E.5 Can ethical consumerism stop the ecological crisis?

No. At best, it can have a limited impact in reducing environmental degradation and so postpone the ecological crisis. At worse, it could accelerate that crisis by creating new markets and thus increasing growth.

Before discussing why and just so there is no misunderstanding, we must stress that anarchists fully recognise that using recycled or renewable raw materials, reducing consumption and buying “ecologically friendly” products and technologies are very important. As such, we would be the last to denounce such a thing. But such measures are of very limited use as solutions to the ecological problems we face. At best they can only delay, not prevent, capitalism’s ultimate destruction of the planet’s ecological base.

Green consumerism is often the only thing capitalism has to offer in the face of mounting ecological destruction. Usually it boils down to nothing more than slick advertising campaigns by big corporate polluters to hype band-aid measures such as using a few recycled materials or contributing money to a wildlife fund, which are showcased as “concern for the environment” while off camera the pollution and devouring of non-renewable resources goes on. They also engage in “greenwashing”, in which companies lavishly fund PR campaigns to paint themselves “green” without altering their current polluting practices!

This means that apparently “green” companies and products actually are not. Many firms hire expensive Public Relations firms and produce advertisements to paint a false image of themselves as being ecologically friendly (i.e. perform “greenwashing”). This indicates a weakness of market economies — they hinder (even distort) the flow of information required for consumers to make informed decisions. The market does not provide enough information for consumers to determine whether a product is actually green or not — it just gives them a price supplemented by (often deliberately misleading) advertising designed to manipulate the consumer and present an appropriate corporate image. Consumers have to rely on other sources, many of which are minority journals and organisations and so difficult to find, to provide them with the accurate information required to countermand the power and persuasion of advertising and the work of PR experts. This helps explain why, for example, “large agribusiness firms are now attempting, like Soviet commissars, to stifle criticism of their policies” by means of “veggie libel laws.” These laws, which in 2001 had been passed in 13 American states (“backed by agribusiness”) “make it illegal to criticise agricultural commodities in a manner inconsistent with ‘reasonable’ scientific evidence. The whole concept of ‘veggie libel’ laws is probably unconstitutional; nevertheless, these laws remain on the books.” [Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation, p. 266]

We should not discount the impact of PR experts in shaping the way people see the world or decide to consume. A lot of resources are poured into corporate Public Relations in order to present a green image. “In the perverse world of corporate public relations,” note critics John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, “propagandising and lobbying against environmental protection is called ‘environmental’ or ‘green’ PR. ‘Greenwashing’ is a more accurate pejorative now commonly used to describe the ways that polluters employ deceptive PR to falsely paint themselves an environmentally responsible public image . . . Today a virulent, pro-industry, anti-environmentalism is on the rise . . . PR experts . . . are waging and winning a war against environmentalists on behalf of corporate clients in the chemical, energy, food, automobile, forestry and mining industries.” A significant amount of cash is spent (an estimated $1 billion a year by the mid-1990s) “on the services of anti-environmental PR professionals and on ‘greenwashing’ their corporate image.” [Toxic Sludge is Good for You!, p. 125] See the chapter called “Silencing Spring” in Stauber’s and Rampton’s book Toxic Sludge is Good for You! for a good summary of this use of PR firms.

Even apparently ecologically friendly firms like “The Body Shop” can present a false image of what they do. For example, journalist Jon Entine investigated that company in 1994 and discovered that only a minuscule fraction of its ingredients came from Trade Not Aid (a program claimed to aid developing countries). Entine also discovered that the company also used many outdated, off-the-shelf product formulas filled with non-renewable petrochemicals as well as animal tested ingredients. When Entine contacted the company he received libel threats and it hired a PR company to combat his story. [Stauber and Rampton, Op. Cit., pp. 74-5] This highlights the dangers of looking to consumerism to solve ecological problems. As Entine argued:

“The Body Shop is a corporation with the privileges and power in society as all others. Like other corporations it makes products that are unsustainable, encourages consumerism, uses non-renewable materials, hires giant PR and law firms, and exaggerates its environment policies. If we are to become a sustainable society, it is crucial that we have institutions . . . that are truly sustainable. The Body Shop has deceived the public by trying to make us think that they are a lot further down the road to sustainability than they really are. We should . . . no longer . . . lionise the Body Shop and others who claim to be something they are not.” [quoted by Stauber and Rampton, Op. Cit., p. 76]

Even ignoring the distorting influence of advertising and corporate-paid PR, the fundamental issue remains of whether consumerism can actually fundamentally influence how business works. One environmental journalist puts the arguments well in his excellent book on “Fast Food” (from the industrialisation of farming, to the monopolisation of food processing, to the standardisation of food consumption it). As he puts corporations will “sell free-range, organic, grass-fed hamburgers if you demand it. They will sell whatever sells at a profit.” [Eric Schlosser, Op. Cit., p. 269] He complements this position by suggesting various regulations and some role for trade unions.

Which, of course, is true. It is equally true that we are not forced to buy any specific product, which is why companies spend so much in convincing us to buy their products. Yet even ignoring the influence of advertising, it is unlikely that using the market will make capitalism nicer. Sadly, the market rewards the anti-social activities that Schlosser and other environmentalists chronicle. As he himself notes, the “low price of a fast food hamburger does not reflect its real cost . . . The profits of the fast food chains have been made possible by the losses imposed on the rest of society.” [Op. Cit., p. 261] This means that the idea that by using the market we can “reform” capitalism is flawed simply because even “good” companies have to make a profit and so will be tempted to cut costs, inflict them on third parties (such as workers, consumers and the planet). The most obvious form of such externalities is pollution. Such anti-social and anti-ecological behaviour makes perfect business sense as prices fall when costs are passed on to others in the form of externalities. Thus firms which employ debt-slaves in sweatshops while polluting the atmosphere in a third-world dictatorship will have lower costs and so prices than those employing unionised workers under eco-friendly regulations.

