scarcity anarchist society seemed to refer to an ultimate ideal in a qualitatively different future (even if the coming revolution was sometimes suggested as a possible short-cut to that ideal). While the confederated free municipalities of libertarian municipalism sometimes also seem like a utopian ideal, municipalism has increasingly been presented as a strategy that is capable of creating and mobilizing activist movements in present-day towns and cities. Yet one must ask what the real possibilities for organizing groups and movements under that banner might be, given the present state of political culture, given the actual public to which appeals must be addressed, and not least of all, given the system of communication and information which must be confronted in any attempt to persuade. [77]

The relationship between immediate proposals and long-terms goals in libertarian municipalism is not always very clear. While Bookchin sees changes such as Burlington, Vermont’s neighborhood planning assemblies as an important advance, even though these assemblies do not have policy-making (or law-making) authority, he does not see certain rather far-reaching demands by the Green movement as being legitimate. He recognizes as significant political advances structural changes (like planning assemblies or municipally-run services) that move in the direction of municipal democracy or economic municipalization, electoral strategies for gaining political influence or control on behalf of the municipalist agenda, and, to some degree, alternative projects that are independent of the state. On the other hand, he seems to reject, either as irrelevant or as a dangerous form of cooptation, any political proposal for reform of the nation state, beyond the local (or sometimes, the state) level.

Bookchin criticizes harshly, as capitulation to the dominant system, all approaches that do not lead toward municipal direct democracy and municipal self-management. This critique of reformism questions the wisdom of active participation by municipalists, social ecologists, left Greens and anarchists in movements for social justice, peace, and other “progressive” causes when the specific goals of these movements are not linked to a comprehensive liberatory vision of social, economic, and political transformation (or, more accurately, to his own precisely correct vision). Bookchin often disparages such “movement” activity and urges activists to focus on working exclusively on behalf of the program of libertarian municipalism.

For example, he and Janet Biehl attack the Left Greens for their demand to “cut the Pentagon budget by 95 percent,” and their proposals for “a $10 per hour minimum wage,” “a thirty-hour work week with no loss of income,” and a “workers’ superfund.” [78] The supposed error in these proposals is that they do not eliminate the last 5% of the budget for so-called “defense” of the nation-state, and that they perpetuate economic control at the national level. Bookchin later dismisses the Left Greens’ proposals as “commonplace economic demands.” [79] Furthermore, he distinguishes between his own efforts “to enlarge the directly democratic possibilities that exist within the republican system” and the Left Greens’ “typical trade unionist and social democratic demands that are designed to render capitalism and the state more palatable.” [80] It is impossible, however, to deduce a priori the conclusion that every institution of procedures of direct democracy is a historically significant advance, while all efforts to influence national economic policy and to demilitarize the nation-state are inherently regressive, and the empirical evidence on such matters is far from conclusive. It is at least conceivable, for example, that improvement of conditions for the least privileged segments of society might lead them to become more politically engaged, and perhaps even make them more open to participation in grassroots democracy. In his sarcastic attacks on the Left Greens, we hear in Bookchin’s statements the voice of dogmatism and demagogy. [81]

There is, in fact, an inspiring history of struggles for limited goals that did not betray the more far-reaching visions, and indeed revolutionary impulses, of the participants. To take an example that should be meaningful to Bookchin, the anarchists who fought for the eight-hour work day did not give up their goal of the abolition of capitalism. [82] There is no reason why left Greens today cannot fight for a thirty-hour work week without giving up their vision of economic democracy. Indeed, it seems important that those who have utopian visions should also stand with ordinary people in their fights for justice and democracy — even when many of these people have not yet developed such visions, and have not yet learned how to articulate their hopes in theoretical terms. Unless this occurs, the prevailing dualistic split between reflection and action will continue to be reproduced in movements for social transformation, and the kind of “People” that libertarian municipalism presupposes will never become a reality. To reject all reform proposals at the level of the nation-state a priori reflects a lack of sensitivity to the issues that are meaningful to actual people now. Bookchin correctly cautions us against succumbing to a mere “politics of the possible.” However, a political purism that dogmatically rejects reforms that promise a meaningful improvement in the conditions of life for many people chooses to stand above the actual people in the name of “the People” (who despite their capitalization remain merely theoretical). [83]

Bookchin is no doubt correct in his view that groups like the Left Greens easily lose the utopian and transformative dimension of their outlook as they become focused on reform proposals that might immediately appeal to a wide public. It is true that a Left Green proposal to “democratize the United Nations” seems rather outlandish from the decentralist perspective of the Green movement. Yet it is inconsistent for Bookchin to dismiss all proposals for reform, merely because they “propose” something less than the immediate abolition of the nation-state. Libertarian municipalism itself advocates for the immediate present working for change within subdivisions of the nation-state, as municipalities (and states, including small ones like Vermont) most certainly are. Bookchin has himself made a cause célèbre of a campaign against the extension of Vermont’s gubernatorial term from two to four years. While this is a valid issue concerning democratic control, its implications for the possible transformation of state power cannot be compared to those of a serious debate on the need for the drastic reduction of military expenditures.

Social ecological politics requires a dialectical analysis of social phenomena, which implies a careful analysis of the political culture (in relation to its larger natural and social context) and an exploration of the possibilities inherent in it. The danger of programmatic tendencies, which are endemic to the traditional left and to all the heretical sectarianisms it has spawned, is that they rigidify our view of society, reinforce dogmatism, inflexibility and attachment to one’s ideas, limit our social imagination, and discourage the open, experimental spirit that is necessary for creative social change.

While libertarian municipalism is sometimes interpreted in a narrower, more sectarian way (as it appears especially in Bookchin’s polemics against other points of view), it can also be taken as a more general orientation toward radical grassroots democracy. Looked at in this broader sense, municipalism can make a significant contribution to the development of our vision of a free, cooperative community. Bookchin has sometimes presented a far-reaching list of proposals for developing more ecologically-responsible and democratic communities. These include the establishment of community credit unions, community supported agriculture, associations for local self-reliance, and community gardens. [84] Elsewhere he includes in the “minimal steps” for creating “Left Green municipalist movements” such activities as electing council members who support “assemblies and other popular institutions”; establishing “civic banks to fund municipal enterprises and land purchases”; and forming “grassroots networks” for various purposes. [85] In a discussion of how a municipalist movement might be initiated in the state of Vermont, he presents proposals that emphasize cooperatives and even small individually-owned businesses. [86] He suggests that the process could begin with the public purchase of unprofitable enterprises (which would then be managed by the workers), the establishment of land trusts, and the support for small-scale productive enterprises. This could be done, he notes, without infringing “on the proprietary rights of small retail outlets, service establishments, artisan shops, small farms, local manufacturing enterprises, and the like.” [87] He concludes that in such a system “cooperatives, farms, and small retail outlets would be fostered with municipal funds and placed under growing public control.” [88] He adds that a “People’s Bank” to finance the economic projects could be established, buying groups to support local farming could be established, and public land could be used for “domestic gardening.” [89]

These proposals present the outline of an admirable program for promoting a vibrant local economy based on cooperatives and small businesses. Yet it is exactly the “municipalist” element of such a program that might be less than practical for quite some time. It seems likely that for the present the members of cooperatives and the owners of small enterprises would have little enthusiasm for coming under “increasing public control,” if this means that the municipality (either through an assembly or local officials) increasingly takes over management decisions. Whatever might evolve eventually as a cooperative economy develops, a program for change in the real world must either have an appeal to an existing public, or must have a workable strategy for creating such a public. There is certainly considerable potential for broad support for “public control” in areas like environmental protection, health and safety measures, and greater economic justice for workers. However, the concept of “public control” of economic enterprises through management by neighborhood or municipal assemblies is, to use Bookchin’s terminology, a “nonsense demand,” since the preconditions for making it meaningful do not exist, and are not even addressed in Bookchin’s politics. [90]

The Fetishism of Assemblies

While Bookchin sees the municipality as the most important political realm, he identifies the municipal assembly as the privileged organ of democracy politics, and puts enormous emphasis on its place in both the creation and and functioning of free municipalities. “Popular assemblies,” he says, are the minds of a free society; the administrators of their policies are the hands.” [91] But unless this is taken as an attempt at poetry, it is in some ways a naive and undialectical view. The mind of society — its reason, passion, and imagination — is always widely dispersed throughout all social realms. And the more that this is the case, the better it is for the community. Not only is it not necessary that most creative thought take place in popular assemblies, it is inconceivable that most of it should occur there. In a community that encourages creative thinking and imagination, the “mind” of society would operate through the intelligent, engaged reflection of individuals, through a diverse, thriving network of small groups and local institutions in which these individuals would express and embody their hopes and ideals for the community, and through vibrant democratic media of communication in which citizens would exchange ideas and shape the values of the community. And though in an anarchist critique of existing bureaucracy, administrators might be depicted rhetorically as mindless, it does not seem desirable that in a free society they should be dismissed as necessarily possessing this quality. All complex systems of social organization will require some kind of administration, and will depend not only on the good will but also on the intelligence of those who carry out policies. It seems impossible to imagine any form of assembly government that could formulate such specific directives on complex matters that administrators would have no significant role in shaping policy. Bookchin tellingly lapses into edifying rhetoric and political sloganeering when he discusses the supremacy of the assembly in policy-making. Were he to begin to explore the details of how such a system might operate, he would immediately save others the trouble of deconstructing his system.

