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Murray Bookchin

Anarchism: Past and Present


Note: The following issue of COMMENT was presented as a lecture to the Critical
Theory Seminar of the University of California at Los Angeles on May 29, 1980. M
y remarks are intended to emphasize the extreme importance today of viewing Anar
chism in terms of the changing social contexts of our era
not as an ossified doc
trine that belongs to one or another set of European thinkers, valuable as their
views may have been in their various times and places. Today, more than ever, t
he viability of Anarchism in America will depend upon its ability to speak direc
tly in the language of the American people and to living problems of the America
n people
rather than to resurrect ideas, expressions, slogans and a weary vernac
ular that belong to eras past. This is not to deny the internationalist spirit o
f Anarchism or its historical continuity, but rather to stress the need to solid
arize with libertarian traditions and concepts that are clearly relevant to domi
nated peoples in the areas
conceived in terms of place, time, and forms
in which
libertarian movements function.
I
There is a grave danger that Anarchism may be dealt with simplistically, the way
we deal with most radical isms today
as a fixed body of theory and practice that
so often reduces Socialism to the textual works of Marx and Engels and their aco
lytes. I do not mean to deny the generic meaning of terms like Socialism. There ar
e many types of Socialisms ranging from the utopian to the Leninist, from the et
hical to the scientific. I simply wish to stake out the same claim for Anarchism
. We must always remember that there are also many forms of Anarchism, notably a
narcho-syndicalism, anarcho-individualism, anarcho-collectivism, anarcho-communi
sm, and, amusingly enough, anarcho-Bolshevism if I read the history of the Spani
sh Anarchist movement correctly. These Anarchist theories and movements have bee
n burdened by all the intramural conflicts we encounter between Socialists, albe
it in a less bloody and lethal form.
What really concerns me with the wide range of Anarchisms, however, goes well be
yond the generic character of the term. I cannot stress strongly enough that Ana
rchism not only encompasses a wide variety of theories and movements but more im
portantly it has a very rich historical genesis and development. This is crucial
to an understanding of what I have to say. More so than any radical movement wi
th which we are familiar, Anarchism is a profoundly social movement as distingui
shed from the usual political movements we associate with The Left. Its vitality
, its theoretical form, indeed its very raison d etre stem from its capacity to ex
press the millenia-long aspirations of peoples to create their own egalitarian o
r, at least, self-administered social structures, their own forms of human conso
ciation by which they can exercise control over their lives. In this sense, Anar
chism really constitutes a folk or people s social philosophy and practice in the
richest sense of the term, just as the folk song constitutes the emotional expre
ssion of a people in their esthetic or spiritual depths. The Hellenic origins of
the terms anarche or no rule should not deceive us into thinking that it can be r
eadily placed in the academic spectrum of social ideas. Historically, Anarchism
has found expression in non-authoritarian clans, tribes and tribal federations,
in the democratic institutions of the Athenian polis, in the early medieval comm
unes, in the radical Puritan congregations of the English Revolution, in the dem
ocratic town meetings that spread from Boston to Charleston after 1760, in the P
aris Commune of 1871, the soviets of 1905 and 1917, the Anarchist pueblos, barri
os, and worker-controlled shops of the Spanish Revolution of 1936
in short, in t
he self-directed, early and contemporary, social forms of humanity that have ins
titutionally involved people in face-to-face relations based on direct democracy
, self-management, active citizenship, and personal participation.[1] It is with
in this electric public sphere that the Anarchist credo of direct action finds i
ts real actualization. Indeed, direct action not only means the occupation of a
nuclear power plant site but less dramatic, often prosaic, and tedious forms of

self-management that involve patience, commitment to democratic procedures, leng


thy discourse, and a decent respect for the opinions of others within the same c
ommunity.
This institutional framework and sensibility is the authentic mileau of Anarchis
m, its very protoplasm. The theories that emerge from the activity of this proto
plasm are the forms of self-reflexive rationality that give it coherence and con
sciousness. To my thinking, the Digger Winstanley, the Enrage Varlat, the artisan
Proudhon, the worker Pelloutier, and the Russian intellectuals Bakunin and Kropo
tkin voice at various levels of consciousness different, often clearly delineabl
e, phases of humanity s organic evolution toward freedom. One can often associate
these individuals or the ideas they developed with the actual development of the
popular social forms from which they emerged or to which they gave ideological
coherence. Thus one can justifiably associate Winstanley s ideas with the agrarian
Anarchism of the yeoman communities in seventeenth-century England, Varlat with
the urban neighborhood Anarchism of the revolutionary sections and Enrage movem
ent of Paris in 1793, Proudhon with the artisan Anarchism of craftspeople in pre
-industrial France, Bakunin s anarcho-collectivism with the peasant villages of Ru
ssia and Spain, Pelloutier s anarcho-syndicalism, with the industrial proletariat
and emerging factory system and, perhaps most prophetically, Kropotkin s anarcho-c
ommunism with our own era, a body of theory that readily lends itself to the eco
logical, decentralist, technological, and urban issues that have come to the for
eground of social life today.
The anti-statist and anti-political views of these Anarchist thinkers should not
obscure the positive content of their views and their roots. The Marxian notion
that human socialization reaches its most advanced historical form with bourgeois
society a society that strips humanity of its remaining biosocial trappings
wou
ld have been emphatically rejected by these Anarchists if only on the intuitive
grounds that society can never be totally denatured. As I have argued elsewhere
(see my Beyond Neo-Marxism in Telos, No. 36), society never frees itself of its na
tural matrix, even in the internal relations between individuals. The actual iss
ue, if one is to learn from the ecological problems of our time, is the nature o
f that nature in which society is rooted
organic (as was the case in many precap
italist communities) or inorganic (as is the case in market society). The clan,
tribe, polis, medieval commune, even the Parisian sections, the Commune, certain
ly the village and decentralized towns of the past, were rooted in bio-social re
lations. Market society with its atomization, competition, total objectification
of the individual and her or his labor-power
not to speak of the bureaucratic s
inews that hold this lifeless structure together, the concrete, steel, and glass
cities and suburbs that provide its environments, and quantification that perme
ates every aspect of its activity all of these not only deny life in the biologi
cal and organic sense but reduce it to its molecular components in the physical
and inorganic sense. Bourgeois society does not achieve society s domination of na
ture; rather, it literally desocializes society by making it an object to be app
ropriated by inorganic nature, by the bourgeois in his inner being and his socia
l being. The bureaucracy colonizes the social institutions of humanity; the conc
rete city, the organic relations of nature; cybernetics and the mass media, the
individual s personality; in short, market society colonizes every aspect of persona
l and social life.
I cannot emphasize too strongly the umbilical cord that unites organic societies
, in the sense and with the qualifications I have described them, with Anarchist
theories and movements. Nor can I desist from noting the extent to which Marxis
m, by contrast, is linked to the most inorganic of all human structures, the sta
te and at other layers of hierarchy, with that most inorganic of all oppressed c
lasses, the proletariat and such institutionalized forms of centralized power as
the factory, the party, and the bureaucracy. That the very universality of the pr
oletariat that Marx celebrates in the form of its dehumanization by capital, its
association with a technological framework based on centralization, domination,