The amazing thing is that being concerned about such issues is considered as a flaw in economics. In fact, seeking the lowest price and ignoring the social and ecological impact of a product is “considered virtuousness” by the market and by economists for, as green economist E. F. Schumacher, pointed out “[i]f a buyer refused a good bargain because he suspected that the cheapness of the goods in question stemmed from exploitation or other despicable practices (except theft), he would be open to criticism of behaving ‘uneconomically’ which is viewed as nothing less than a fall from grace. Economists and others are wont to treat such eccentric behaviour with derision if not indignation. The religion of economics has its own code of ethics, and the First Commandment is to behave ‘economically.'” [Small is Beautiful, p. 30] And, of course, such a consumer would face numerous competitors who will happily take advantage of such activities.

Then there is the issue of how the market system hides much more information than it gives (a factor we will return to in section I.1.2). Under the price system, customers have no way of knowing the ecological (or social) impact of the products they buy. All they have is a price and that simply does not indicate how the product was produced and what costs were internalised in the final price and which were externalised. Such information, unsurprisingly, is usually supplied outside the market by ecological activists, unions, customer groups and so on. Then there is the misinformation provided by the companies themselves in their adverts and PR campaigns. The skilfully created media images of advertising can easily swamp the efforts of these voluntary groups to inform the public of the facts of the social and environmental costs of certain products. Besides, any company has the threat of court action to silence their critics as the cost in money, resources, energy and time to fight for free speech in court is an effective means to keep the public ignorant about the dark side of capitalism.

This works the other way too. Simply put, a company has no idea whether you not buying a product is based on ethical consumption decisions or whether it is due to simple dislike of the product. Unless there is an organised consumer boycott, i.e. a collective campaign, then the company really has no idea that it is being penalised for its anti-ecological and/or anti-social actions. Equally, corporations are so interlinked that it can make boycotts ineffective. For example, unless you happened to read the business section on the day McDonalds bought a sizeable share in Pret-a-Manger you would have no idea that going there instead of McDonalds would be swelling the formers profits.

Ultimately, the price mechanism does not provide enough information for the customer to make an informed decision about the impact of their purchase and, by reducing prices, actively rewards the behaviour Schlosser condemns. After all, what is now “organic” production was just the normal means of doing it. The pressures of the market, the price mechanism so often suggested as a tool for change, ensured the industrialisation of farming which so many now rightly condemn. By reducing costs, market demand increased for the cheaper products and these drove the other, more ecologically and socially sound, practices out of business.

Which feeds into the issue of effective demand and income limitations. The most obvious problem is that the market is not a consumer democracy as some people have more votes than others (in fact, the world’s richest people have more “votes” than the poorest billions, combined!). Those with the most “votes” (i.e. money) will hardly be interested in changing the economic system which placed them in that position. Similarly, those with the least “votes” will be more willing to buy ecologically destructive products simply to make ends meet rather than any real desire to do so. In addition, one individual’s decision not to buy something will easily be swamped by others seeking the best deal, i.e. the lowest prices, due to economic necessity or ignorance. Money (quantity) counts in the market, not values (quality).

Then there is the matter of sourcing of secondary products. After all, most products we consume are made up of a multitude of other goods and it is difficult, if not impossible, to know where these component parts come from. Thus we have no real way of knowing whether your latest computer has parts produced in sweatshops in third-world countries nor would a decision not to buy it be communicated that far back down the market chain (in fact, the company would not even know that you were even thinking about buying a product unless you used non-market means to inform them and then they may simply dismiss an individual as a crank).

So the notion that consumerism can be turned to pressurising companies is deeply flawed. This is not to suggest that we become unconcerned about how we spend our money. Far from it. Buying greener products rather than the standard one does have an impact. It just means being aware of the limitations of green consumerism, particularly as a means of changing the world. Rather, we must look to changing how goods are produced. This applies, of course, to shareholder democracy as well. Buying shares in a firm rarely results in an majority at the annual meetings nor, even if it did, does it allow an effective say in the day-to-day decisions management makes.

Thus green consumerism is hindered by the nature of the market — how the market reduces everything to price and so hides the information required to make truly informed decisions on what to consume. Moreover, it is capable of being used to further ecological damage by the use of PR to paint a false picture of the companies and their environmental activities. In this way, the general public think things are improving while the underlying problems remain (and, perhaps, get worse). Even assuming companies are honest and do minimise their environmental damage they cannot face the fundamental cause of the ecological crisis in the “grow-or-die” principle of capitalism (“green” firms need to make profits, accumulate capital and grow bigger), nor do they address the pernicious role of advertising or the lack of public control over production and investment under capitalism. Hence it is a totally inadequate solution.

As green Sharon Beder notes, green marketing aims at “increasing consumption, not reducing it. Many firms [seek] to capitalise on new markets created by rising environmental consciousness” with such trends prompting “a surge of advertisements and labels claiming environmental benefits. Green imagery was used to sell products, and caring for the environment became a marketing strategy” and was a “way of redirecting a willingness to spend less into a willingness to buy green products.” This means that firms can “expand their market share to include consumers that want green products. Since manufacturers still make environmentally damaging products and retailers still sell non-green products on shelves next to green ones, it is evident that green marketing is merely a way of expanding sales. If they were genuinely concerned to protect the environment they would replace the unsound products with sound ones, not just augment their existing lines.” Moreover, green marketing “does not necessarily mean green products, but false and misleading claims can be hard for consumers to detect” while the “most cynical marketers simply use environmental imagery to conjure up the impression that a product is good for the environment without making any real claims at all.” Ultimately, green consumerism “reduces people to consumers. Their power to influence society is reduced to their purchasing power.” It “does not deal with issues such as economic growth on a finite planet, the power of transnational corporations, and the way power is structured in our society.” [Global Spin, pp. 176-80]