The de facto policy-making power of administrators might even be greater in Bookchin’s system than in others, in view of the fact that he does not propose any significant sphere for judicial institutions that might check administrative power. Unless we assume that society would become and remain quite simplified — an assumption that is inconsistent with Bookchin’s beliefs about technological development, for example — then it would be unrealistic to assume that all significant policy decisions could be made in an assembly, or even supervised directly by an assembly. A possible alternative would be a popular judiciary; however, the judicial realm remains almost a complete void in Bookchin’s political theory, despite fleeting references to popular courts in classical Athens and other historical cases. One democratic procedure that could perform judicial functions would be popular juries (as proposed by Godwin two centuries ago) or citizens’ committees (as recently suggested by Burnheim)[92] that could oversee administrative decision-making. However, Bookchin’s almost exclusive emphasis on the assembly — what we might call his “ecclesiocentrism” — precludes such possibilities.

Bookchin responds to these suggestions concerning popular juries and citizens’ committees with what he thinks to be the devastating allegation that what I “am really calling for here” are “courts and councils, or bluntly speaking, systems of representation.” [93] While it is far from clear that a “council” is inherently undesirable under all historical circumstances, what I discuss in the passage he attacks is citizens’ committees, not councils. [94] What I “call for” is not some specific political form, but rather a consideration of various promising political forms whose potential can only be determined through practice and experimentation. Moreover, Bookchin’s comments show ignorance of the nature of the proposals of Godwin and Burnheim that are cited, and unwillingness to investigate them before beginning his attack. Neither proposes a system of “representation.” One of the appealing aspects of the jury or committee proposals is that since membership on juries or committees is through random selection (not election of “representatives”), all citizens have an equal opportunity to exercise decision-making power. Some of the possible corrupting influences of large assemblies (encouragement of egoistic competition, undue influence by power-seeking personalities, etc.) are much less likely to appear in this context. Furthermore, such committees and juries offer a way of avoiding the need for representation, since they are a democratic means of performing necessary functions that cannot possibly be carried out at the assembly level. As will be discussed, Bookchin’s municipalism does not successfully address the question of how “confederal” actions can be carried out without representation, and proponents of decentralized democracy would therefore be wise to consider various means by which the necessity for representation might be minimized in a less than utopian world.

In discussing his conception of “participatory democracy,” Bookchin notes the roots of the concept in the politics of the New Left and the counterculture of the 1960’s. One implication of democracy in this context was that “people were expected to be transparent in all their relationships and the ideas they held.” [95] He laments the fact that these democratic impulses were betrayed by a movement toward dogmatism, centralization and institutionalization. Yet, the concept of transparency, like that of “the unmediated,” requires critical analysis. Bookchin might have achieved a more critical approach to such concepts had he applied a dialectical analysis to them. Unfortunately, the naive expectation that people merely “be” transparent may become a substitute for the more difficult and time-consuming but ultimately rewarding processes of self-reflection and self-understanding on the personal and group levels. Values like “transparency” and “immediacy” often inhibit understanding of group processes, and function as an ideology that disguises implicit power-relationships and subtle forms of manipulation, which are often quite opaque, highly mediated and resistant to superficial analysis.

It is important that such disguised power-relations should not find legitimacy through the ideology of an egalitarian, democratic assembly, in which “the People” act in an “unmediated” fashion, and in which their will is “transparent.” The fact is that in assemblies of hundreds, thousands or even potentially tens of thousands of members (if we are to take the Athenian polis as a model), there is an enormous potential for manipulation and power-seeking behavior. If it is true that power corrupts, as anarchists more than anyone else have stressed, then anarchists cannot look with complacency on the power that comes from being the center of attention of a large assembly, from success in debate before such an assembly, and from the quest for victory for one’s cause. To minimize these dangers, it is necessary to avoid idealizing assemblies, to analyze carefully their strengths and weaknesses, and to experiment with processes that can bring them closer to the highest deals that inspire them. In addition, there is the option of rejecting Bookchin’s proposal that all political power be concentrated in the assembly, and separating it instead among various participatory institutions.

Whatever the strengths and weaknesses assemblies may have as an organizational form, we must ask whether it is even possible for sovereign municipal assemblies to be viable as the fundamental form of political decision-making in the real world. Bookchin concedes that local assemblies might have to be less than “municipal” in scope. He recognizes that given the size of existing municipalities there will be a need for more decentralized decision-making bodies. He suggests that “whether a municipality can be administered by all its citizens in a single assembly or has to be subdivided into several confederally related assemblies depends much on its size” and proposes that the assembly might be constituted on a block, neighborhood or town level. [96] Since contemporary municipalities in much of the world range in population up to tens of millions, and neighborhoods themselves up to hundreds of thousands, the aptness of the term “municipalism” for a form of direct democracy should perhaps be questioned. [97] It would seem that in highly urbanized societies it would be much more feasible to establish democratic assemblies at the level of the neighborhood or even smaller units than at the municipal level, as Bookchin himself concedes.

The problem of defining neighborhood communities often poses difficulties. Bookchin claims that New York City, for example, consists of neighborhoods that are “organic communities.” [98] It is true that there exists a significant degree of identification with neighborhoods that can contribute to the creation of neighborhood democracy. Yet to describe the neighborhoods of New York or other contemporary cities as “organic communities” is a vast overstatement, and one wonders if Bookchin is referring more to his idealized view of the past than to present realities. Contemporary cities (including New York) have been thoroughly transformed according to the exigencies of the modern bureaucratic, consumerist society, with all the atomization and privatization that this implies. Natives of metropolitan centers such as Paris complain that traditional neighborhoods have been completely destroyed by commercialization, land speculation, and displacement of the less affluent to the suburbs. In the United States, much of traditional urban neighborhood life has been undermined by social atomization, institutionalized, structural racism, and the migration of capital and economic support away from the center. Bookchin correctly cites my own community of New Orleans as an example of a city that has a strong tradition of culturally distinct neighborhoods that have endured with strong identities until recent times. [99] But it is also a good example of the culturally corrosive effects of contemporary society, which progressively transforms local culture into a commodity for advertising, real estate speculation and tourism, while it destroys it as a lived reality. Thus, the neighborhood “organic community” is much more an imaginary construct (that is often entangled with nostalgic feelings and reflects class and ethnic antagonisms) than an existing state of affairs. It is essential to see these limitations in the concept, and then to develop its imaginary possibilities as part of a liberatory process of social regeneration.

However we might conceptualize existing urban neighborhoods, the large size of assemblies to be constituted at that level raises questions about how democratic such bodies could be. In Barber’s discussion of these assemblies, he suggests that their membership would range from five to twenty-five thousand. [100] Bookchin says that they might encompass units from a single block up to dozens of blocks in an urban area, and thus might sometimes reach a similar level of membership. It is difficult to imagine the city block of present-day urban society as the fundamental political unit (though visionary proposals for a radically-transformed future have made a good case for recreating it as a small eco-community). Yet, libertarian municipalism is almost always formulated in terms of municipal and neighborhood assemblies. Therefore, in practical terms it is proposing very large assemblies for the foreseeable future in highly populated, urbanized societies.

Bookchin’s discussion is curiously (and rather suspiciously) vague on the topic of the scope of decision-making by assemblies. He does make it clear that he believes that all important policy decisions can and should be made in the assembly, even in the case of emergencies. He confidently assures us that, “given modern logistical conditions, there can be no emergency so great that assemblies cannot be rapidly convened to make important policy decisions by a majority vote and the appropriate boards convened to execute these decisions — irrespective of a community’s size or the complexity of its problems. Experts will always be available to offer their solutions, hopefully competing ones that will foster discussion, to the more specialized problems a community may face.” [101] But this mere affirmation of faith is hardly convincing. In a densely populated, technologically complex, intricately interrelated world, every community will face problems that can hardly be dealt with on an ad hoc basis by large assemblies.

It seems rather remarkable that Bookchin never explores the basic theoretical question of whether any formal system of local law should exist, and how policy decisions of assemblies should be interpreted and applied to particular cases. Yet his discrete silence is perhaps wise, since his position would seem to collapse were he to give any clear answer to this question. If general rules and policy decisions (i.e., laws) are adopted by an assembly, then they must be applied to particular cases and articulated programatically by judicial and administrative agencies. It is then inevitable that these agencies will have some share in political power. But this alternative is inconsistent with his many affirmations of the supremacy of the assembly. On the other hand, if no general rules are adopted, then the assembly will have the impossibly complex task of applying rules to all disputed cases and formulating all important details of programs. We are left with a purgatorial vision of hapless citizens condemned to listening endlessly to “hopefully competing” experts on every imaginable area of municipal administration. Given these two unpromising alternatives, Bookchin seems, at least implicitly, to choose the impossible over the inconsistent.