and rationalization which presumably render it into a revolutionary force revea


ls the extent to which Marx s own theoretical corpus is rooted in bourgeois ideolo
gy in its least self-reflexive form. For this universality as we can now see celeb
rates the hollowing out of society itself, its increasing vulnerability to bureauc
ratic manipulation in industry and politics by capital and trade unions. Schooled
by the nuclear family, by vocational supervisors, by the hierarchical factory st
ructure, and by the division of labor, the universality of the proletariat turns o
ut to be the faceleseness of the proletariat its expression not of the general i
nterests of humanity in its progress toward socialism but its particular interes
ts, indeed, of interests as such, as the expression of bourgeois egoism. The fac
tory does not unite the proletariat; it defines it
and no tendency more clearly
expresses the proletariat s human desires than its attempt to escape from the fact
ory, to seek what the Berlin Dadaists of 1918 were to demand: universal unemploym
ent.
II
These far-reaching distinctions between Anarchism as a social movement and Marxi
sm as a political one require further emendations. I have no quarrel with the gr
eat wealth of Marx s writings, particularly his work on alienation, his analysis o
f the commodity relationship and the accumulation of capital. His historical the
ories require the correction of the best work of Max Weber and Karl Polanyi. But
it is not Marx s writings that must be updated. Their limits are defined by their
fundamentally bourgeois origins and their incredible susceptibility to politica
l, that is, state-oriented ideologies. Historically, it is not accidental that A
narchism in Spain, in the Ukraine, and, in its Zapatista form in Mexico, could b
e crushed only by a genocidal destruction of its social roots, notably the villa
ge. Marxian movements, where they suffer defeat, are crushed merely by demolishi
ng the party. The seeming atavism of Anarchism its attempts to retain artisanship,
the mutual aid of the community, a closeness to nature and enlightened ethical
norms
are its virtues insofar as they seek to retain those richly articulated, c
ooperative, and self-expressive forms of human consociation scaled to human dime
nsions. The seeming effectiveness of Marxism its attempt to replicate the state in
the form of the party, its emphasis on a political apparatus, its scientific th
rust and its denial of a prophetic ethical vision
are its vices insofar as they
do not demolish the bourgeois state but incorporate it into the very substance o
f protest and revolution.

Not accidentally, Marxism has been most sharply alienated from itself. The attem
pt to update Marxian theory, to give it relevance beyond the academy and reformist
movements, has added an obfuscating eclectic dimension to its ideological corpu
s. In response to the Russian general strike of 1905, Rosa Luxemburg was obliged
to make the mass strike
a typical Anarchist strategy
palatable to the Second Inter
ational this, not without grossly distorting Engel s view on the subject and the A
narchist view as well.[2] Lenin was to perform much the same acrobatics in State
and Revolution in 1917 when events favored the Paris Commune as a paradigm, aga
in assailing the Anarchists while concealing Marx s own denigrating judgment of th
e uprising in the later years of his life. Similar acrobatics were performed by
Mandel, Gorz, et al in May-June 1968, when all of France was swept into a near-r
evolutionary situation.
What is significant, here, is the extent to which the theory follows events whic
h are essentially alien to its analysis. The emergence of the ecology movement i
n the late 1960s, of feminism in the early 1970s, and more belatedly, of neighbo
rhood movements in recent years has rarely been viewed as a welcome phenomenon b
y Marxist theorists until, by the sheer force of events, it has been acknowledge
d, later distorted to meet economistic, Marxist criteria, and attempts are ultim
ately made to absorb it. At which point, it is not Anarchism, to which these iss
ues are literally indigenous, that has been permitted to claim its relevancy and
legitimacy to the problems of our era but rather Marxism, much of which has bec

ome the ideology of state capitalism in half of the world. This obfuscating deve
lopment has impeded the evolution of revolutionary consciousness at its very roo
ts and gravely obstructs the evolution of a truly self-reflexive revolutionary m
ovement.
By the same token, Anarchism has acquired some bad Marxist habits of its own, no
tably an ahistorical and largely defensive commitment to its own past. The trans
formation of the sixties counterculture into more institutionalized forms and th
e decline of the New Left has created among many committed Anarchists a longing
for the ideological security and pedigree that currently afflicts many Marxist s
ects. This yearning to return to a less inglorious past, together with the resur
gence of the Spanish CNT after Franco s death, has fostered an Anarchism that is c
hillingly similar in its lack of creativity to sectarian forms of proletarian so
cialism, notably anarcho-syndicalism. What is lacking in both cases is the prole
tariat and the historical constellation of circumstances that marked the hundred
-year-old era of 1848 to 1938. Anarchist commitments to the factory, to the stru
ggle of wage labor versus capital, share all the vulgarities of sectarian Marxis
m. What redeems the anarcho-syndicalists from outright congruence with authorita
rian Marxism is the form their libertarian variant of proletarian socialism acqu
ires. Their emphasis on an ethical socialism, on direct action, on control from
below, and their apolitical stance may serve to keep them afloat, but what tends
to vitiate their efforts
this quite aside from the historical decline of the wo
rkers movement as a revolutionary force
is the authoritarian nature of the facto
ry, the pyramidal structure fostered by syndicalist theory, and the reliance ana
rcho-syndicalists place on the unique role of the proletariat and the social nat
ure of its conflict with capital.
Viewed broadly, anarcho-syndicalism, Proudhonianism, and Bakuninism belong to an
irretrievable past. I say this not because they lack ideological coherence and
meaning indeed, Proudhon s emphasis on federalism still enjoys its original validi
ty but simply because they speak to epochs which have faded into history. There
is much they can teach us, but they have long been transcended by historically n
ew issues
in my view, more fundamental in their libertarian implications to whic
h the entire Left must now address itself. This does not mean the death or even th
e transcendence of Anarchism as such once we view the term in its generic and hist
orical meaning, for the issues that confront us are more distinctly social than
they have ever been at any time in the past. They literally involve the recreati
on of a new public sphere as distinguished from the state with the forms, instit
utions, relations, sensibilities, and culture appropriate to a world that is fac
ed with desocialization at every level of life. For Marxism, these issues are fa
tal and, in fact, render Marxism itself into ideology in a socially destructive
sense.
III
We are no longer living in a world where revolutionary consciousness can be deve
loped primarily or even significantly around the issue of wage labor versus capi
tal. I do not wish to denigrate the significance of this century-old conflict. T
hat a class struggle exists between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie (however
broadly we choose to define the term proletariat ) hardly requires discussion, any
more than the fact that we live in a capitalist society that is ruled by a capit
alist class (again, however broadly we choose to define the term capitalist ). What
is really at issue is that a class struggle does not mean a class war in the re
volutionary sense of the term. If the past century has taught us anything, I sub
mit it has demonstrated that the conflict between the proletariat and the bourge
oisie has been neither more nor less revolutionary than the conflict between the
plebians and patricians in the ancient world or the serfs and the nobility in t
he feudal world. Both conflicts did not simply end in an impasse; they never con
tained the authentic possibilities of transcending the social, economic, and cul
tural forms within which they occurred. Indeed, the view of history as a history