Andrew Watson sums up green consumerism very eloquently as follows:

“green consumerism, which is largely a cynical attempt to maintain profit margins, does not challenge capital’s eco-cidal accumulation, but actually facilitates it by opening a new market. All products, no matter how ‘green’, cause some pollution, use some resources and energy, and cause some ecological disturbance. This would not matter in a society in which production was rationally planned, but in an exponentially expanding economy, production, however ‘green’, would eventually destroy the Earth’s environment. Ozone-friendly aerosols, for example, still use other harmful chemicals; create pollution in their manufacture, use and disposal; and use large amounts of resources and energy. Of course, up to now, the green pretensions of most companies have been exposed largely as presenting an acceptably green image, with little or no substance. The market is presented as the saviour of the environment. Environmental concern is commodified and transformed into ideological support for capitalism. Instead of raising awareness of the causes of the ecological crisis, green consumerism mystifies them. The solution is presented as an individual act rather than as the collective action of individuals struggling for social change. The corporations laugh all the way to the bank.” [From Green to Red, pp. 9-10]

“Ethical” consumerism, like “ethical” investment, is still based on profit making, the extraction of surplus value from others. This is hardly “ethical,” as it cannot challenge the inequality in exchange and power that lies at the heart of capitalism nor the authoritarian social relationships it creates. Therefore it cannot really undermine the ecologically destructive nature of capitalism.

In addition, since capitalism is a world system, companies can produce and sell their non-green and dangerous goods elsewhere. Many of the products and practices banned or boycotted in developed countries are sold and used in developing ones. For example, Agent Orange (used as to defoliate forests during the Vietnam War by the US) is used as an herbicide in the Third World, as is DDT. Agent Orange contains one of the most toxic compounds known to humanity and was responsible for thousands of deformed children in Vietnam. Ciba-Geigy continued to sell Enterovioform (a drug which caused blindness and paralysis in at least 10,000 Japanese users of it) in those countries that permitted it to do so. Many companies have moved to developing countries to escape the stricter pollution and labour laws in the developed countries.

Neither does green consumerism question why it should be the ruling elites within capitalism that decide what to produce and how to produce it. Since these elites are driven by profit considerations, if it is profitable to pollute, pollution will occur. Moreover, green consumerism does not challenge the (essential) capitalist principle of consumption for the sake of consumption, nor can it come to terms with the fact that “demand” is created, to a large degree, by “suppliers,” specifically by advertising agencies that use a host of techniques to manipulate public tastes, as well as using their financial clout to ensure that “negative” (i.e. truthful) stories about companies’ environmental records do not surface in the mainstream media.

Because ethical consumerism is based wholly on market solutions to the ecological crisis, it is incapable even of recognising a key root cause of that crisis, namely the atomising nature of capitalism and the social relationships it creates. Atomised individuals (“soloists”) cannot change the world, and “voting” on the market hardly reduces their atomisation. As Murray Bookchin argues, “[t]ragically, these millions [of “soloists”] have surrendered their social power, indeed, their very personalities, to politicians and bureaucrats who live in a nexus of obedience and command in which they are normally expected to play subordinate roles. Yet this is precisely the immediate cause of the ecological crisis of our time — a cause that has its historic roots in the market society that engulfs us.” [Toward an Ecological Society, p. 81] This means that fighting ecological destruction today must be a social movement rather than one of individual consumption decisions or personalistic transformation. These can go on without questioning the ecocidal drive of capitalism which “will insidiously simplify the biosphere (making due allowances for ‘wilderness’ reserves and theme parks), steadily reduce the organic to the inorganic and the complex to the simple, and convert soil into sand — all at the expense of the biosphere’s integrity and viability. The state will still be an ever-present means for keeping oppressed people at bay and will ‘manage’ whatever crises emerge as best it can. Ultimately, society will tend to become more and more authoritarian, public life will atrophy.” [Bookchin, “The Future of the Ecology Movement,” pp. 1-20, Which Way for the Ecology Movement?, p. 14]

All this is not to suggest that individual decisions on what to consume are irrelevant, far from it. Nor are consumer boycotts a waste of time. If organised into mass movements and linked to workplace struggle they can be very effective. It is simply to point out that individual actions, important as they are, are no solution to social problems. Thus Bookchin:

“The fact is that we are confronted by a thoroughly irrational social system, not simply by predatory individuals who can be won over to ecological ideas by moral arguments, psychotherapy, or even the challenges of a troubled public to their products and behaviour . . . One can only commend the individuals who by virtue of their consumption habits, recycling activities. and appeals for a new sensibility undertake public activities to stop ecological degradation. Each surely does his or her part. But it will require a much greater effort — and organised, clearly conscious, and forward-looking political movement — to meet the basic challenges posed by our aggressively anti-ecological society.”Yes, we as individuals should change our lifestyles as much as possible, but it is the utmost short-sightedness to believe that that is all or even primarily what we have to do. We need to restructure the entire society, even as we engage in lifestyle changes and single-issue struggles against pollution, nuclear power plants, the excessive use of fossil fuels, the destruction of soil, and so forth. We must have a coherent analysis of the deep-seated hierarchical relationships and systems of domination, as well as class relationships and economic exploitation, that degrade people as well as the environment.” [“The Ecological Crisis, Socialism, and the need to remake society,” pp. 1-10, Society and Nature, vol. 2, no. 3, p. 4]


Using the capitalist market to combat the effects produced by that same market is no alternative. Until capitalism and the state are dismantled, solutions like ethical consumerism will be about as effective as fighting a forest fire with a water pistol. Such solutions are doomed to failure because they promote individual responses to social problems, problems that by their very nature require collective action, and deal only with the symptoms, rather than focusing on the cause of the problem in the first place. Real change comes from collective struggle, not individual decisions within the market place which cannot combat the cancerous growth principle of the capitalist economy. As such, ethical consumerism does not break from the logic of capitalism and so is doomed to failure.