There are certain well-known dangers of large assemblies that pose additional threats to Bookchin’s neighborhood or municipal assemblies. Among the problems that often emerge in such bodies are competitiveness, egotism, theatrics, demagogy, charismatic leadership, factionalism, aggressiveness, obsession with procedural details, domination of discussion by manipulative minorities, and passivity of the majority. While growth of the democratic spirit might reduce some of these dangers, they might also be aggravated by the size of the assembly, which would be many times larger than most traditional legislative bodies. In addition, the gap in political sophistication between individuals in local assemblies will no doubt be much greater than in bodies composed of traditional political elites. Finally, the assembly would lose one important advantage of representation. Elected representatives or delegates can be chastised for betraying the people when they seem to act contrary to the will or interest of the community. On the other hand, those who emerge as leaders of a democratic assembly, and those who take power by default if most do not participate actively in managing the affairs of society, can be accused of no such dereliction, since they are acting as equal members of a popular democratic body. [102]

To say the least, an extensive process of self-education in democratic group processes would be necessary before large numbers of people would be able to work together cooperatively in large meetings. And even if some of the serious problems mentioned are mitigated, it is difficult to imagine how they could be reduced to insignificance in assemblies with thousands of participants, as are sometimes proposed, at least until wider processes of personal and social transformation has radically changed the members’ characters and sensibilities. Indeed, the term “face-to-face democracy” that Bookchin often uses in reference to these assemblies seems rather bizarre when applied to these thousands of faces (assuming that most of them face up to their civic responsibilities and attend).

An authentically democratic movement will recognize the considerable potential for elitism and power-seeking within assemblies. It will deal with this threat not only through procedures within assemblies, but above all by creating a communitarian, democratic culture that will express itself in decision-making bodies and in all other institutions. For the assembly and other organs of direct democracy to contribute effectively to an ecological community, they must be purged of the competitive, agonistic, masculinist aspects that has often corrupted them. They can only fulfill their democratic promise if they are an integral expression of a cooperative community that embodies in its institutions the love of humanity and nature. Barber makes exactly this point when he states that strong democracy “attempts to balance adversary politics by nourishing the mutualistic art of listening,” and going beyond mere toleration, seeks “common rhetoric evocative of a common democratic discourse should “encompass the affective as well as the cognitive mode.” [103] Such concerns echo recent contributions in feminist ethics, which have pointed out that the dominant moral and political discourse have exhibited a one-sided emphasis on ideas and principles, and neglected the realm of feeling and sensibility. In this spirit, we must explore the ways in which the transition from formal to substantive democracy depends not only on the establishment of more radically democratic forms, but on the establishment of cultural practices that foster a democratic ethos.

Municipal Economics

One of the most compelling aspects of Bookchin’s political thought is the centrality of his ethical critique of the dominant economistic society, and his call for the creation of a “moral economy” as a precondition for a just ecological society. He asserts that such a “moral economy” implies the emergence of “a productive community” to replace the amoral “mere marketplace,” that currently prevails. It requires further that producers “explicitly agree to exchange their products and services on terms that are not merely `equitable’ or `fair’ but supportive of each other.” [104] He believes that if the prevailing system of economic exploitation and the dominant economistic culture based on it are to be eliminated, a sphere must be created in which people find new forms of exchange to replace the capitalist market, and this sphere must be capable of continued growth. Bookchin sees this realm as that of the municipalized economy. He states that “under libertarian municipalism, property becomes “part of a larger whole that is controlled by the citizen body in assembly as citizens.” [105] Elsewhere, he explains that “land, factories, and workshops would be controlled by popular assemblies of free communities, not by a nation-state or by worker-producers who might very well develop a proprietary interest in them.” [106]

However, for the present at least, it is not clear why the municipalized economic sector should be looked upon as the primary realm, rather than as one area among many in which significant economic transformation might begin. It is possible to imagine a broad spectrum of self-managed enterprises, individual producers and small partnerships that would enter into a growing cooperative economic sector that would incorporate social ecological values. The extent to which the communitarian principle of distribution according to need could be achieved would be proportional to the degree to which cooperative and communitarian values had evolved — a condition that would depend on complex historical factors that cannot be predicted beforehand. Bookchin is certainly right in his view that participation in a moral economy would be “an ongoing education in forms of association, virtue, and decency” [107] through which the self would develop. And it is possible that ideally “price, resources, personal interests, and costs” might “play no role in a moral economy” and that there would be “no `accounting’ of what is given and taken.” [108] However, we always begin with a historically determined selfhood in a historically determined cultural context. It is quite likely that communities (and self-managed enterprises) might find that in the task of creating liberatory institutions within the constraints of real history and culture, the common good is attained best by preserving some form of “accounting” of contributions from citizens and distribution of goods. To whatever degree Bookchin’s anarcho-communist system of distribution are desirable as a long-term goal, the attempt to put them into practice in the short run, without developing their psychological and institutional preconditions, would be a certain recipe for disillusionment and economic failure.

Bookchin attributes to municipalization an almost miraculous power to abolish egoistic and particularistic interests. He and Biehl attack proposals of the Left Greens for worker self-management on the grounds that such a system does not, as in the case of municipalization, “eliminate the possibility that particularistic interests of any kind will develop in economic life.” [109] While the italics reflect an admirable hope, it is not clear how municipalization, or any other political program, no matter how laudable it may be, can assure that such interests are entirely eliminated. Bookchin and Biehl contend that in “a democratized polity” workers would develop “a general public interest,” [110] rather than a particularistic one of any sort. But it is quite possible for a municipality to put its own interest above that of other communities, or that of the larger community of nature. The concept of “citizen of a municipality” does not in itself imply identification with “a general public interest.” To the extent that concepts can perform such a function, “citizen of the human community” would do so much more explicitly, and “citizen of the earth community” would do so much more ecologically.

Under Bookchin’s libertarian municipalism, there is a possible (and perhaps inevitable) conflict between the particularistic perspective of the worker in a productive enterprise and the particularistic perspective of the citizen of the municipality. Bookchin and Biehl propose that “workers in their area of the economy” be placed on advisory boards that are “merely technical agencies, with no power to make policy decisions.” [111] This would do little if anything to solve the problem of conflict of interest. Bookchin calls the “municipally managed enterprise” at one point “a worker-citizen controlled enterprise,” [112] but the control is effectively limited to members of the community acting as citizens, not as workers. [113] Shared policy-making seems on the face of it more of a real-world possibility, however complex it might turn out to be. In either case (pure community democracy, or a mixed system of community and workplace democracy), it seems obvious that there would be a continual potential for conflict between workers who are focused on their needs and responsibilities as producers and assemblies that are in theory focused on the needs and responsibilities of the local community.

Putting aside the ultimate goals of libertarian municipalism, Bookchin suggests that in a transitional phase, its policies would “not infringe on the proprietary rights of small retail outlets, service establishments, artisan shops, small farms, local manufacturing enterprises, and the like.” [114] The question arises, though, of why this sector should not to continue to exist in the long term, alongside more cooperative forms of production. There is no conclusive evidence that such small enterprises are necessarily exploitative or that they cannot be operated in an ecologically sound manner. Particularly if the larger enterprises in a regional economy are democratically operated, the persistence of such small enterprises does not seem incompatible with social ecological values. This is even more the case to the degree that the community democratically establishes just and effective parameters of social and ecological responsibility. [115]

However, Bookchin dogmatically rejects this possibility. He claims that if any sort market continues to exist, then “competition will force even the smallest enterprise eventually either to grow or to die, to accumulate capital or to disappear, to devour rival enterprises or to be devoured.” [116] Yet Bookchin has himself noted that historically the existence of a market has not been equivalent to the existence of a market-dominated society. He has not explained why such a distinction cannot hold in the future. He has himself been criticized by “purist” anarchists who attack his acceptance of government as a capitulation to “archism.” Yet he rightly distinguishes between the mere existence of governmental institutions and statism, the system of political domination that results from the centralization of political power in the state. Similarly, one may distinguish between the mere existence of market exchanges and capitalism — the system of economic domination that results from the concentration of economic power in large corporate enterprises. Bookchin asserts that the existence of any market sector is incompatible with widespread decentralized democratic institutions and cooperative forms of production. While he treats this assertion as if it were an empirically-verified or theoretically-demonstrated proposition, it is, until he presents more evidence, merely an article of ideological faith. [117]

But whatever the long-term future of the market may be, it is in fact the economic context in which present-day experiments take place. If municipally-owned enterprises are established, they will necessarily operate within a market, if only because the materials they need for production will be produced within the market economy. It is also likely that they would choose to sell their products within the market, since the vast majority of potential consumers, including those most sympathetic to cooperative experiments, would still be operating within the market economy. Indeed, it is not certain that even if a great many such municipal enterprises were created that they would choose to limit their exchanges entirely to the network of similar enterprises, rather than continuing to participate in the larger market. In view of the contingencies of history, to make any such prediction would reflect a kind of “scientific municipalism” that is at odds with the dialectical principles of social ecology. But whatever may be the case in the future, to the extent that municipalized enterprises are proposed as a real-world practical strategy, they will necessarily constitute (by Bookchin’s own criteria) a “reform” within the existing economy. Thus, it is inconsistent for advocates of libertarian municipalism to attack proposals for self-management, such as those of the Left Greens, as mere reformism. These proposals, like Bookchin’s are incapable of abolishing the state and capitalism by fiat. But were they adopted, they would represent a real advance in expanding the cooperative and democratic aspects of production, while at the same time improving the economic position of the less privileged members of society.