of class struggle is a highly convoluted one that is not exhausted by conflicti


ng economic interests, by class consciousness and identity, or by the economical
ly motivated methods that have so easily rooted socialist and syndicalist ideolo
gist in economic reductionism or what is blithely called a class analysis.
What lies on the horizon of the remaining portion of this century is not the cla
ss struggle as we have known it in the metaphors of proletarian socialism
Social
ist or Anarchist. The monumental crisis bourgeois society has created in the for
m of a disequilibrium between humanity and nature, a crisis that has telescoped
an entire geological epoch into a mere century; the expansive notion of human fr
eedom that has given rise of feminism in all its various forms; the hollowing ou
t of the human community and citizenship that threatens the very claims of indiv
iduality, subjectivity, and democratic consciousness, perhaps the greatest claim
the bourgeois epoch has made for itself as a force for progress; the terrifying
sense of powerlessness in the face of ever-greater urban, corporate, and politi
cal gigantism; the steady demobilization of the political electorate in a waning
era of institutional republicanism all of these sweeping regressions have rende
red an economistic interpretation of social phenomena, a traditional class analys
is, and largely conventional political strategies in the forms of electoral polit
ics and party structures grossly inadequate. One must truly torture these issues
and grossly warp them into utterly distorted forms to fit them into Marxian cat
egories. Perhaps no less significantly, the far-reaching politicization of the e
conomy itself in the form of state capitalism or its various approximations and
the emergence of a highly elaborated bureaucracy have given to the state sweepin
g historical functions that go far beyond its earlier role as a so-called executi
ve committee of the ruling class. Indeed, to an appalling extent, they have turne
d the state into a substitution for society itself.
One must realize the entirely new conditions this constellation of circumstances
has produced for radicalism, the extent to which they redefine the revolutionar
y project theoretically and practically. The technical progress that Socialism o
nce regarded as decisive to humanity s domination of nature and as preconditions f
or human freedom have now become essential in sophisticating the domination of h
uman by human. Technology now savagely reinforces class and hierarchical rule by
adding unprecendented instrumentalities of control and destruction to the force
s of domination. The wedding of the economy to the state, far from simplifying t
he revolutionary project as Engels so naively believed in Anti-Duhring, has rein
forced the powers of the state with resources that the most despotic regimes of
the past never had at their command. The growing recognition that the proletaria
t has become and probably has always been
an organ of capitalist society, not a
revolutionary agent gestating within its womb, has raised anew the problem of th
e revolutionary agent in an entirely new and non-Marxian form. Finally, the need f
or the revolutionary project to view itself as a cultural project (or countercul
ture, if you will) that encompasses the needs of human subjectivity, the empower
ment of the individual, the astheticization of the revolutionary ideal has led,
in turn, to a need to consider the structural nature, internal relations, and in
stitutional forms of a revolutionary movement that will compensate, if only in p
art, for the cultural, subjective, and social negation of the public and the pri
vate sphere. Indeed, we must redefine the very meaning of the word Left today. We
must ask if radicalism can be reduced to a crude form of social democracy that o
perates within the established order to acquire mass, mindless constituencies or
if it must advance a far-reaching revolutionary challenge to desocialization an
d to every aspect of domination, be it in everyday life or in the broader social
arena of the coming historic epoch.
IV
Whatever else Anarchism meant in the past be it the millenarian movements of Chr
istianity, the peasant movements of the Anabaptists, -the Makhnovite and Zapatis
ta militias, the Parisian Enrages and Communards, the Proudhonian artisans, or t

he early industrial workers who entered the CGT in France and the CNT in Spain
i
t is clear to me that contemporary Anarchism must address itself in the most sop
histicated and radical terms to capitalist, indeed to hierarchical society, in i
ts advanced and, I genuinely believe, its terminal forms. To relegate Anarchism
to an ahistorical moral movement based on the virtues of natural man and his procl
ivities for mutual aid, to define it merely in terms of its opposition to the st
ate as the source of all evil, worse, to describe Anarchism merely in terms of o
ne of its variants the Anarchism of Stirner, Proudhon, Bakunin, or Kropotkin,
is
to grossly misread Anarchism as a historical movement, to ignore its existence
as a social movement in a specific social context. Anarchism does not have the p
roprietary character of Marxism with its body of definable texts, commentators,
and their offshoots. Conceived as a social movement rather than a political one,
it is not only deeply woven into the development of humanity but demands histor
ical treatment.
Do I mean to say, then, that Anarchism dissolves into history and has no theoret
ical identity? My reply would be an emphatic No. What unites all Anarchist theorie
s and movements are not only their defense of society against the state, of dire
ct action against political action; more fundamentally, I believe, Anarchism by
definition goes beyond class exploitation (whose significance it never denies) i
nto hierarchical domination, whose historical significance it increasingly analy
zes as the source of authority as such. The domination of the young by the old i
n tribal gerontacracies, of women by men in patriarchal families, the crude obje
ctification of nature
all precede class society and economic exploitation. In fa
ct, they remain the crucial residual sphere of authority that Marxism and Social
ism retain all too comfortably in their notions of a classless society. Anarchis
m, in effect, provides the materials for an analysis of the nature of freedom an
d the nature of oppression that go beyond the conventional economistic, nexus of
capitalist society into the very sensibility, structure, and nature of human co
nsociation as such. The genesis of hierarchy, which for Marx was an inevitable e
xtension of biology into society, is seen as a social phenomenon within the Anar
chist framework, one which has its most consolidating source in patriarchy and t
he supremacy of the male s civil domain over the woman s domestic domain. I know of
no more brilliant statement of this far-reaching shift than Horkheimer s and Adorn
o s passage on animals at the end of the Dialectic of Enlightenment: For millena men
dreamed of acquiring absolute mastery over nature, of converting the cosmos into
one immense hunting-ground. (p. 248) Inevitably, the genesis of hierarchy and d
omination yields the objectification of nature as mere natural resources, of hum
an beings as mere human resources, of community as mere urban resources in short
, the reduction of the world itself to inorganic technics and a technocratic sen
sibility that sees humankind as a mere instrument of production.
I have tried to show elsewhere that Marx sophisticates and extends this trend in
to socialism and, unwittingly, reduces socialism to ideology. (See my Marxism as
Bouregois Sociology, Our Generation, Vol. 13, No. 3) What concerns me for the pre
sent is that Anarchism, often intuitively, assembles the materials for a deeper,
richer, and more significantly, a broads insight and grasp into the dialectic o
f domination and freedom, this by reaching beyond the factory and even the marke
tplace into hierarchical relations that prevail in the family, the educational s
ystem, the community, and in fact, the division of labor, the factory, the relat
ionship of humanity to nature, not to speak of the state, bureaucracy, and the p
arty. Accordingly, the issues of ecology, feminism, and community are indigenous
concerns of Anarchism, problems which it often advances even before they acquir
e social immediacy not problems which must be tacked on to its theoretical corpu
s and distorted to meet the criteria of an economistic, class-oriented viewpoint
. Hence, Anarchism, by making these issues central to its social analyses and pr
actice has acquired a relevance that, by far, overshadows most trends in present
-day socialism. Indeed, Anarchism has become the trough in which Socialism eclec
tically nourishes itself on an alien diet of socialist feminism, the economics of p
ollution, and the political economy of urbanism.