December 15, 2009 Posted by | anti-kapitalizm, e-kitap, sistem karsitligi, tuketim karsitligi | 1 Comment

E.2 What do eco-anarchists propose instead of capitalism?

Given what eco-anarchists consider to be the root cause of our ecological problems (as discussed in the last section), it should come as no surprise that they think that the current ecological crisis can only be really solved by eliminating those root causes, namely by ending domination within humanity and creating an anarchist society. So here we will summarise the vision of the free society eco-anarchists advocate before discussing the limitations of various non-anarchist proposals to solve environmental problems in subsequent sections. 

However, before so doing it is important to stress that eco-anarchists consider it important to fight against ecological and social problems today. Like all anarchists, they argue for direct action and solidarity to struggle for improvements and reforms under the current system. This means that eco-anarchism “supports every effort to conserve the environment” in the here and now. The key difference between them and environmentalists is that eco-anarchists place such partial struggles within a larger context of changing society as a whole. The former is part of “waging a delaying action against the rampant destruction of the environment” the other is “a create movement to totally revolutionise the social relations of humans to each other and of humanity to nature.” [Murray Bookchin, Toward an Ecological Society, p. 43] This is one of the key differences between an ecological perspective and an environmental one (a difference discussed in section E.1.2). Finding ways to resist capitalism’s reduction of the living world to resources and commodities and its plunder of the planet, our resistance to specific aspects of an eco-cidal system, are merely a starting point in the critique of the whole system and of a wider struggle for a better society. As such, our outline of an ecological society (or ecotopia) is not meant to suggest an indifference to partial struggles and reforms within capitalism. It is simply to indicate why anarchists are confident that ending capitalism and the state will create the necessary preconditions for a free and ecologically viable society.

This perspective flows from the basic insight of eco-anarchism, namely that ecological problems are not separate from social ones. As we are part of nature, it means that how we interact and shape with it will be influenced by how we interact and shape ourselves. As Reclus put it “every people gives, so to speak, new clothing to the surrounding nature. By means of its fields and roads, by its dwelling and every manner of construction, by the way it arranges the trees and the landscape in general, the populace expresses the character of its own ideals. If it really has a feeling for beauty, it will make nature more beautiful. If, on the other hand, the great mass of humanity should remain as it is today, crude, egoistic and inauthentic, it will continue to mark the face of the earth with its wretched traces. Thus will the poet’s cry of desperation become a reality: ‘Where can I flee? Nature itself has become hideous.'” In order to transform how we interact with nature, we need to transform how we interact with each other. “Fortunately,” Reclus notes, “a complete alliance of the beautiful and the useful is possible.” [quoted by Clark and Martin (eds.) , Anarchy, Geography, Modernity, p. 125 and p. 28]

Over a century later, Murray Bookchin echoed this insight:

“The views advanced by anarchists were deliberately called social ecology to emphasise that major ecological problems have their roots in social problems — problems that go back to the very beginnings of patricentric culture itself. The rise of capitalism, with a law of life based on competition, capital accumulation, and limitless growth, brought these problems — ecological and social — to an acute point; indeed, one that was unprecedented in any prior epoch of human development. Capitalist society, by recycling the organise world into an increasingly inanimate, inorganic assemblage of commodities, was destined to simplify the biosphere, thereby cutting across the grain of natural evolution with its ages-long thrust towards differentiation and diversity.”To reverse this trend, capitalism had to be replaced by an ecological society based on non-hierarchical relationships, decentralised communities, eco-technologies like solar power, organic agriculture, and humanly scaled industries — in short, by face-to-face democratic forms of settlement economically and structurally tailored to the ecosystems in which they were located.” [Remaking Society, pp. 154-5] 


The vision of an ecological society rests on the obvious fact that people can have both positive and negative impacts on the environment. In current society, there are vast differences and antagonisms between privileged whites and people of colour, men and women, rich and poor, oppressor and oppressed. Remove those differences and antagonisms and our interactions with ourselves and nature change radically. In other words, there is a vast difference between free, non-hierarchical, class, and stateless societies on the one hand, and hierarchical, class-ridden, statist, and authoritarian ones and how they interact with the environment.

Given the nature of ecology, it should come as no surprise that social anarchists have been at the forefront of eco-anarchist theory and activism. It would be fair to say that most eco-anarchists, like most anarchists in general, envision an ecotopia based on communist-anarchist principles. This does not mean that individualist anarchists are indifferent to environmental issues, simply that most anarchists are unconvinced that such solutions will actually end the ecological crisis we face. Certain of the proposals in this section are applicable to individualist anarchism (for example, the arguments that co-operatives will produce less growth and be less likely to pollute). However, others are not. Most obviously, arguments in favour of common ownership and against the price mechanism are not applicable to the market based solutions of individualist anarchism. It should also be pointed out, that much of the eco-anarchist critique of capitalist approaches to ecological problems are also applicable to individualist and mutualist anarchism as well (particularly the former, as the latter does recognise the need to regulate the market). While certain aspects of capitalism would be removed in an individualist anarchism (such as massive inequalities of wealth, capitalist property rights as well as direct and indirect subsidies to big business), it is still has the informational problems associated with markets as well as a growth orientation.