Bookchin has come to dismiss the idea that social ecology should emphasize the importance of developing a diverse, experimental, constantly growing cooperative sector within the economy, and now focuses almost exclusively on the importance of “municipalization of the economy.” [118] But while he has been writing about municipalism for decades, he has produced nothing more than vague and seemingly self-contradictory generalizations about how such a system might operate. He does not present even vaguely realistic answers to many basic questions. How might a municipality of about 50,000 people (for example, metropolitan Burlington, Vermont), over one million people (for example, metropolitan New Orleans) or over eight million people (for example, metropolitan Paris) develop a coherent municipal economic plan in a “directly-democratic” way? Would the neighborhood or municipal assembly have even vaguely the same meaning in these diverse contexts (not to mention what it might mean in third world megalopolises like Mexico City, Lagos, or Calcutta, in the villages of Asia, Africa and Latin America, or on the steppes of Mongolia)? Could delegates from hundreds or thousands of block or neighborhood assemblies come to an agreement with “rigorous instructions” from their assemblies? Bookchin’s municipalism offers no answers to these questions, and as we shall see, neither does his confederalism. He is certainly right when he states that “one of our chief goals must be to radically decentralize our industrialized urban areas into humanly-scaled cities and towns” that are “ecologically sound.” [119] But a social ecological politics must not only aim at such far-reaching, visionary goals but also offer effective political options for the increasing proportion of human beings who live in highly populated and quickly growing urban areas, and who face serious urban crises requiring practical responses.

Bookchin’s most fundamental economic principle also poses questions that he has yet to answer. He contends that with the municipalization of the economy, the principle of “from each according to his abilities and to each according to his needs” becomes “institutionalized as part of the public sphere.” [120] How, one wonders, might abilities and needs be determined according to Bookchinist economics? Should a certain amount of labor be required of each citizen, or should the amount be proportional to the nature of the labor? Should those who have more ability to contribute, or whose work fulfills more needs, be required to work more? Of course, these questions can only be answered by specific communities through actual experiments in democratic decision-making and self-organization. However, debate over these issues has a long history within ethics and political theory, and socialists, communists, anarchists and utopians (not to mention liberals such as Rawls) have all devoted much attention to them. If the theory of libertarian municipalism is to inspire the necessary experiments, municipalists must at least suggest possible answers that might convince members of their own and other communities that the theory offers a workable future, or at least they must suggest what it might mean to try to answer such questions.

Bookchin finds it quite disturbing that I could judge “problematical” his invocation of the famous slogan concerning contribution according to abilities and distribution according to needs. One can almost hear his annoyance, as he explains that “the whole point behind this great revolutionary slogan is that in a communistic post-scarcity economy, abilities and needs are not, strictly speaking, `determined’ — that is, subject to bourgeois calculation,” which is to be replaced with “a basic decency and humaneness.” [121] Once more one is tempted to ask how Bookchin can present himself as a staunch opponent of mysticism and yet orient his thought toward a final good that is an inexpressible mystery, not to mention a logical contradiction. It is clear that many of the revolutionaries who adhered to Bookchin’s beloved slogan actually believed that needs and abilities could, at least in some general way, be “determined.” However, Bookchin himself believes that certain acts should be performed and certain things should be distributed “according to” that which cannot be “determined.” This may be an edifying belief, but it is also an absurdity, pure idealism, and an abdication of the “rationality” that Bookchin claims to value so highly.

But even if this particular form of mysticism were the correct standpoint toward some ultimately utopian society, it would not give us much direction concerning how to get there. Can anyone really take seriously a “libertarian municipalism” that proposes a municipalization of all enterprises, after which conditions of work and distribution of products would be determined (or perhaps we should say “non-determined”) by “basic decency and humaneness”? Once again, the problem of Bookchin’s lack of mediations between an idealized goal and actually-existing society becomes apparent. And this is not to say that his utopian goal is itself coherent. For despite his self-proclaimed role as the defender of “Reason,” he scrupulously avoids consideration of the role of rationality in utopian distribution, in this case falling back instead on mere feeling, dualistically divorced from rationality according to the demands of ideological consistency. This is, of course, his only option short of a fundamental rethinking of his position. For reason, unfortunately for Bookchin, expresses itself in determinations, as tentative and self-transforming as these determinations may be.

Bookchin presents two additional arguments for his position, both of which have appeared many times in the Bookchinian oeuvre. And both reduce essentially to an appeal to faith. First, he claims that if “’primal’ peoples” could “rely on usufruct and the principle of the irreducible minimum,” then his ideal society could certainly do without “contractual or arithmetical strictures.” [122] But this is merely a variation on the famous “if we can put a man on the moon, then we can do X” argument. According to this popular lunar fallacy, some proposal, the feasibility of which in no way follows from a moon landing, is held to be a viable option because the latter achievement proved possible. What is true of tribal societies is that they have usually followed distinct rules of distribution and, indeed, often quite strict and complex ones based on kinship and the circulation of gifts. Whatever the content of these rules (which have often been very humane, ecological, etc.), it certainly does not follow from the fact that previous societies have successfully followed these rules that some future society can get along without rules of distribution, quantitative or otherwise.

In his second argument, Bookchin notes that neither he nor I will make decisions for any future “post-scarcity society guided by reason,” but only those who will actually live in it. This statement is undeniably true (assuming neither of us ever lives in it). However, this fact lends absolutely no support to Bookchin’s position, since it is quite possible that these rational utopians might look back on his analysis of such a society and find it to be unconvincing or even absurd. If he wishes merely to express his faith that in his final rational utopia people will achieve things that we can hardly conceive of in our present fallen state, it would be difficult to argue with his position. However, if he intends to argue that a specific form of organization is a reasonable goal for a movement for social change, then he must be willing to offer evidence for this view, rather than the merely edifying conception that “in utopia all things are possible”

A Confederacy of Bookchinists

Anarchist political thought has usually proposed that social cooperation beyond the local level should take place through voluntary federations of relatively autonomous individuals, productive enterprises or communities. While classical anarchist theorists like Proudhon and Bakunin called such a system “federalism,” Bookchin calls his variation on this theme “confederalism.” He describes its structure as consisting of “above all a network of administrative councils whose members or delegates are elected from popular fact-to-face democratic assemblies, in the various villages, towns, and even neighborhoods of large cities.” [123] Under such a system, we are told, power remains entirely in the hands of the assemblies. “Policymaking is exclusively the right of popular community assemblies,” while “administration and coordination are the responsibility of confederal councils.” [124] Councils therefore exist only to carry out the will of the assemblies. Toward this end, “the members of these confederal councils are strictly mandated, recallable, and responsible to the assemblies that chose them for the purpose of coordinating and administering the policies formulated by the assemblies themselves.” [125] Thus, while majority rule of some sort is to prevail in the assemblies, which are the exclusive policy-making bodies, the administrative councils are strictly limited to following the directives of these bodies.

However, it is not clear how this absolute division between policy-making and administration could possibly work in practice. How, for example, is administration to occur when there are disagreements on policy between assemblies? Libertarian municipalism is steadfastly against delegation by assemblies of policy-making authority, so all collective activity must presumably depend on consensus of assemblies, as expressed in the “administrative councils.” If there is a majority vote on policy issues, then this would mean that policy would indeed be made a the confederal level. Bookchin is quick to attack “the tyranny of consensus” as a decision-making procedure within assemblies in which each member of the group is free to compromise for the sake of the common good. Yet, ironically, he seems obliged to depend on it for decision-making in bodies whose members are rigidly mandated to vote according to previous directions from their assemblies.

Or at least he seems to be committed to such a position until he considers what will occur when some communities do not abide by the fundamental principles or policies adopted in common. Bookchin states that “if particular communities or neighborhoods — or a minority grouping of them — choose to go their own way to a point where human rights are violated or where ecological mayhem is permitted, the majority in a local or regional confederation has every right to prevent such malfeasance through its confederal council.” [126] However, this proposal blatantly contradicts his requirement that policy be made only at the assembly level. If sanctions are imposed by a majority vote of the council, this would be an obvious case of a quite important policy being adopted above the assembly level. A very crucial, unanswered question is by what means the confederal council would exercise such a “preventive” authority (presumably Bookchin has in mind various forms of coercion). But whatever his answer might be, such action would constitute policy-making in an important area. There is clearly a broad scope for interpretation of what does or does not infringe on human rights, or what does or does not constitute an unjustifiable ecological danger. If the majority of communities acting confederally through a council acts coercively to deal with such basic issues, then certain state-like functions would emerge at the confederal level.