Secondly, Anarchism has faced the urgent problem of structuring itself as a revo
lutionary movement in the form of the very society it seeks to create. It should
hardly be necessary to demolish the preposterous notion that hierarchical forms
of organization are synonymous with organization as such, anymore than it shoul
d be necessary to demolish the notion that the state has always been synonymous
with society. What uniquely distinguishes Anarchism from other socialisms is it
commitment to a libertarian confederal movement and culture, based on the coordi
nation of human-scaled groups, united by personal affinity as well as ideologica
l agreement, controlled from below rather than from above, and committed to sponta
neous direct action. Here, it fosters embryonic growth, cell by cell as it were,
as distinguished from bureaucratic growth by fiat and inorganic accretion. At a
time when consociation is faced with the deadly prospect of dissociation, Anarc
hism opposes social form to political form, individual empowerment through direc
t action to political powerlessness through bureaucratic representation. Thus An
archism is not only the practice of citizenship within a new public sphere, but
the self-administration of the revolutionary movement itself. The very process o
f building an Anarchist movement from below is viewed as the process of consocia
tion, self-activity and self-management that must ultimately yield that revoluti
onary self that can act upon, change and manage an authentic society.
I have merely scratched the wails of a considerable theoretical corpus and criti
que that would require volumes to develop in detail. Let me emphasize that the m
ost advanced Anarchist theories, today, do not involve a mystical return to a nat
ural man, a crude anti-statism, a denial of the need for organization, a vision o
f direct action as violence and terrorism, a mindless rejection of sophisticated
theory, an opaqueness to what is living in the work of all Socialist theories.
Anarchist critique and reconstruction reach far and deep into the Socialist and
bourgeois traditions. If Anarchism is the return of a ghost, as Adorno once insist
ed, we may justly ask why this ghost continues to haunt us today. This reality can
only be answered rationally if one remembers that the ghost is nothing less than
the attempt to restore society, human consociation at the present level of histo
rical development, in the face of an all-ubiquitious state and bureaucracy with
its attendant depersonalization of the individual and its demobilization of the
public and the public sphere. By the same token, the bourgeois essence of Social
ism, particularly in its Marxian form, lies in its inglorious celebration of the
massification of the citizen into the proletarian, of the factory as the public
sphere, of cultural impoverishment as class consciousness, of the retreat from th
e social to the economic, of the triumph of technics over nature and of science
over ethics. If Anarchism is a ghost, it is because human consociation itself thre
atens to become spectral; if Marxism is a living presence, it is because the marke
t threatens to devour social life. Adorno s metaphors become confused in the name
of a false historicism where even the past actually enjoys more vitality than the
present, a vitality that can never be recovered without giving life to the ghost i
tself. If the state, bureaucracy, and masses are to be exorcised, it is not Anarch
ism that will be removed from the stage of history but Marxism, with its central
ized parties, hierarchies, economistic sensibilities, political strategies, and
class mythologies.
V
There is much I have been obliged to omit. My limited time makes it impossible f
or me to deal with such delectable questions as the nature of the revolutionary a
gent today, the relationship of Anarchist practice to the political sphere (a mor
e complex issue than is generally supposed when one recalls that Anarchists play
ed a significant role in the electoral activities of the Montreal Citizens Movem
ent), the details of Anarchist organizational structures, the relationship of An
archism to the counterculture, to feminism, to the ecology movement, to neo-Marx
ist tendencies, and the like.

But allow me to conclude with this very important consideration. At a time when
the proletariat is quiescent
historically, I believe
as a revolutionary class an
d the traditional factory faces technological extinction, Anarchism has raised a
lmost alone those ecological issues, feminist issues, community issues, problems
of self-empowerment, forms of decentralization, and concepts of self-administra
tion that are now at the foreground of the famous social question. And it has rais
ed these issues from within its very substance as a theory and practice directed
against hierarchy and domination, not as exogenous problems that must be coped wi
th or warped into an economistic interpretation subject of class analysis and pr
oblems of material exploitation.

[1] It would be well, at this point, to stress that I am discussing the institut
ional structure of the social forms cited above. That they all variously may hav
e excluded women, strangers, often non-conformists of various religious and ethn
ic backgrounds, not to speak of slaves and people lacking property, does not dim
inish humanity s capacity to recreate them on more advanced levels. Rather, it ind
icates that despite their historical limitations, such structures were both poss
ible and functional, often with remarkable success. A free society will have to
draw its content from the higher canons of reason and morality, not from
models
at existed in the past. What the past recovers and validates is the human abilit
y to approximate freedom, not the actualization of freedom in the fullness of it
s possibilities.

th

[2] A distortion all the more odious because the Social Democratic rank-and-file
had been deeply moved, ideologically as well as emotionally, by the 1905 events
. The anarchists and syndicalists who had previously been driven underground by o
rthodox Social Democracy now rose to the surface like mushrooms on the periphery
of the SPD, observes Peter Nettl rather disdainfully in his biography of Luxembu
rg; when it came to something resembling their general strike they felt they were c
lose to legitimacy once more. And, indeed, with good reason: For the first time fo
r years anarchist speakers appeared on provincial Socialist platforms by invitat
ion. The orthodox party press led by Vorwarts was much more cautious; but it, to
o, gave pride of place [albeit if not of doctrine M. B.] to Russian events and f
or the first few months abstained from wagging blunt and cautious fingers over t
he differences between Russian chaos and German order. (Peter Nettl, Rosa Luxembu
rg, Oxford University Press, 1969, abridged version, pp. 203 4).
Murray Bookchin
Anarchy and Organization: A letter to the left
Anarchy and Organization originally was written in reply to an attack by Huey Ne
wton on anarchist forms of organization.
In Defense Of Self Defense

Exclusive by Huey Newton

(Huey on Anarchists and Individualists as related to revolutionary struggle and


the Black Liberation Movement)
The Black Panther, November 16, 1968. Page 12
http://www.prisoncensorship.info/archive/etext/bpp/bpp161168.htm
There is a hoary myth that anarchists do not believe in organization to promote
revolutionary activity. This myth was raised from its resting place by Marcuse i
n a L Express interview some months ago and reiterated again by Huey Newton in his
In Defence of Self-Defence, which New Left Notes decided to reprint in the rece
nt National Convention issue.

To argue the question of organization versus non-organization is ridiculous; thi


s issue has never been in dispute among serious anarchists, except perhaps for t
hose lonely individualists whose ideology is rooted more in an extreme variant o
f classical liberalism than anarchy. Yes, anarchists believe in organization--in
national organization and international organization. Anarchist organization ha
ve ranged from loose, highly decentralized groups to vanguard movements of many
thousands, like the Spanish FAI, which functioned in a highly concerted fashion.
The real question at issue is not organization versus non-organization, but rath
er, what kind of organization. What different kinds of anarchist organizations h
ave in common is that they are developed organically from below, not engineered
into existence from above. They are social movements, combining a creative revol
utionary life-style with a creative revolutionary theory, not political parties,
whose node of life is indistinguishable from the surrounding bourgeois environm
ent and whose ideology is reduced to rigid tried-and-tested programs. They try t
o reflect as much as is humanly possible the liberated society they seek to achi
eve, not slavishly duplicate the prevailing system of hierarchy, class, and auth
ority. They are built around intimate groups of brothers and sisters, whose abil
ity to act in common is based on initiative, convictions freely arrived at, and
deep personal involvement, not a bureaucratic apparatus, fleshed out by docile m
emberships and manipulated from the top by a handful of all-knowing leaders.
I don t know who Huey is arguing with when he speaks of anarchists who believe all
they have to do is just express themselves individually in order to achieve fre
edom. Tim Leary, Allen Ginzberg, The Beatles, Certainly not the revolutionary an
archist communists I know--and I know a large and fairly representative number.
Nor is it clear to me where Huey acquired his facts on the May-June revolt in Fr
ance. The Communist party and the other progressive parties of the French Left h
adn t merely lagged behind the people, as Huey seems to believe; these disciplined
and centralized organizations tried in every way to obstruct the revolution and
re-direct it back into traditional parliamentary channels. Even the disciplined
, centralized Trotskyist FER and the Maoist groups opposed the revolutionary stu
dents as ultra-leftists, adventurists, and romantics right up to the first stree
t fighting in May. Characteristically, most of the disciplined, centralized orga
nizations of the French Left either lagged outrageously behind the events or, in
the case of the Communist Party and progressive parties, shamelessly betrayed t
he students and workers to the system.
I find it curious that while Huey accuses the French Stalinist hacks of merely h
aving lagged behind the people he holds the anarchists and Danny Cohn-Bendit res
ponsible for the people being forced to turn back to DeGaulle. I visited France
shortly after the May-June revolt and I can substantiate with out the least diff
iculty how resolutely Danny Cohn Bendit, the March 22nd Movement, and the anarch
ists tried to develop the assembly forms and action committees into a structural
program (indeed, it went far beyond mere program) to replace the DeGaulle gover
nment. I could show quite clearly how they tried to get the workers to retain th
eir hold on the factories and establish direct economic contacts with the peasan
ts in short, how they tried to replace the French political and economic structu
re by creative, viable revolutionary forms. In this, they met with continual obs
truction from the disciplined centralized parties of the French Left including a
number of Trotskyist and Maoist sects.
There is another myth that needs to be exploded--the myth that social revolution
s are made by tightly disciplined cadres, guided by a highly centralized leaders
hip. All the great social revolutions are the work of deep-seated historic force
s and contradictions to which the revolutionary and his organization contributes
very little and, in most cases, completely misjudges. The revolutions themselve
s break out spontaneously. The glorious party usually lags behind these events-and, if the uprising is successful, steps in to commandeer, manipulate, and almo
st invariably distort it. It is then that the revolution reaches its real period