Here we discuss the typical eco-anarchist view of a free ecological society, namely one rooted in social anarchist principles. Eco-anarchists, like all consistent anarchists advocate workers’ self-management of the economy as a necessary component of an ecologically sustainable society. This usually means society-wide ownership of the means of production and all productive enterprises self-managed by their workers (as described further in section I.3). This is a key aspect of making a truly ecological society. Most greens, even if they are not anarchists, recognise the pernicious ecological effects of the capitalist “grow or die” principle; but unless they are also anarchists, they usually fail to make the connection between that principle and the hierarchical form of the typical capitalist corporation. The capitalist firm, like the state, is centralised, top-down and autocratic. These are the opposite of what an ecological ethos would suggest. In contrast, eco-anarchists emphasise the need for socially owned and worker self-managed firms.

This vision of co-operative rather than hierarchical production is a common position for almost all anarchists. Communist and non-communist social anarchists, like mutualists and collectivists, propose co-operative workplaces but differ in how best to distribute the products produced. The former urge the abolition of money and sharing according to need while the latter see income related to work and surpluses are shared equally among all members. Both of these systems would produce workplaces which would be under far less pressure toward rapid expansion than the traditional capitalist firm (as individualist anarchism aims for the abolition of rent, profit and interest it, too, will have less expansive workplaces).

The slower growth rate of co-operatives has been documented in a number of studies, which show that in the traditional capitalist firm, owners’ and executives’ percentage share of profits greatly increases as more employees are added to the payroll. This is because the corporate hierarchy is designed to facilitate exploitation by funnelling a disproportionate share of the surplus value produced by workers to those at the top of the pyramid (see section C.2) Such a design gives ownership and management a very strong incentive to expand, since, other things being equal, their income rises with every new employee hired. [David Schweickart, Against Capitalism, pp. 153-4] Hence the hierarchical form of the capitalist corporation is one of the main causes of runaway growth as well as social inequality and the rise of big business and oligopoly in the so-called “free” market.

By contrast, in an equal-share worker co-operative, the addition of more members simply means more people with whom the available pie will have to be equally divided — a situation that immensely reduces the incentive to expand. Thus a libertarian-socialist economy will not be under the same pressure to grow. Moreover, when introducing technological innovations or facing declining decline for goods, a self-managed workplace would be more likely to increase leisure time among producers rather than increase workloads or reduce numbers of staff.

This means that rather than produce a few big firms, a worker-controlled economy would tend to create an economy with more small and medium sized workplaces. This would make integrating them into local communities and eco-systems far easier as well as making them more easily dependent on green sources of energy. Then there are the other ecological advantages to workers’ self-management beyond the relative lack of expansion of specific workplaces and the decentralisation this implies. These are explained well by market socialist David Schweickart:

“To the extent that emissions affect the workers directly on the job (as they often do), we can expect a self-managed firm to pollute less. Workers will control the technology; it will not be imposed on them from without.”To the extent that emissions affect the local community, they are likely to be less severe, for two reasons. Firstly, workers (unlike capitalist owners) will necessarily live nearby, and so the decision-makers will bear more of the environmental costs directly. Second . . . a self-managed firm will not be able to avoid local regulation by running away (or threatening to do so). The great stick that a capitalist firm holds over the head of a local community will be absent. Hence absent will be the macrophenomenon of various regions of the country trying to compete for firms by offering a ‘better business climate’ (i.e. fewer environmental restrictions).” [Op. Cit., p. 145] 


For an ecological society to work, it requires the active participation of those doing productive activity. They are often the first to be affected by industrial pollution and have the best knowledge of how to stop it happening. As such, workplace self-management is an essential requirement for a society which aims to life in harmony with its surrounds (and with itself, as a key aspect of social unfreedom would be eliminated in the form of wage slavery).

For these reasons, libertarian socialism based on producer co-operatives is essential for the type of economy necessary to solve the ecological crisis. These all feed directly into the green vision as “ecology points to the necessity of decentralisation, diversity in natural and social systems, human-scale technology, and an end to the exploitation of nature.” [John Clark, The Anarchist Moment, p. 115] This can only be achieved on a society which bases itself on workers’ self-management as this would facilitate the decentralisation of industries in ways which are harmonious with nature.

So far, all forms of social anarchism are in agreement. However, eco-anarchists tend to be communist-anarchists and oppose both mutualism and collectivism. This is because workers’ ownership and self-management places the workers of an enterprise in a position where they can become a particularistic interest within their community. This may lead to these firms acting purely in their own narrow interests and against the local community. They would be, in other words, outside of community input and be solely accountable to themselves. This could lead to a situation where they become “collective capitalists” with a common interest in expanding their enterprises, increasing their “profits” and even subjecting themselves to irrational practices to survive in the market (i.e., harming their own wider and long-term interests as market pressures have a distinct tendency to produce a race to the bottom — see section I.1.3 for more discussion). This leads most eco-anarchists to call for a confederal economy and society in which communities will be decentralised and freely give of their resources without the use of money.

As a natural compliment to workplace self-management, eco-anarchists propose communal self-management. So, although it may have appeared that we focus our attention on the economic aspects of the ecological crisis and its solution, this is not the case. It should always be kept in mind that all anarchists see that a complete solution to our many ecological and social problems must be multi-dimensional, addressing all aspects of the total system of hierarchy and domination. This means that only anarchism, with its emphasis on the elimination of authority in all areas of life, goes to the fundamental root of the ecological crisis.

The eco-anarchist argument for direct (participatory) democracy is that effective protection of the planet’s ecosystems requires that all people are able to take part at the grassroots level in decision-making that affects their environment, since they are more aware of their immediate eco-systems and more likely to favour stringent environmental safeguards than politicians, state bureaucrats and the large, polluting special interests that now dominate the “representative” system of government. Moreover, real change must come from below, not from above as this is the very source of the social and ecological problems that we face as it divests individuals, communities and society as a whole of their power, indeed right, to shape their own destinies as well as draining them of their material and “spiritual” resources (i.e., the thoughts, hopes and dreams of people).