It appears that the only way to avoid this result is to take a purist anarchist approach, and assume that action can only be taken at any level above the assembly through fully voluntary agreements, with full rights of secession on any issue (including “mayhem”). According to such an approach, a community would have the right to withdraw from common endeavors, even for purposes that others might think unjust to humans or ecologically destructive. Of course, the other communities would still be able to take action against the allegedly offending community because of its supposed misdeeds. They would have had this ability in any case, even if the offending community had never entered into the “non-policy-making” confederal agreement. Should Bookchin choose to adopt this position, he would have to give up the concept of enforcement at the confederal level. He would then be proposing a form of confederal organization in which everything would be decided by consensus, and in which the majority of confederating communities would have no power of enforcement in any area. His position would then have the virtue of consistency, though very few would consider it a viable way of solving problems in a complex world.

There are other aspects of Bookchin’s confederalism that raise questions about the practicality or even the possibility of such a system. He proposes that activities of the assemblies be coordinated through the confederal councils, whose members must be “rotatable, recallable, and, above all, rigorously instructed in written form to support or oppose any issue that appears on the agenda.” [127] But could such instruction be a practical possibility in modern urban society (assuming, as Bookchin seems to, that the arrival of municipalism and confederalism are not to be delayed until after the dissolution of urban industrial society)? Perhaps Paris might be taken as an example, in honor of the Parisian “sections” of the French Revolution that Bookchin recalls so often as a model for municipal politics. Metropolitan Paris has roughly eight and one-half million people. If government were devolved into assemblies for each large neighborhood of twenty-five thousand people, there would be three-hundred and forty assemblies in the metropolitan area. If it were decentralized into much more democratic assemblies for areas of a few blocks, with about a thousand citizens each, there would then be eight-thousand five-hundred Parisian assemblies. If the city thus had hundreds or even thousands of neighborhood assemblies, and each “several” assemblies (as Bookchin suggests) would send delegates to councils, which presumably would have to form even larger confederations for truly municipal issues, could the chain of responsibility hold up? And if so, how?

When confronted with such questions, Bookchin offers no reply other than that he doesn’t believe in the existence of the kind of centralized, urbanized society in which these problems arise. However, his political proposals are apparently directed at people living in precisely such a world. If municipalism is not practicable in the kind of society in which real human beings happen to find themselves, then the question arises of what other political arrangements might be practicable and also move toward the goals that Bookchin embodies in municipalism. Yet his politics does not address this issue. We are left with the abstract pursuit of an ideal and an appeal to the will that it be realized. Bookchin’s late work in particular expresses a defiant will that history should become what it ought to be, and a poorly-contained rage at the thought that it stubbornly seems not to be doing so. Objections that his social analysis and political proposals lack an adequate relation to actual history are usually met with ridicule and sarcasm, and seldom with reasoned argument.

Municipalizing Nature?

As Bookchin has increasingly focused on the concept of municipalist politics, the theme of ecological politics has faded increasingly further into the background of his thought. In fact, the idea of a bioregional politics has never really been developed in his version of social ecology. Yet, there are two fundamental social ecological principles that essentially define a bioregional perspective. One is the recognition of the dialectic of nature and culture, in which the larger natural world is seen as an active co-participant in the creative activities of human beings. The other is the principle of unity-in-diversity, in which the unique, determinate particularity of each part is seen as making an essential contribution to the unfolding of the developing whole. While Bookchin has done much to stress the importance of such general principles, what has been missing in his discussion of politics is a sensitivity to the details of the natural world and the quite particular ways in which it can and does shape human cultural endeavors, and a sense of inhabiting a natural whole, whether an ecosystem, a bioregion, or the entire biosphere.

If one searches Bookchin’s writings carefully, one finds very little detailed discussion of ecological situatedness and bioregional particularity, despite a theoretical commitment to such values. Typically, he limits himself to statements such as that there should be a “sensitive balance between town and country” [128] and that a municipality should be “delicately attuned to the natural ecosystem in which it is located.” [129] In The Ecology of Freedom he says that ecological communities should be “networked confederally through ecosystems, bioregions, and biomes,” that they “must be artistically tailored to their natural surroundings,” and that they “would aspire to live with, nourish, and feed upon the life-forms that indigenously belong to the ecosystems in which they are integrated.” [130] These statements show concern for the relationship of a community to its ecological context, but the terms chosen to describe this relationship do not imply that bioregional realities are to be central to the culture. Furthermore, Bookchin’s discussions of confederalism invariably base organization on political principles and spatial proximity. He does not devote serious attention to the possibility of finding a bioregional basis for confederations or networks of communities.

It is possible that an underlying concern that discourages Bookchin from focusing on bioregional culture (and quite strikingly, on communal traditions also) is his mistaken perception that these realities somehow threaten the freedom of the individual. A bioregional approach places very high value on human creative activity within the context of a sense of place, in the midst of a continuity of natural and cultural history. Bioregionalism is based on a kind of commitment that Bookchin steadfastly rejects; that is, a giving oneself over to the other, a choosing without “choosing to choose,” a recognition of the claim of the other on the deepest levels of one’s being. Bookchin describes his ideal community as “the commune that unites individuals by what they choose to like in each other rather than what they are obliged by blood ties to like.” [131] But when one affirms one’s membership in a human or natural community, one is hardly concerned with “choosing what to like and not to like” in the community (though one may certainly judge one’s own human community quite harshly out of love and compassion for it). The community becomes, indeed, an extension of one’s very selfhood. Individualist concepts of choice, rights, justice and interest lose their validity in this context. It seems that Bookchin does not want to take the risk of this kind of communitarian thinking, and is satisfied with the weak communitarianism of libertarian municipalism, assembly government, and civic virtue.

Sometimes Bookchin seems to touch on a bioregional perspective, but he does not carry his thinking in this area very far. He says that in an ecological society, “land would be used ecologically such that forests would grow in areas that are most suitable for arboreal flora and widely mixed food plants in areas that are most suitable for crops.” [132] Culture and nature would seemingly both get their due through this simple division. Yet a major ecological problem results from the fact that, except in the case of tropical rain forests, most areas that are quite well suited for forests (or prairies, or even wetlands) can also be used in a highly-productive manner for crop production. A bioregional approach would stress heavily the importance of biological diversity and ecological integrity, and have much less enthusiasm for the further development of certain areas on grounds that they are “suitable for crops,” [133] in cases in which such development is not necessary to provide adequately for human needs.

Bookchin comes closest to an authentically bioregional approach when he explains that “localism, taken seriously, implies a sensitivity to speciality, particularity, and the uniqueness of place, indeed a sense of place or topos that involves deep respect (indeed, `loyalty,’ if I may use a term that I would like to offset against `patriotism’) to the areas in which we live and that are given to us in great part by the natural world itself.” [134] These admirable general principles need, however, to be developed into a comprehensive bioregional perspective that would give them a more concrete meaning. This perspective would address such issues as the ways in which bioregional particularity can be brought back into the town or city, how it can be discovered beneath the transformed surface, and how it can be expressed in the symbols, images, art, rituals and other cultural expressions of the community. Bioregionalism gives content to the abstract concept that the creation of the ecological community is a dialectical, cooperative endeavor between human beings and the natural world. A bioregional politics expands our view of the political, by associating it more with the processes of ecologically-grounded cultural creativity and with a mutualistic, cooperative process of self-expression on the part of the human community and the larger community of nature. Libertarian municipalism tends to focus on politics as communal economic management, and political processes as policy-making and self-development through collective decision-making in assemblies. Unlike bioregionalism, it constitutes at best a rather “thin” ecological politics.

Conclusion: Social Ecology or Bookchinism?

The questions raised here about libertarian municipalism in no way question the crucial importance of participatory, grassroots democracy. Rather, they affirm that importance and point toward the need for diverse, many-dimensional experiments in democratic processes, and to the fact that many of the preconditions for a free and democratic culture lie in areas beyond the scope of what is usually called “democracy.” Communes, cooperatives, collectives and various other forms of organization are sometimes dismissed by Bookchin as “marginal projects” that cannot challenge the dominant system. [135] And indeed, this has often been true (though the weakness of the economic collectives in the Spanish Revolution, to mention an important counter-example, was hardly that they were marginal or non-challenging). However, it is questionable whether there is convincing evidence — or indeed any evidence at all — that such approaches have less potential for liberatory transformation than do municipal or neighborhood assemblies or other municipalist proposals. An eco-communitarianism that claims the legacy of anarchism (as a critique of domination rather than as a dogmatic ideology) will eschew any narrowly-defined programs, whether they make municipalism, self-management, cooperatives, communalism or any other approach the privileged path to social transformation. On the other hand, it will see experiments in all of these areas as valuable steps toward discovering the way to a free, ecological society.