of crises: will the glorious party re-create another system of hierarchy, commi
nation and power in its sacred mission to protect the revolution, or will it be
dissolved into the revolution together with the dissolution of hierarchy, domina
tion and power as such? If a revolutionary organization is not structured to dis
solve into the popular forms created by the revolution once its function as a ca
talyst is completed; if its own forms are not similar to the libertarian society
it seeks to create, so that it can disappear into the revolutionary forms of th
e future--then the organization becomes a vehicle for carrying the forms of the
past into the revolution. It becomes a self perpetuating organism, a state machi
ne that, far from withering away, perpetuates all the archaic conditions for its
own existence.
There is far more myth than reality to the claim that a tightly centralized and
disciplined party promotes the success of a revolution. The Bolsheviks were spli
t, divided, and riddled by factional strife from October, 1917 to March, 1921. I
ronically, it was only after the last White armies had been expelled from Russia
that Lenin managed to completely centralize and discipline his party. Far more
real have been the endless betrayals engineered by the hierarchical, disciplined
, highly centralized parties of the Left, such as the Social Democratic and Comm
unist.
They followed almost inexorably from the fact that every organization (however r
evolutionary its rhetoric and however well-intentioned its goals) which models i
tself structurally on the very system it seeks to overthrow becomes assimilated
and subverted by bourgeois relations. It s seeming effectiveness becomes the sourc
e of its greatest failures.
Undeniably problems arise which can be solved only by committees, by co-ordinati
on, and by a high measure of self-discipline. To the anarchist, committees must
be limited to the practical tasks that necessitate their existence, and they mus
t disappear once their functions are completed. Co-ordination and self-disciplin
e must be achieved voluntarily, by virtue of the high moral and intellectual cal
iber of the revolutionary. To seek less than this is to accept, as a revolutiona
ry, a mindless robot, a creature of authoritarian training, a manipulable agent
whose personality and outlook are utterly alien, indeed antithetical, to any soc
iety that could be remotely regarded as free.
No serious anarchist will disagree with Huey s plea on the necessity for wiping ou
t the imperialist structure by organized groups. If at all possible we must work
together. We must recognize too, that in the United States, the heartland of wo
rld imperialism today, an economy and technology has been developed which could
remove, almost overnight, all the problems that Marx once believed justified the
need for a state. It would be a disastrous error to deal with an economy of pot
ential abundance and cybernated production from a theoretical position which was
still rooted in a technological era based on coal, crude machines, long hours o
f toil, and material scarcity. It is time we stop trying to learn from Mao s China
and Castro s Cuba--and see the remarkable economic reality under our very eyes fo
r all men to enjoy once the American bourgeois colossus can be tumbled and its r
esources brought to the service of humanity.
Murray Bookchin
Anarchos magazine

Murray Bookchin
The Crisis in the Ecology Movement
The Basic Differences

The Logic of Deep Ecology


Re-enchanting Humanity
American ecology movements
and particularly the American Greens
serious crisis of conscience and direction.

are faced with a

Will ecologically oriented groups and the Greens become a movement that sees the
roots of our ecological dislocations in social dislocations notably, in the dom
ination of human by human which has produced the very notion of dominating natur
e?
Or will ecology groups and the Greens turn the entire ecology movement into a st
arry-eyed religion decorated by gods, goddesses, woodsprites, and organized arou
nd sedating rituals that reduce militant activist groups to self-indulgent encou
nter groups?
These sharply conflicting alternatives are very real. And to openly state them i
s not divisive or confrontational. Accusations like divisiveness and confrontation
eing used with outrageous cynicism to blur significant differences in outlook an
d prevent a careful exploration of serious problems. The phony cry of Unity! has o
ften been used to silence one viewpoint in the interests of another. We can certa
inly have unity and discussion, if you please
despite major differences. New Age r
hetoric to the contrary notwithstanding, this what democracy is all about.
In fact, real growth occurs exactly when people have different views and confron
t each other in order to creatively arrive at more advanced levels of truth
not
adopt a low common denominator of ideas that is acceptable to everyone but actuall
y satisfies no one in the long run. Truth is achieved through dialogue and, yes,
harsh disputes
not by a deadening homogeneity and a bleak silence that ultimate
ly turns bland ideas into rigid dogmas.
The Basic Differences

Let s face it: There is a major dispute in the ecology and Green movements, today.
It is a dispute between social ecology and deep ecology
the first, a body of idea
s that asks that we deal with human beings primarily as social beings who differ
profoundly as to their status as poor and rich, women and men, black and white,
gays and straights, oppressed and oppressor; the second, that sees human beings a
s a mere species
as mammals and, to some people like the Earth First! leaders, as vi
ious creatures
who are subject almost entirely to the forces of nature and are esse
ntially interchangeable with lemmings, grizzly bears (a favorite species!), or,
for that matter, with insects, bacteria, and viruses.
These are not airy, vaguely philosophical, and remote problems to be disputed by
modern-day scholastics. They underpin very practical differences. The social vi
ew of humanity, namely that of social ecology, focuses primarily on the historic
emergence of hierarchy and the need to eliminate hierarchical relationships. It
emphasizes the just demands of the oppressed in a society that wantonly exploit
s human beings, and it calls for their freedom. It explores the possibility or a
new technology and a new sensibility, including more organic forms of reason, t
hat will harmonize our relationship with nature instead of opposing society to t
he natural world. It demands sweeping institutional changes that will abolish a
competitive grow-or-die market society frankly, called capitalism, not such politi
cally safe and socially neutral words like an industrial,
technological, or post-indu
strial society
and replace it with an ecologically oriented society based on free
, confederated, humanly scaled communities in which people will have direct, fac
e-to-face control over their personal and social lives.
By contrast, deep ecology essentially overlooks the profound social differences th
at divide human from human and zoologizes poor and rich, women and men, black and
white, gays and straights, oppressed and oppressor into a biological lump called hu