Simply put, it should be hardly necessary to explore in any great depth the sound ecological and social reasons for decentralising decision making power to the grassroots of society, i.e. to the people who have to live with the decisions being reached. The decentralised nature of anarchism would mean that any new investments and proposed solutions to existing problems would be tailored to local conditions. Due to the mobility of capital, laws passed under capitalism to protect the environment have to be created and implemented by the central government to be effective. Yet the state, as discussed in section E.1, is a centralised structure unsuited to the task of collecting and processing the information and knowledge required to customise decisions to local ecological and social circumstances. This means that legislation, precisely due to its scope, cannot be finely tuned to local conditions (and so can generate local opposition, particularly if whipped up by corporate front organisations). In an eco-anarchist society, decentralisation would not have the threat of economic power hanging over it and so decisions would be reached which reflected the actual local needs of the population. As they would be unlikely to want to pollute themselves or their neighbours, eco-anarchists are confident that such local empowerment will produce a society which lives with, rather than upon, the environment.

Thus eco-communities (or eco-communes) are a key aspect of an ecotopia. Eco-communes, Bookchin argued, will be “networked confederally through ecosystems, bioregions, and biomes” and be “artistically tailored to their naturally surrounding. We can envision that their squares will be interlaced by streams, their places of assembly surrounded by groves, their physical contours respected and tastefully landscaped, their soils nurtured caringly to foster plant variety for ourselves, our domestic animals, and wherever possible the wildlife they may support on their fringes.” They would be decentralised and “scaled to human dimensions,” using recycling as well as integrating “solar, wind, hydraulic, and methane-producing installations into a highly variegated pattern for producing power. Agriculture, aquaculture, stockraising, and hunting would be regarded as crafts — an orientation that we hope would be extended as much as possible to the fabrication of use-values of nearly all kinds. The need to mass-produce goods in highly mechanised installations would be vastly diminished by the communities’ overwhelming emphasis on quality and permanence.” [The Ecology of Freedom, p. 444]

This means that local communities will generate social and economic policies tailored to their own unique ecological circumstances, in co-operation with others (it is important stress that eco-communes do not imply supporting local self-sufficiency and economic autarchy as values in themselves). Decisions that have regional impact are worked out by confederations of local assemblies, so that everybody affected by a decision can participate in making it. Such a system would be self-sufficient as workplace and community participation would foster creativity, spontaneity, responsibility, independence, and respect for individuality — the qualities needed for a self-management to function effectively. Just as hierarchy shapes those subject to it in negative ways, participation would shape us in positive ways which would strengthen our individuality and enrich our freedom and interaction with others and nature.

That is not all. The communal framework would also impact on how industry would develop. It would allow eco-technologies to be prioritised in terms of R&D and subsidised in terms of consumption. No more would green alternatives and eco-technologies be left unused simply because most people cannot afford to buy them nor would their development be under-funded simply because a capitalist sees little profit form it or a politician cannot see any benefit from it. It also means that the broad outlines of production are established at the community assembly level while they are implemented in practice by smaller collective bodies which also operate on an egalitarian, participatory, and democratic basis. Co-operative workplaces form an integral part of this process, having control over the production process and the best way to implement any general outlines.

It is for these reasons that anarchists argue that common ownership combined with a use-rights based system of possession is better for the environment as it allows everyone the right to take action to stop pollution, not simply those who are directly affected by it. As a framework for ecological ethics, the communal system envisioned by social anarchists would be far better than private property and markets in protecting the environment. This is because the pressures that markets exert on their members would not exist, as would the perverse incentives which reward anti-social and anti-ecological practices. Equally, the anti-ecological centralisation and hierarchy of the state would be ended and replaced with a participatory system which can take into account the needs of the local environment and utilise the local knowledge and information that both the state and capitalism suppresses.

Thus a genuine solution to the ecological crisis presupposes communes, i.e. participatory democracy in the social sphere. This is a transformation that would amount to a political revolution. However, as Bakunin continually emphasised, a political revolution of this nature cannot be envisioned without a socio-economic revolution based on workers’ self-management. This is because the daily experience of participatory decision-making, non-authoritarian modes of organisation, and personalistic human relationships would not survive if those values were denied during working hours. Moreover, as mentioned above, participatory communities would be hard pressed to survive the pressure that big business would subject them to.

Needless to say, the economic and social aspects of life cannot be considered in isolation. For example, the negative results of workplace hierarchy and its master-servant dynamic will hardly remain there. Given the amount of time that most people spend working, the political importance of turning it into a training ground for the development of libertarian values can scarcely be overstated. As history has demonstrated, political revolutions that are not based upon social changes and mass psychological transformation — that is, by a deconditioning from the master/slave attitudes absorbed from the current system — result only in the substitution of new ruling elites for the old ones (e.g. Lenin becoming the new “Tsar” and Communist Party aparatchiks becoming the new “aristocracy”). Therefore, besides having a slower growth rate, worker co-operatives with democratic self-management would lay the psychological foundations for the kind of directly democratic political system necessary to protect the biosphere. Thus “green” libertarian socialism is the only proposal radical enough to solve the ecological crisis.

Ecological crises become possible only within the context of social relations which weaken people’s capacities to fight an organised defence of the planet’s ecology and their own environment. This means that the restriction of participation in decision-making processes within hierarchical organisations such as the state and capitalism firms help create environmental along with social problems by denying those most affected by a problem the means of fixing it. Needless to say, hierarchy within the workplace is a prerequisite to accumulation and so growth while hierarchy within a community is a prerequisite to defend economic and social inequality as well as minority rule as the disempowered become indifferent to community and social issues they have little or no say in. Both combine to create the basis of our current ecological crisis and both need to be ended.