Proposals for fundamentally restructuring society through local assemblies (and also citizens’ committees) have great merit, and should be a central part of a left Green, social ecological or eco-communitarian politics. But we must consider that these reforms are unlikely to become the dominant political processes in the near future. Unfortunately, partial adoption of such proposals (in the form of virtually powerless neighborhood assemblies and “town meetings,” or citizens’ committees with little authority) may even serve to deflect energy or diffuse demands for more basic cultural and personal changes. On the other hand, major cultural advances can be immediately instituted through the establishment of affinity groups, “base” communities, internally-democratic movements for change, and cooperative endeavors of many kinds. Advocates of radical democracy can do no greater service to their cause than to demonstrate the value of democratic processes by embodying them in their own forms of self-organization. Without imaginative and inspiring examples of the practice of ecological, communitarian democracy by the radical democrats themselves, calls for “municipalism,” “demarchy” or any other form of participatory democracy will have a hollow ring.

Bookchin has made a notable contribution to this effort in so far as his work has helped inspire many participants in ecological, communitarian, and participatory democratic projects. However, to the extent that he has increasingly reduced ecological politics to his own narrow, sectarian program of Libertarian Municipalism, he has become a divisive, debilitating force in the ecology movement, and an obstacle to the attainment of many of the ideals he has himself proclaimed.


[1]^ In the course of this critique, I will sometimes refer to Bookchin’s response to some of the points I make. His criticisms are contained in a lengthy document entitled “Comments on the International Social Ecology Network Gathering and the `Deep Social Ecology’ of John Clark.” Bookchin wrote this polemic in response to a rough draft of the present article, excerpts of which were presented at the International Social Ecology Conference in Dunoon, Scotland. He originally distributed the document widely by mail and later published it in Democracy and Nature, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 154-197. While revisions of the draft were made, I quote Bookchin’s comments only on those parts that remain unchanged. The term “Deep Social Ecology” comes from a comment by editor David Rothenberg on an article I wrote for The Trumpeter: Journal of Ecosophy Bookchin mistakenly read Rothenberg’s depiction of my ideas as my own self-description.

[2]^ See John P. Clark, The Philosophical Anarchism of William Godwin (Princeton : Princeton University Press, 1977), pp. 192-93, 243-47.

[3]^ See John P. Clark and Camille Martin, Liberty, Equality, Geography: The Social Thought of Elisée Reclus (Littleton, CO : Aigis Publications, forthcoming).

[4]^ See especially Murray Bookchin, “From Here to There,” in Remaking Society (Montréal : Black Rose Books, 1989), pp. 159-207, and Ch. 8, “The New Municipal Agenda,” in The Rise of Urbanization and the Decline of Citizenship (San Francisco : Sierra Club Books, 1987), pp. 225-288.

[5]^ See Benjamin Barber, Strong Democracy : Participatory Politics for a New Age (Berkeley : University of California Press, 1984).

[6]^ For Castoriadis’s politics, see especially Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy (New York : Oxford University Press, 1991).

[7]^ Murray Bookchin, Post-Scarcity Anarchism (Berkeley, CA : Ramparts Press, 1971, p. 124.

[8]^ This idea, like many of Bookchin’s concepts, was expressed almost a century before by the great French anarchist geographer Elisée Reclus. Reclus begins his 3500-page magnum opus of social thought, L’Homme et la Terre, with the statement that “l’Homme est la Nature prenant conscience d’elle-même,” or “Humanity is Nature becoming self-conscious.” For extensive translation of Reclus’ most important work and commentary on its significance, especially in relation to social ecology, see Clark and Martin, Liberty, Equality, Geography : The Social Thought of Elisée Reclus.

[9]^ Bookchin, Post-Scarcity Anarchism, p. 169.

[10]^Murray Bookchin, Toward An Ecological Society (Montréal : Black Rose Books, 1980), p. 263.

[11]^ Ibid.

[12]^ Ibid., p. 273. Admittedly, he was careful to note that he would not argue that the United States was (in 1971) “in a `revolutionary period’ or even a `pre-revolutionary period” (p. 263). But then again, who would have argued this? Richard Nixon’s landslide reelection the next year and subsequent U.S. history suggests that the mood of actual people living through the epoch was somewhat less than revolutionary. Furthermore, despite the wishful thinking of dogmatic anarchists, studies of electoral abstentionists has shown their outlook to be strikingly similar to that of voters.

[13]^ Murray Bookchin, “Revolution in America,” in Anarchos #1 (1968). I am grateful to Bookchin himself for his suggestion that I give this article more attention. Specifically, he stated of my earlier draft of the present analysis that “had [Clark] represented my views with a modicum of respect, he might have consulted `Revolution in America.” (“Comments,” p. 172.) I readily admit that in reading thousands of pages of Bookchin’s writings, I dismissed that early article as a very minor and poorly-written work. I now recognize it, though, as a revealing statement of Bookchin’s Bakuninist tendencies.

[14]^ Bookchin, “Revolution in America,” p. 3.

[15]^ Ibid., p. 4

[16]^ Ibid.

[17]^ Ibid.

[18]^ Ibid., p. 5. Bookchin has unfortunately never produced a full-scale theoretical analysis of the relation between the hippies and the Enlightenment. His naive enthusiasm for the hippy movement and similar cultural phenomena is reminiscent of the musings of another middle-aged utopian of the time, Charles Reich, who in The Greening of America, lapsed into a similarly breathless misassessment of the significance of the American youth culture.

[19]^ Ibid., p. 5.

[20]^ Ibid., pp. 11-12.

[21]^ Ibid. pp. 10, 4, 10.

[22]^Ibid., p. 10.

[23]^ Ibid., p. 12. Bookchin’s italics.

[24]^ Ibid., p. 7. While “underpinning” is not a very sophisticated theoretical category, the implication is clearly that there is a strong connection between the phenomena thus related.

[25]^ Ibid. This was long before the think tanks of the bourgeois order finally discovered, as Bookchin has revealed recently, that it could perpetuate itself through deep ecology and “lifestyle anarchism.”

[26]^ Ibid.

[27]^ “Theses on Social Ecology” in Green Perspectives 33 (Oct., 1995), p. 4

[28]^ Michel Bakounine, L’Empire Knouto-Germanique et la revolution sociale, ed. Arthur Lehning (Paris : Editions Champ Libre, 1982).

[29]^ Bookchin, “comments,” p, 173.

[30]^ See the interview with Fernando Aragon in Ronald Fraser, Blood of Spain : An Oral History of the Spanish Civil War (New York : Pantheon Books, 1979), pp. 367-69.

[31]^ The deepest contradiction in the Spanish anarchist revolutionary movement is stated quite clearly by Vernon Richards, one of its most radical anarchist critics : “only a small section of the Spanish revolutionary movement was in fact libertarian.” Lessons of the Spanish Revolution (1936-1939) (London : Freedom Press, 1972), p. 206.

[32]^ Bookchin, “The Rise of Urbanization,” p. 256.

[33]^ Bookchin, “Comments,” p. 173.

[34]^ Bookchin, Toward an Ecological Society, pp.183-86.

[35]^ Bookchin. The Rise of Urbanization, p. 55.

[36]^ Bookchin objects strongly to the concept of “self-image” as a fundamental concept in social theory. (See “Comments,” pp. 164-165). In Bookchin’s scheme of reality, there is, on the one hand, the real world in which we live, and, on the other, the imagined world that we might create with expansive vision, concerted effort, and correct organization. This simplistic division is part of Bookchin’s dualism, which succeeds in combining both reductionist and idealist elements. It is quite distinct from an authentically dialectical analysis, which recognizes the centrality of the imaginary to all social reality. In particular, the way we imagine the self is seen as central to all our practical and theoretical activity.

[37]^ Bookchin contends in his “Comments” that the statement just made implies that I want to “reduce `citizenship’ to personhood.” Yet, I think that it is clear that to analyze the political implications of personhood is not the same as equating personhood with citizenship. Bookchin seems to lapse into confusion by falsely projecting into my discussion his own premise that citizenship is the only form of self-identity with political implications and then concluding invalidly that since I attribute political implications to personhood, I must consider it to be a form of citizenship. He also seems confused when he claims that after citizens have been reduced to taxpayers, I want to “further reduce” them to persons. (“Comments,” p. 166) While I do not in fact propose such a definition of citizenship, conceiving of someone as a “person” rather than a “taxpayer” hardly seems a reduction. In fact, the very concept of “reducing” human beings to persons seems rather confused and bizarre.

[38]^ Ibid., p. 165. This feeble attempt at reductio ad absurdum is reminiscent of Luc Ferry’s anti-ecological diatribe The New Ecological Order (Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1996). For a critique of Ferry’s inept efforts to pin the charge of insectocentrism on the ecology movement, see John Clark, “Ecologie Aujourd’hui?” in Terra Nova 1 (1996) : 112-119.