manity which is, presumably, spiritually impoverished,


anthropocentric or human- orie
ted in its belief that the world was made (by whom?
a mean God?) exclusively for hum
n enjoyment, and humanistic ends (whatever that word means these days). As voice
d by Bill Devall and George Sessions in their bible, Deep Ecology, this shift fr
om a basically social to a basically spiritual outlook essentially side-steps th
e social (apart from a minority tradition that recycles the far-reaching works of
Peter Kropotkin, the Russian anarchist, into a few bumper-sticker slogans) and t
hen takes a complete nose-dive into Buddhism, Taoism, the Christian tradition, the
question of technology,
green politics
and, very significantly, Malthusianism.
The crucial economic forces that divide so much of humanity into exploited and e
xploiter are replaced by conflicting worldviews. Utterly opposed individuals like
the authoritarian Communist, Woody Guthrie, are amalgamated with libertarian ana
rchists like Paul Goodman. The development of a market economy and the impact of th
e rise of capitalism are given short shrift. They are mentioned once, only in pas
sing (p. 45), as issues that attract some historians and social scientists to exp
lain the origins and development of the dominant worldview.
Our purpose here is no
t to extensively review the origin and development of the dominant worldview, wri
te Deep Ecology s authors, Devall and Sessions, in what can be regarded as one of
the major understatements of the book, but to explore in general its (the worldvi
ew s) influence on current societies and on our approach to ultimate reality (meta
physics), to knowledge (epistemology), to being (ontology), to the cosmos (cosmo
logy) and to social organization. (p. 45)
As it turns out, the expectant reader gets a heavy tribute to Thomas Malthus (pp
. 45 46) for an analysis of current social problems (i.e., the population problem ),
the impact of a technological society as a source of personal alienation (p. 48), b
asic intuitions and experiencing ourselves and Nature as the foundations of deep e
cology (p. 65), and a realization of the self-in-Self, where Self stands for organic
holeness as doses of metaphysics and epistemology combined. The notion that All th
ings in the biosphere have an equal right to live and blossom and to reach their
own individual forms within the larger Self-realization (p.67) is a sparkling is
sue that generated a serious discussion in the New Scientist on the right of enda
ngered viruses like the smallpox virus to exist and flourish. All of this is pres
ented in a metaphoric form that evokes a sense of nausea in any thinking reader.
The few social issues with which Deep Ecology began fade into paens to wilderne
ss, critiques of natural resource conservation, and the brilliant rediscovery th
at organic agriculture is good and city life is bad. Besides a host of platitude
s, what we need in addition to communing with nature and dissolving our burdenso
me selves into a cosmic organic wholeness, Devall and Sessions emphasize, is to tu
rn our opponent into a believer (p. 200). In short, we need the personal touch: a
festival of warmth, rituals, and a good dose of religion that tries to pass for
politics.
That a market economy based on dog-eat-dog as a law of survival and progress has p
enetrated every aspect of society has no centrality whatever in this self-indulg
ent literary collage of platitudes and pieties. At a time when the self is being r
apidly dissolved by the mass media, we are urged to further this process by diss
olving all the boundaries that define us this, in the name of a cosmic Self that s
eems more Supernatural than natural.
The Logic of Deep Ecology
We suffer, these days, from a bad habit. We eat fast food, nibble at fast ideas, sca
n fast headlines, and buy our panaceas in the form of easily swallowed pills. The
need to think out the logic of certain premises is almost totally alien to the Am
erican Way of the late 20th century. Devall and Sessions Deep Ecology and the movem
ent they have helped to launch under the presiding icon of Arne Naess, provides w
hat is exactly needed to lull us into a acceptance of fast ecology.

As it turn out, however, we cannot say A without passing into B, or B into C until
ach Z. And there is a deep or deeper ecology movement of which Devall is a member, fo
med around a periodical called Earth First! to which Devall is a contributing ed
itor and Sessions a valued contributor. If there is anything fascinating about Ea
rth First! as a movement and especially as a periodical, it is the fact that the
periodical does go from A to Z and draws all the logical conclusions from deep ecolog
y, conclusions that Devall and Sessions often bury with metaphors, sutras, poetic
evocations, and pretensions.
Earth First! means exactly what it says and what deep ecology implies
the earth
before people, indeed, people (to the periodical s editor, David Foreman) are supe
rfluous, perhaps even harmful, and certainly dispensable. Natural law tends to sup
plant social factors. Thus: is there a famine in Ethiopia? If so, argues Foreman
to an admiring Devall in a notorious interview, nature should be permitted to ta
ke its course and the Ethiopian should be left to starve. Are Latins (and, one ma
y add, Indians) crossing the Rio Grande? Then they should be stopped or removed,
contends Foreman, because they are burdening our resources. Devall, who apparentl
y recorded these golden views, doesn t express a word of protest or even dissent.
Nor is there a known denunciation, so far as I know, from Sessions.

com

Given the preoccupation of Devall and Sessions with the need for an eco-culture
or religion? what kind of culture should we protect, asks Ed Abbey, the theoreti
cal Pope of Earth First! ? It turns out that our society has been shaped by a northe
rn European culture, declares Abbey or should we say Aryan ? Hence there are presuma
bly sound cultural reasons
an expression that some might interpret as racial
to kee
Latins from polluting our culture and institutions with their hierarchical attrib
utes. What is the litmus test of our adherence to Earth First! asks Foreman? It is t
he question of population growth, you see
not capitalism and the competitive marke
t place. No one in that entire crowd, to my knowledge, takes the care to note th
at if the world s population were reduced to 500 million (as Naess suggests for a
demographic desideratum) or even 5 million, an economic system based on competit
ion and accumulation in which a failure to grow is a sentence of economic death in
the market place would necessarily devour the biosphere, irrespective of what p
eople need, the numbers they reach, or the intentions that motivate them. Americ
an capitalism wiped out some 40 million bison, devastated vast forests, and dess
icated millions of acres of soil before its population exceeded 100 million.
If an inherently grow-or-die market economy cannot produce cars, it will produce t
anks. If it cannot produce clothing, it will produce missiles. If it cannot prod
uce TV sets, it will produce radar guidance systems. Deep ecology, with its bows t
o Malthus, is totally oblivious to these almost classic almost economic principl
es. Its focus is almost completely zoological and its image of people, indeed, o
f society is very deeply rooted in natural forces rather than social tendencies. C
haracteristically, it speaks of a technological society or an industrial society ins
tead of capitalism, a piece of verbal juggling that shrewedly conceals the socia
l relationships that play a decisive role in the technologies and industries soc
iety develops and the use to which they are put.
Technology in itself does not produce the dislocations between an antiecological
society and nature, although there are surely technologies that, in themselves,
are dangerous to an ecosystem. What technology does is essentially magnify a ba
sically social problem. To speak of a technological society or an industrial societ
y, as Devall, Sessions, and Earth First! persistently do is to throw cosmic stardus
t over the economic laws that guide capital expansion which Marx so brilliantly
developed in his economic writings and replace economic factors by zoological me
taphors. Herein lies the utterly regressive character of deep ecology,
Earth First!
and its religious acolytes like Charlene Spretnak, Kirkpatrick Sale, and the dia
perheads who float between Hollywood and Disneyland, indeed, who threaten to rem
ove every grain of radicality in a movement that is potentially, at least, one o
f the most radical to emerge since the sixties. If the biggest hole in the Green m