Ultimately, a free nature can only begin to emerge when we live in a fully participatory society which itself is free of oppression, domination and exploitation. Only then will we be able to rid ourselves of the idea of dominating nature and fulfil our potential as individuals and be a creative force in natural as well social evolution. That means replacing the current system with one based on freedom, equality and solidarity. Once this is achieved, “social life will yield a sensitive development of human and natural diversity, falling together into a well balanced harmonious whole. Ranging from community through region to entire continents, we will see a colourful differentiation of human groups and ecosystems, each developing its unique potentialities and exposing members of the community to a wide spectrum of economic, cultural and behavioural stimuli. Falling within our purview will be an exciting, often dramatic, variety of communal forms — here marked by architectural and industrial adaptations to semi-arid ecosystems, there to grasslands, elsewhere by adaptation to forested areas. We will witness a creative interplay between individual and group, community and environment, humanity and nature.” [Bookchin, Post-Scarcity Anarchism, p. 39]

So, to conclude, in place of capitalism eco-anarchists favour ecologically responsible forms of libertarian socialism, with an economy based on the principles of complementarily with nature; decentralisation (where possible and desirable) of large-scale industries, reskilling of workers, and a return to more artisan-like modes of production; the use of eco-technologies and ecologically friendly energy sources to create green products; the use of recycled and recyclable raw materials and renewable resources; the integration of town and country, industry and agriculture; the creation of self-managed eco-communities which exist in harmony with their surroundings; and self-managed workplaces responsive to the wishes of local community assemblies and labour councils in which decisions are made by direct democracy and co-ordinated (where appropriate and applicable) from the bottom-up in a free federation. Such a society would aim to develop the individuality and freedom of all its members in order to ensure that we end the domination of nature by humanity by ending domination within humanity itself.

This is the vision of a green society put forth by Murray Bookchin. To quote him:

“We must create an ecological society — not merely because such a society is desirable but because it is direly necessary. We must begin to live in order to survive. Such a society involves a fundamental reversal of all the trends that mark the historic development of capitalist technology and bourgeois society — the minute specialisation or machines and labour, the concentration of resources and people in gigantic industrial enterprises and urban entities, the stratification and bureaucratisation of life, the divorce of town from country, the objectification of nature and human beings. In my view, this sweeping reversal means that we must begin to decentralise our cities and establish entirely new eco-communities that are artistically moulded to the ecosystems in which they are located . . .”Such an eco-community . . . would heal the split between town and country, indeed, between mind and body by fusing intellectual with physical work, industry with agriculture in a rotation or diversification of vocational tasks. An eco-community would be supported by a new kind of technology — or eco-technology — one composed of flexible, versatile machinery whose productive applications would emphasise durability and quality . . .” [Toward an Ecological Society, pp. 68-9] 


Lastly, we need to quickly sketch out how anarchists see the change to an ecological society happening as there is little point having an aim if you have no idea how to achieve it.

As noted above, eco-anarchists (like all anarchists) do not counterpoise an ideal utopia to existing society but rather participate in current ecological struggles. Moreover, we see that struggle itself as the link between what is and what could be. This implies, at minimum, a two pronged strategy of neighbourhood movements and workplace organising as a means of both fighting and abolishing capitalism. These would work together, with the former targeting, say, the disposal of toxic wastes and the latter stopping the production of toxins in the first place. Only when workers are in a position to refuse to engage in destructive practices or produce destructive goods can lasting ecological change emerge. Unsurprisingly, modern anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists have been keen to stress the need for a green syndicalism which addresses ecological as well as economical exploitation. The ideas of community and industrial unionism are discussed in more detail in section J.5 along with other anarchist tactics for social change. Needless to say, such organisations would use direct action as their means of achieving their goals (see section J.2). It should be noted that some of Bookchin’s social ecologist followers advocate, like him, greens standing in local elections as a means to create a counter-power to the state. As we discuss in section J.5.14, this strategy (called Libertarian Municipalism) finds few supporters in the wider anarchist movement.

This strategy flows, of course, into the structures of an ecological society. As we discuss in section I.2.3, anarchists argue that the framework of a free society will be created in the process of fighting the existing one. Thus the structures of an eco-anarchist society (i.e. eco-communes and self-managed workplaces) will be created by fighting the ecocidal tendencies of the current system. In other words, like all anarchists eco-anarchists seek to create the new world while fighting the old one. This means what we do now is, however imperfect, an example of what we propose instead of capitalism. That means we act in an ecological fashion today in order to ensure that we can create an ecological society tomorrow.For more discussion of how an anarchist society would work, see section I. We will discuss the limitations of various proposed solutions to the environmental crisis in the following sections.

December 15, 2009 Posted by | anti-kapitalizm, e-kitap, ekotopya heterotopya utopyalar, isyan, ozyonetim, sistem karsitligi, somuru / tahakkum | 2 Comments

E.1.2 What is the difference between environmentalism and ecology?

As we noted in section A.3.3, eco-anarchists contrast ecology with environmentalism. The difference is important as it suggests both a different analysis of where our ecological problems come from and the best way to solve them. As Bookchin put it: 

“By ‘environmentalism’ I propose to designate a mechanistic, instrumental outlook that sees nature as a passive habitat composed of ‘objects’ such as animals, plants, minerals, and the like that must merely be rendered more serviceable for human use . . . Within this context, very little of a social nature is spared from the environmentalist’s vocabulary: cities become ‘urban resources’ and their inhabitants ‘human resources’ . . . Environmentalism . . . tends to view the ecological project for attaining a harmonious relationship between humanity and nature as a truce rather than a lasting equilibrium. The ‘harmony’ of the environmentalist centres around the development of new techniques for plundering the natural world with minimal disruption of the human ‘habitat.’ Environmentalism does not question the most basic premise of the present society, notably, that humanity must dominant nature; rather, it seeks to facilitate than notion by developing techniques for diminishing the hazards caused by the reckless despoliation of the environment.” [The Ecology of Freedom, p. 86]