[39]^ Presumably Bookchin’s municipal citizens would have responsibilities in regard to the buildings, streets, soil, air, and other aspects (perhaps even the insects) of the municipality. Yet this does not imply that the buildings, etc., should be considered citizens, unless the sovereign assembly declares them to be so.

[40]^ Bookchin, “Comments,” p. 166. In an apparent argumentum ad verecundiam, he claims that “revolutionaries of the last century — from Marx to Bakunin — referred to themselves as `citizens’ long before the appellation `comrade’ replaced it. In fact, in Bakunin’s voluminous correspondence he typically referred to himself as a “friend,” or used some other conventional phrasing. His preferred term with his closest political collaborators was “brother,” though he sometimes used “comrade,” and Citizen Bakunin signed himself “Matrena,” in writing to Nechaev, whom he addressed as “Boy.”

[41]^ It is a question of the social imaginary, to use a valuable concept that Bookchin contemptuously dismisses.

[42]^ It is possible that the liberatory potential in the entire concept of “citizenship” is seriously limited, and more inspiring communitarian self-images will play a more important role in the future. This is, however, a historical and experimental question, not one that be answered through stipulation, speculation, or dogmatic pronouncements.

[43]^ When one uses a reductio ad absurdum argument against Bookchin he replies (and perhaps thinks) that one believes in the absurd.

[44]^ Bookchin, “Comments,” p. 166.

[45]^ Ibid. The closest approximation of this conception was found in the radical democracy movement of the 1790’s, which unfortunately extended it to only a minority of the population, and had a very limited influence on the course of American social history. See John Clark, “The French Revolution and American Radical Democracy,” in Y. Hudson and C. Peden, eds., Revolution, Violence, and Equality (Lewiston, NY : The Edwin Mellen Press, 1990), pp. 79-118.

[46]^ Murray Bookchin, “Libertarian Municipalism : An Overview” in Green Perspectives 24 (1991) p. 4. Note that in this statement Bookchin slips into admitting the possibility of “citizenship” in a region.

[47]^ Bookchin, “Comments,” p. 167.

[48]^ Murray Bookchin, The Last Chance : An Appeal for Social and Ecological Sanity (Burlington, VT : Comment Publishing, 1983), p. 48.

[49]^ Ibid.

[50]^ Bookchin, Remaking Society, p. 173.

[51]^ Murray Bookchin, The Modern Crisis (Philadelphia : New Society Publishers, 1986), pp. 150-51.

[52]^ Ibid., p. 152

[53]^ Bookchin, The Rise of Urbanization, p. 249.

[54]^ Ibid., p. 282.

[55]^ Bookchin comments on this statement that the civitas of Libertarian Municipalism “is the immediate sphere of public life — not the most “intimate,” to use Clark’s crassly subjectivized word . . . .” (“Comments,” p. 193) What a “crassly subjectivized word” may be will probably remain one of the mysteries of Bookchinian linguistic analysis. What is clear, however, is that nowhere do I contend the municipality is the “most intimate” sphere, nor do I imply that Bookchin does so. But his misrepresentation of my claims gives him another opportunity to affirm exactly what I am questioning about his politics : that he is positing a “sphere of public life” that he idealistically and non-dialectically takes presents as “immediate” by systematically overlooking its cultural and psychological mediations.

[56]^ See Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism (New York : Simon and Schuster, 1970), and Joel Kovel, The Age of Desire (New York : Pantheon Books, 1981). Kovel’s analysis is an unsurpassed account of the complex dialectic between individual selfhood, the family, productionist and consumptionist economic insitutions, the state, and the technological system. It would be a mistake to privilege any psychological or institutional realm, as Bookchin habitually does, and as he misinterprets critics as doing, when he projects his own dualistic categories on their ideas.

[57]^ Bookchin, Remaking Society, p. 183. Emphasis added.

[58]^ Bookchin’s response to this statement reveals his propensity to misread texts very badly in his haste to refute them, and, more significantly, it once more illustrates his idealist approach. According to Bookchin, “ [t]his reduction of the historico-civilizational domain introduced by the city simply to individuals `most directly’ dealing `with their television sets, radios, newspapers, and magazines’ is not without a certain splendor, putting as it does our `relationships’ with the mass media on an equal plane with the relationships that free or increasingly free citizens could have in the civic sphere or political domain.” (“Comments,” p. 160.) The reader will note that in reference to that with which real, existing human beings “deal directly,” I refer to the actual shaping of consciousness in contemporary society, a process with which those seeking social transformation are obliged to deal. Bookchin replies by invoking an abstract “historico-civilizational domain” that for all its inspirational qualities does not count for much politically unless it is embodied in actual social practice and actual cultural values. Otherwise, it retains a quite specific “splendor” : that of the vaporous moral ideal unrelated to the historically real. Secondly, Bookchin’s idealism becomes more explicit when he accuses me of placing relationships that people actually have in the real world “on an equal plane” with those that they might have in Bookchin’s ideal world. Of course, I do not. Rather, I distinguish between actually-existing cultural realities, possibilities that might be realized in the future, and Bookchin’s idealist projections onto the reality that presently “is” of what he imagines “could be.”

[59]^ I will return later to the contradictions entailed in Bookchin’s hypostatizing of the municipality.

[60]^ Bookchin, Toward An Ecological Society, p. 137.

[61]^ It is largely because of the complexity required by such an analysis that a less-objectifying, more holistic and process-oriented regional approach to being is more adequate than is a territorial view. See Max Cafard, “The Surre(gion)alist Manifesto” in Exquisite Corpse 8 (1990) : 1, 22-23.

[62]^ Bookchin, “Comments,” p 158. Bookchin’s distinction is heavily influenced by Arendt’s distinctions in The Human Condition (Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1958). See especially, part II, “the Public and the Private Realm,” pp. 22-78.

[63]^ Bookchin, Rise of Urbanization, p. 33.

[64]^ Bookchin, “Comments,” p. 158.

[65]^ Ibid.

[66]^ Ibid.

[67]^ Ibid.

[68]^ Though there would, of course, be rare exceptions, as when one “disports oneself” in extra-territorial waters.

[69]^ Ibid.

[70]^ Bookchin often uses “eduction” as a pseudo-dialectical ploy for attacking his opponents. By means of “eduction,” he uncovers various unsavory implications in their ideas that could never be deduced through rigorous argumentation. In his lectures, Bookchin typically pronounces the term “eduction” while gesturing as if coaxing something into reality out of thin air. This is a striking example of revelatory non-verbal communication.

[71]^ (Madison : University of Wisconsin Press, 1995), p. 4. Gunderson cites Mogens Herman Hansen, The Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes in support of his interpretation.

[72]^ Bookchin, The Rise of Urbanization, p. 39. Emphasis added.

[73]^ Ernest Barker, trans. The Politics of Aristotle (London : Oxford University Press, 1946), pp. 5-6.

[74]^ Bookchin, Toward an Ecological Society, p. 179

[75]^ Bookchin, The Rise of Urbanization, p. 259.

[76]^ One of the most yawning gaps in Bookchin’s politics is the absence of any account of how participation in assemblies can effect such far-reaching changes in the character of human beings. Instead, we find vague generalizations such as that the assembly is the “social gymnasium” in which the self is developed. Yet one will find little philosophical psychology, philosophy of culture, and philosophy of education in Bookchin. Indeed, these fields endanger his municipalist politics, for the very discussion of the issues they pose leads to a consideration of the larger context of social questions that Bookchin seeks to answer within the confines of his artificially-bracketed “political” sphere.

[77]^ Bookchin considers the kind of questions that I raise here “galling in the extreme.” (“Comments,” p. 174.) But those who have good answers to questions seldom respond to them with such anguish. In this case, the questions reminds him of the troubling fact that a social movement will not succeed (or even emerge as a significant historical force) merely because a small number of proponents espouse some ideal and will vehemently that it be realized. The question of what might lead large numbers of people to share that ideal and to desire its attainment seems like a good one.

[78]^ Murray Bookchin and Janet Biehl, “A Critique of the Draft Program of the Left Green Network” in Green Perspectives 23 (1991), p. 2. My references to the “Left Greens” refer in particular to the Left Green Network, a small coalition of eco-anarchists and eco-socialists within the American Green Movement. Bookchin became disillusioned with the Left Greens when they failed to adopt his Libertarian Municipalism as their official ideology.

[79]^ Bookchin, “Comments,” p. 174.

[80]^ Ibid., p. 175.

[81]^ Hawkins, the primary object of this attack on the Left Greens, was for years an ally of Bookchin and the latter must be, at least on some level of conceptual thought, aware of the fact that Hawkins’ goal is not to bolster the legitimacy of capitalism and the state. But Hawkins has committed the one unpardonable sin : that of embracing the faith and then falling away from it. Conceptual thought therefore cedes its place to irrational denunciations. In a response common to both leftist-sectarianism and religious fundamentalism, the charge is defection to the most hatred of enemies. Hawkins now does the work of the Devil, seeking “to render capitalism and the state more palatable.”