ovement is the need for a sustainable religion, as Spretnak would have us believe,
then we have created a donut rather than a movement.
Re-enchanting Humanity
Beyond any shadow of doubt, we direly need an ecological sensibility one that is
marked by a sense of wonder for natural evolution and the splendor of the biosp
here in its many varied forms. But nature is not a scenic window that overlooks
the Pacific coastal mountains or the New England marshlands. Nature is above all
a process a wondrous process that can admired on its own terms, not by invoking
deities that are simply crude anthropomorphic projections of ourselves
male or
female in a mystified, often irrational, and sometimes a highly hierarchical for
m a procedure that has served hierarchical interests for many millenia by lullin
g the oppressed into a paralyzing quietism and sense of resignation.
A remarkable product of natural evolution are the human beings who people the pl
anet beings that are no less products of nature than grizzly bears and whales. A
nd like bears and whales, the human species
for it is no less a species when see
n from a biological standpoint than it is social from the standpoint of social e
cology has acquired a remarkable capacity called conceptual thought. In this res
pect, natural evolution has endowed this species with powers that are unmatched
by other species: powers to form highly institutionalized communities called soc
ieties that, unlike the genetically programmed social insects, are capable of an e
volutionary development of their own, however rooted they may be in nature.
The crucial question we face today not only for ourselves as human beings but fo
r the entire biosphere is how social evolution will proceed and in what directio
n it will go. To deal with this question primarily as a matter of spiritual rene
wal, desirable as that may be. is not only evasive but socially disarming. Socia
l evolution took a wrong turn ages ago when it shifted from egalitarian institut
ions and relations to hierarchical ones. It took an even worse turn a few centur
ies ago when it shifted from a relatively cooperative society to a highly compet
itive one. If we are to bring society and nature into accord with each other, we
must develop a movement that fulfills the evolutionary potential of humanity an
d society, that is to say, turn the human world into a self-conscious agent of t
he natural world and enhance the evolutionary process
natural and social. All th
e eco-babble of Devall, Sessions, Naess, and their acolytes aside, if we do not
intervene to act creatively on nature (indeed, to rescue it from itself at times
), we will betray everything of a positive character that natural evolution itse
lf endowed us with our potentially unprecedented richness of mind, sympathy, and
conscious capacity to care for nonhuman species. Given an ecological society, o
ur technology can be placed as much in the service of natural evolution as it ca
n be placed in the service of a rational social evolution.
To call for a return to the Pleistocene, as Earth First! has done, to degrade humani
ty as so many misanthropic antihumanists and biocentrists have done is not only atav
istic but crudely reactionary. A degraded humanity will only yield a degraded na
ture as our capitalistic society and our hierarchical history have amply demonst
rated. We are direly in need not only of re-enchanting the world and nature but also
or re-enchanting humanity of giving itself a sense of wonder over its own capac
ity as natural beings and a caring product of natural evolution. A Supernature,
peopled by earth-based deities, must be replaced by a healthy naturalism in which,
as a movement, we will re-establish our severed ties with nature by naturalisti
c means and heal our terribly wounded society by social means. For Greens, in pa
rticular, this means that we must formulate a new, independent, revolutionary po
litics, using this word in its broadest possible sense, not recycle old, shopwor
n, sedating deities
be they Eastern or Western, pagan or Christian, earth-bound or
heaven-bound . We must learn to look reality directly in the face, not obscure it
with irrational thinking and a fog of dense, obscurantist myths.

The Left Network of the Vermont Greens has already taken the all-important step
of trying to formulate a truly radical program
Toward a New Politics
that sketches
out the basic concepts of a Left Green ecological movement. It openly describes
itself as an ecological humanism (to use this term in its best sense, not the per
verted meaning given to the word humanism by deep ecology.
And it advances the basic
principles of social ecology as they apply to American political life. Either ec
ology movements and the Greens will free themselves of subtly hierarchical centri
cities
bio or anthropo
and develop a clearly defined and coherent body of social p
ciples based on ecological concepts or they will become a marginalized collectio
n of privileged encounter groups one that may learn to think like a mountain, as D
evall recommends but one that will be justly ignored as another fad, a target of
derision at worst or healthy ridicule at best.

Lewis Herber (Murray Bookchin)


Ecology and Revolutionary Thought
The Critical Nature of Ecology
The Reconstructive Nature of Ecology
Observations on Classical Anarchism and Modern Ecology
In almost every period since the Renaissance, the development of revolutionary t
hought has been heavily influenced by a branch of science, often in conjunction
with a school of philosophy.
Astronomy in the time of Copernicus and Galileo helped to guide a sweeping movem
ent of ideas from the medieval world, riddled by superstition, into one pervaded
by a critical rationalism, openly naturalistic and humanistic in outlook. Durin
g the Enlightenment the era that culminated in the Great French Revolution this
liberatory movement of ideas was reinforced by advances in mechanics and mathema
tics. The Victorian Era was shaken to its very foundations by evolutionary theor
ies in biology and anthropology, by Marx s reworking of Ricardian economics, and t
oward its end, by Freudian psychology.
In our own time we have seen the assimilation of these once liberatory sciences
by the established social order. Indeed, we have begun to regard science itself
as an instrument of control over the thought processes and physical being of man
. This distrust of science and of the scientific method is not without justifica
tion. Many sensitive people, especially artists, observes Abraham Maslow, are afrai
d that science besmirches and depresses, that it tears thing apart rather than i
ntegrating them, thereby killing rather than creating. What is perhaps equally im
portant, modern science has lost its critical edge. Largely functional or instru
mental in intent, the branches of science that once tore at the chains of man ar
e now used to perpetuate and gild them. Even philosophy has yielded to instrumen
talism and tends to be little more than a body of logical contrivances, the hand
maiden of the computer rather than the revolutionary.
There is one science, however, that may yet restore and even transcend the liber
atory estate of the traditional sciences and philosophies. It passes rather loos
ely under the name of ecology
a term coined by Haeckel a century ago to denote the
investigation of the total relations of the animal both to its inorganic and to
its organic environment. At first glance Haeckel s definition sounds innocuous enou
gh; and ecology, narrowly conceived as one of the biological sciences, is often
reduced to a variety of biometrics in which field workers focus on food chains a
nd statistical studies of animal populations. There is an ecology of health that
would hardly offend the sensibilities of the American Medical Association and a
concept of social ecology that would conform to the most well-engineered notion
s of the New York City Planning Commission.
Broadly conceived, however, ecology deals with the balance of nature. Inasmuch a
s nature includes man, the science basically deals with the harmonization of nat

ure and man. This focus has explosive implications. The explosive implications o
f an ecological approach arise not only from the fact that ecology is intrinsica
lly a critical science
in fact, critical on a scale that the most radical system
s of political economy failed to attain
but it is also an integrative and recons
tructive science. This integrative, reconstructive aspect of ecology, carried th
rough to all its implications, leads directly into anarchic areas of social thou
ght. For in the final analysis, it is impossible to achieve a harmonization of m
an and nature without creating a human community that lives in a lasting balance
with its natural environment.
The Critical Nature of Ecology
Let us examine the critical edge of ecology
period of general scientific docility.