So eco-anarchists call the position of those who seek to reform capitalism and make it more green “environmentalism” rather than ecology. The reasons are obvious, as environmentalists “focus on specific issues like air and water pollution” while ignoring the social roots of the problems they are trying to solve. In other words, their outlook “rest[s] on an instrumental, almost engineering approach to solving ecological dislocations. To all appearances, they wanted to adapt the natural world to the needs of the existing society and its exploitative, capitalist imperatives by way of reforms that minimise harm to human health and well-being. The much-needed goals of formulating a project for radical social change and for cultivating a new sensibility toward the natural world tended to fall outside the orbit of their practical concerns.” Eco-anarchists, while supporting such partial structures, stress that “these problems originate in a hierarchical, class, and today, competitive capitalist system that nourishes a view of the natural world as a mere agglomeration of ‘resources’ for human production and consumption.” [Op. Cit., pp. 15-6]

This is the key. As environmentalism does not bring into question the underlying notion of the present society that man must dominate nature it cannot present anything other than short-term solutions for the various symptoms of the underlying problem. Moreover, as it does not question hierarchy, it simply adjusts itself to the status quo. Thus liberal environmentalism is so “hopelessly ineffectual” because “it takes the present social order for granted” and is mired in “the paralysing belief that a market society, privately owned property, and the present-day bureaucratic nation-state cannot be changed in any basic sense. Thus, it is the prevailing order that sets the terms of any ‘compromise’ or ‘trade-off'” and so “the natural world, including oppressed people, always loses something piece by piece, until everything is lost in the end. As long as liberal environmentalism is structured around the social status quo, property rights always prevail over public rights and power always prevails over powerlessness. Be it a forest, wetlands, or good agricultural soil, a ‘developer’ who owns any of these ‘resources’ usually sets the terms on which every negotiation occurs and ultimately succeeds in achieving the triumph of wealth over ecological considerations.” [Bookchin, Remaking Society, p. 15]

This means that a truly ecological perspective seeks to end the situation where a few govern the many, not to make the few nicer. As Chomsky once noted on the issue of “corporate social responsibility”, he could not discuss the issue as such because he did “not accept some of its presuppositions, specifically with regard to the legitimacy of corporate power” as he did not see any “justification for concentration of private power” than “in the political domain.” Both would “act in a socially responsible way — as benevolent despots — when social strife, disorder, protest, etc., induce them to do so for their own benefit.” He stressed that in a capitalist society “socially responsible behaviour would be penalised quickly in that competitors, lacking such social responsibility, would supplant anyone so misguided as to be concerned with something other than private benefit.” This explains why real capitalist systems have always “been required to safeguard social existence in the face of the destructive forces of private capitalism” by means of “substantial state control.” However, the “central questions . . . are not addressed, but rather begged” when discussing corporate social responsibility. [Language and Politics, p. 275]

Ultimately, the key problem with liberal environmentalism (as with liberalism in general) is that it tends, by definition, to ignore class and hierarchy. The “we are all in this together” kind of message ignores that most of decisions that got us into our current ecological and social mess were made by the rich as they have control over resources and power structures (both private and public). It also suggests that getting us out of the mess must involve taking power and wealth back from the elite — if for no other reason because working class people do not, by themselves, have the resources to solve the problem.

Moreover, the fact is the ruling class do not inhabit quite the same polluted planet as everyone else. Their wealth protects them, to a large degree, to the problems that they themselves have created and which, in fact, they owe so much of that wealth to (little wonder, then, they deny there is a serious problem). They have access to a better quality of life, food and local environment (no toxic dumps and motorways are near their homes or holiday retreats). Of course, this is a short term protection but the fate of the planet is a long-term abstraction when compared to the immediate returns on one’s investments. So it is not true to say that all parts of the ruling class are in denial about the ecological problems. A few are aware but many more show utter hatred towards those who think the planet is more important than profits.

This means that such key environmentalist activities such as education and lobbying are unlikely to have much effect. While these may produce some improvements in terms of our environmental impact, it cannot stop the long-term destruction of our planet as the ecological crisis is systemic — and not a matter of misinformation, spiritual insensitivity, or lack of moral integrity. The present social illness lies not only in the outlook that pervades the present society; it lies above all in the very structure and law of life in the system itself, in its imperative, which no entrepreneur or corporation can ignore without facing destruction: growth, more growth, and still more growth.” [Murray Bookchin, “The Ecological Crisis, Socialism, and the need to remake society,” pp. 1-10, Society and Nature, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 2-3] This can only be ended by ending capitalism, not by appeals to consumers to buy eco-friendly products or to capitalists to provide them:

“Accumulation is determined not by the good or bad intentions of the individual bourgeois, but by the commodity relationship itself . . . It is not the perversity of the bourgeois that creates production for the sake of production, but the very market nexus over which he presides and to which he succumbs. . . . It requires a grotesque self-deception, or worse, an act of ideological social deception, to foster the belief that this society can undo its very law of life in response to ethical arguments or intellectual persuasion.” [Toward an Ecological Society, p. 66]

Sadly, much of what passes for the green movement is based on this kind of perspective. At worse, many environmentalists place their hopes on green consumerism and education. At best, they seek to create green parties to work within the state to pass appropriate regulations and laws. Neither option gets to the core of the problem, namely a system in which there are “oppressive human beings who literally own society and others who are owned by it. Until society can be reclaimed by an undivided humanity that will use its collective wisdom, cultural achievements, technological innovations, scientific knowledge, and innate creativity for its own benefit and for that of the natural world, all ecological problems will have their roots in social problems.” [Bookchin, Remaking Society, p. 39]

December 15, 2009 Posted by | anti-kapitalizm, e-kitap, sistem karsitligi | Leave a comment


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