[82]^ Bookchin does not, however, accept this example. He replies that the eight-hour demand was made only because it was part of the pursuit of “the goal of insurrection” and “was designed to reinforce what was virtually an armed conflict.” (“Comments,” p. 175.) Even if this were correct, it would not support his argument that reformist demands mean capitulation to the status quo. However, Bookchin’s explanation is a simplistic, inaccurate reading of history in support of his attack on the Left Greens. The goals of the anarchists in the eight-hour day movement were complex. One aim was indeed the radicalization of the working class. Secondly, the achievement of its limited goal as a real advance for the workers was also considered important to many. Finally, an important motivation was a feeling of solidarity with the workers and their struggles, apart from any pragmatic long or short-term gains. This identification transcended the kind of strategic thinking that Bookchin emphasizes. A notable exponent of the later two justifications was Emma Goldman, who originally followed Johann Most in rejecting the significance of such limited demands as working against the radicalization of workers. She attributes her change in outlook to the moving words of an elderly worker in the audience at one of her lectures. See Living My Life (New York : Dover Books, 1970), Vol. I, pp. 51-53.

[83]^ It is noteworthy that almost all of Bookchin’s allies over the past several decades who have become heavily involved in grassroots ecological, peace and social justice movements have discarded narrowly Bookchinist politics, and this aspiring anarchist Lenin has been left stranded at the Finland Station along with his ideological baggage.

[84]^ Bookchin, The Rise of Urbanization, p. 276.

[85]^ Bookchin, “Libertarian Municipalism,” p. 4.

[86]^ It is not always clear why his own endorsement of small businesses is legitimate while others who support them as part of a decentralized, localist and regionalist economy are condemned for selling out to capitalism. Presumably, the difference is that despite his statements in favor of small businesses, he holds the doctrinaire position that all private businesses and indeed every aspect of the market must be eliminated, while those he attacks accept the possibility of experimenting with various combinations of community-owned enterprises, self-management, and small private enterprises in pursuit of a just and democratic economic order.

[87]^ Bookchin, The Rise of Urbanization, p. 275.

[88]^ Ibid.

[89]^ Ibid., p. 276.

[90]^ Social ecological proposals for grassroots democracy would appeal more to potential activists (with the exception of some theoretically-oriented, politicized leftists), if the rhetoric of “Libertarian Municipalism” were dropped entirely and replaced with more populist concepts such as “neighborhood power” (in addition to more ecological concepts that will be discussed further). While municipalism is a non-concept for most North Americans and Western Europeans, identification with one’s neighborhood is sometimes fairly strong, and is capable of being developed much further in a liberatory direction. Similar localist tendencies exist in Latin America and many other places in which the urban neighborhood or the village are strong sources of identity. In fact, the idea of the creation of the urban village, incorporated into a larger bioregional vision, would be a social ecological concept that would be both radical and traditionalist in many cultural contexts.

[91]^ Bookchin, Remaking Society, p. 175.

[92]^ See John Burnheim, Is Democracy Possible? The Alternative to Electoral Politics (Berkeley : University of California Press, 1985).

[93]^ Bookchin, “Comments,” p. 183.

[94]^ The only references to “councils” in the text attacked by Bookchin are in quotations from him or references to these quotations. While I have never “called for” councils, as if they were another panacea competing with Bookchin’s assemblies, I have supported the expansion of the City Council in my own city from seven to at least twenty-five members, as one element in a comprehensive process of expanding local democracy (along with neighborhood assemblies, municipalized utilities, and other similar ideas). As we will see later, despite his apparent dislike for the concept, Bookchin himself “calls for” a kind of council, though in a form that seems entirely unworkable.

[95]^ Bookchin, Remaking Society, p. 143.

[96]^ Ibid., p. 181.

[97]^ It is not only the size of the modern urban sprawl that brings into question Bookchin’s “municipalist” outlook, but the qualitative changes that have taken place. Mumford pointed out in The City in History that what has emerged “is not in fact a new sort of city, but an anti-city” that “annihilates the city whenever it collides with it.” (The City in History [New York : Harcourt, Brace & World, 1961], p. 505). Bookchin recognizes this change on the level of moralism, as an evil to be denounced, but he does not take it seriously as an object of careful analysis and a challenge to ideas of practice formed in previous historical epochs. Luccarelli, in Lewis Mumford and the Ecological Region (New York : Guilford Press, 1995), points out that Mumford’s idea of the “anti-city” prefigured recent analyses of a “technurbia” that has emerged out of social transformations in a “post-Fordist” regime which is “driven by telecommunications and computer-assisted design,” which produces “forces that tend to disperse and decentralize production,” and results in a “diffused city.” (P. 191) Bookchin’s municipalism has yet to come to terms with these transformations and their effects on either organizational possibilities or subjectivity.

[98]^ Bookchin, Rise of Urbanization, p. 246.

[99]^ Ibid., p. 102.

[100]^ Barber, Strong Democracy, p. 269.

[101]^ Bookchin, Remaking Society, p. 175.

[102]^ It is certainly conceivable for an assembly of some size to function democratically without succumbing to these threats. Whether or not it does so to a significant degree depends in part on whether it confronts them openly and effectively, but even more on the nature of the larger culture and the way in which the character of the participants is shaped by that culture. But once again, the assembly itself can hardly be called upon as the primary agent of a paideia that would make non-competitive, non-manipulative assemblies possible.

[103]^ Barber, Strong Democracy, p. 176.

[104]^ Bookchin, The Modern Crisis, p. 91.

[105]^ Bookchin, The Rise of Urbanization, p. 263.

[106]^ Bookchin, Remaking Society, p. 194.

[107]^ Bookchin, The Modern Crisis, p. 93.

[108]^ Ibid., p. 92.

[109]^ Bookchin and Biehl, “Critique of the Draft Program,” p. 3. Their italics.

[110]^ Ibid., p. 4.

[111]^ Ibid.

[112]^ Bookchin, The Modern Crisis, p. 160.

[113]^ It is not clear whether under Libertarian Municipalism citizens could work in a nearby enterprise that happened to be outside the borders of their municipality. If not, they would then have no voice in decision-making concerning their workplace except as advisors to the citizens.

[114]^ Bookchin, The Rise of Urbanization, p. 275.

[115]^ As might be done, for example, through law, a concept that is almost non-existent in Bookchin’s political theory.

[116]^ Bookchin, “Comments,” p. 186. Bookchin calls these dismal consequences of the market a “near certainty,” and by the next paragraph he has convinced himself, if not the reader, that they will “assuredly” occur.

[117]^ Although Bookchin usually attacks Marx harshly, in this case he invokes Marx’s “brilliant insights” that “reveal” what will “prevail ultimately.” (“Comments,” p. 186.) Yet despite Marx’s insights into the tendencies of historical capitalism, his ideas cannot validly be used to prejudge the role a market might play in all possible future social formations. This is not the first time that Marx’s incisive critique has been used in behalf of heavy-handed dogmatism.

[118]^ Bookchin, The Rise of Urbanization, p. 262. He hastens to cite his “calls” for diversity when he is attacked for narrowness, but he then goes on to harshly attack anyone who questions the centrality of municipalism and the sovereign assembly.

[119]^ Defending the Earth : A Dialogue Between Murray Bookchin and Dave Foreman : (New York : South End Press, 1991), p. 79. Bookchin says that these communities must be “artfully tailored to the carrying capacities of the eco-communities in which they are located.” Unfortunately, this not only introduces the awkward metaphor of “tailoring” something to a “capacity,” but, more seriously, utilizes the theoretically questionable concept of “carrying-capacity.”

[120]^ Bookchin, The Rise of Urbanization, p. 264.

[121]^ Bookchin, “Comments,” p. 185.

[122]^ Ibid.

[123]^ Bookchin, “The Meaning of Confederalism” in Green Perspectives 20 (1990), p. 4.

[124]^ Ibid.

[125]^ Ibid.

[126]^ Bookchin, “Libertarian Municipalism,” p. 3. Emphasis added.

[127]^ Bookchin, The Rise of Urbanization, p. 246.

[128]^ Bookchin, Remaking Society, p. 168.

[129]^ Ibid., p. 195.

[130]^ Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom, p. 344.

[131]^ Ibid.

[132]^ Bookchin, Remaking Society, p. 195.

[133]^ One of the challenges of a social ecological and bioregional perspective is to overcome one-sided approaches that undialectically focus on either production for human need or limiting production for the sake of ecological sustainability. Bookchin’s social ecology has tended toward the former, especially as exhibited in his dogmatic, unrealistic statements concerning population, while some versions of deep ecology have tended toward the latter, as manifested in equally uncritical, reductionist analysis of population and “carrying capacity.” In the resulting “debate,” population is either the root of all evil, or no problem at all.

[134]^ Bookchin, The Rise of Urbanization, p. 253.

[135]^ Bookchin, Remaking Society, p. 103.

August 5, 2010 Posted by | anti-endustriyalizm, anti-kapitalizm, ekolojist akımlar, ozyonetim, sistem karsitligi | Leave a comment


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