a unique feature of the science in a

Basically, this critical edge derives from the subject-matter of ecology from it
s very domain. The issues with which ecology deals are imperishable in the sense
that they cannot be ignored without bringing into question the viability of the
planet, indeed the survival of man himself. The critical edge of ecology is due
not so much to the power of human reason
a power that science hallowed during i
ts most revolutionary periods but to a still higher power, the sovereignty of na
ture over man and all his activities. It may be that man is manipulable, as the
owners of the mass media argue, or that elements of nature are manipulable, as t
he engineers demonstrate by their dazzling achievements, but ecology clearly sho
ws that the totality of the natural world
nature taken in all is aspects, cycles
, and interrelationships cancels out all human pretensions to mastery over the p
lanet. The great wastelands of North Africa and the eroded hills of Greece, once
areas of a thriving agriculture or a rich natural flora, are historic evidence
of nature s revenge against human parasitism.
Yet none of these historical examples compare in weight and scope with the effec
ts of man s despoliation
and nature s revenge
since the days of the Industrial Revol
ution, and especially since the end of the Second World War. Ancient examples of
human parasitism were essentially local in scope; they were precisely examples
of man s potential for destruction and nothing more. Often they were compensated b
y remarkable improvement in the natural ecology of a region, as witness the Euro
pean peasantry s superb reworking of the soil during centuries of cultivation and
the achievements of Inca agriculturists in terracing the Andes Mountains during
pre-Columbian times.
Modern man s despoliation of the environment is global in scope, like his imperial
ism. It is even extraterrestrial, as witness the disturbances of the Van Allen B
elt a few years ago. Today human parasitism disrupts more than the atmosphere, c
limate, water resources, soil, flora, and fauna of a region; it upsets virtually
all the basic cycles of nature and threatens to undermine the stability of the
environment on a worldwide scale.
As an example of the scope of modern man s disruptive role, it has been estimated
that the burning of fossil fuels (coal and oil) adds 600 million tons of carbon
dioxide to the air annually, about 0.03 percent of the total atmospheric mass
th
is, I may add, aside from an incalculable quantity of toxicants. Since the Indus
trial Revolution, the overall atmospheric mass of carbon dioxide has increased b
y 13 percent over earlier, more stable, levels. It could be argued on very sound
theoretical grounds that this growing blanket of carbon dioxide, by interceptin
g heat radiated from the earth into outer space, will lead to rising atmospheric
temperatures, to a more violent circulation of air, to more destructive storm p
atterns, and eventually to a melting of the polar ice caps (possibly in two or t
hree centuries), rising sea levels, and the inundation of vast land areas. Far r
emoved as such a deluge may be, the changing proportion of carbon dioxide to oth
er atmospheric gases is a warning of the impact man is having on the balance of

nature.
A more immediate ecological issue is man s extensive pollution of the earth s waterw
ays. What counts here is not the fact that man befouls a given stream, river, or
lake
a thing he has done for ages but rather the magnitude that water pollution
has reached in the past two generations.
Nearly all the surface waters of the United States are polluted. Many American w
aterways are open cesspools that properly qualify as extensions of urban sewage
systems. It would be a euphemism to describe them any longer as rivers or lakes.
More significantly, large portions of groundwater are sufficiently polluted to
be undrinkable, even medically hazardous, and a number of local hepatitis epidem
ics have been traced to polluted wells in suburban areas. In contrast to surface
-water pollution, groundwater or subsurface water pollution is immensely difficu
lt to eliminate and tends to linger on for decades after the sources of pollutio
n have been removed.
An article in a mass circulation magazine appropriately describes the polluted w
aterways of the United States as Our Dying Waters. This despairing apocalyptic des
cription of the water pollution problem in the United States really applies to t
he world at large. The waters of the earth, conceived as factors in a large ecol
ogical system, are literally dying. Massive pollution is destroying the rivers a
nd lakes of Africa, Asia, and Latin America as media of life, as well as the lon
g-abused waterways of highly industrialized continents. Even the open sea has no
t been spared from extensive pollution. I speak here not only of radioactive pol
lutants from nuclear bomb tests and power reactors, which apparently reach all t
he flora and fauna of the sea. It suffices to point out that the discharge of di
esel oil wastes from ships in the Atlantic has become a massive pollution proble
m, claiming marine life in enormous numbers every year.
Accounts of this kind can be repeated for virtually every part of the biosphere.
Pages can be written on the immense losses of productive soil that occur annual
ly in almost every continent of the earth; on the extensive loss of tree cover i
n areas vulnerable to erosion; on lethal air pollution episodes in major urban a
reas; on the worldwide distribution of toxic agents, such as radioactive isotope
s and lead; on the chemicalization of man s immediate environment
one might say hi
s very dinner table with pesticide residues and food additives. Pieced together
like bits of a jigsaw puzzle, these affronts to the environment form a pattern o
f destruction that has no precedent in man s long history on the earth.
Obviously, man could be described as a highly destructive parasite, who threaten
s to destroy his host the natural world
and eventually himself. In ecology, howe
ver, the word parasite, used in this oversimplified sense, is not an answer to a
question but raises a question itself. Ecologists know that a destructive paras
itism of this kind usually reflects a disruption of an ecological situation; ind
eed, many species, seemingly highly destructive under one set of conditions, are
eminently useful under another set of conditions. What imparts a profoundly cri
tical function to ecology is the question raised by man s destructive activities:
What is the disruption that has turned man into a destructive parasite? What pro
duces a form of human parasitism that not only results in vast natural imbalance
s but also threatens the very existence of humanity itself?
The truth is that man has produced imbalances not only in nature but more fundam
entally in his relations with his fellow man in the very structure of his societ
y. To state this thought more precisely: the imbalances man has produced in the
natural world are caused by the imbalances he has produced in the social world.
A century ago it would have been possible to regard air pollution and water cont
amination as the result of greed, profit-seeking, and competition
in short, as t
he result of the activities of industrial barons and self-seeking bureaucrats. T
oday this explanation would be a gross oversimplification. It is doubtless true

that most bourgeois enterprises are still guided by a public-be-damned attitude,


as witness the reactions of power utilities, automobile concerns, and steel cor
porations to pollution problems. But a more deep-rooted problem than the attitud
e of the owners is the size of the firms themselves
their enormous physical prop
ortions, their location in a particular region, their density with respect to a
community or a waterway, their requirements for raw materials and water, and the
ir role in the national division of labor.
What we are seeing today is a crisis not only in natural ecology but above all i
n social ecology. Modern society, especially as we know it in the United States
and Europe, is being organized round immense urban belts at one extreme, a highl
y industrialized agriculture at the other extreme, and capping both a swollen, b
ureaucratized anonymous state apparatus. If we leave all moral considerations as
ide for the moment and examine the physical structure of this society, what must
necessarily impress us is the incredible logistical problems it is obliged to s
olve problems of transportation, of density, of supply (raw materials, manufactu
red commodities, and foodstuffs), of economic and political organization, of ind
ustrial location, and so forth. The burden this type of urbanized and centralize
d society places on any continental area is enormous. If the process of urbanizi
ng man and industrializing agriculture were to continue unabated, it would make
much of the earth in hospitable for viable, healthy human beings and render vast
areas utterly uninhabitable.
Ecologists are often asked, rather tauntingly, to locate with scientific exactne
ss the ecological breaking point of nature
presumably the point at which the nat
ural world will cave in on man. This is equivalent to asking a psychiatrist for
the precise moment when a neurotic will become a nonfunctional psychotic. No suc
h answer is every likely to be available. But the ecologist can supply a strateg
ic insight into the directions man seems to be following as a result of his spli
t with the natural world.
From the standpoint of ecology, man is dangerously simplifying his environment.
The modern city represents a regressive encroachment of the synthetic on the nat
ural, of the inorganic (concrete, metals, and glass) on the organic, and of crud
e, elemental stimuli on variegated, wide-ranging ones. The vast[1] urban belts n
ow developing in industrialized areas of the world are not only grossly offensiv
e to eye and ear but are becoming chronically smog-ridden, noisy, and virtually
immobilized by congestion.
This process of simplifying man s environment and rendering it increasingly elemen
tal and crude has a cultural as well as a physical dimension. The need to manipu
late immense urban populations to transport, feed, employ, educate, and somehow
entertain millions of densely concentrated people daily
leads to a crucial decli
ne in civic and social standards. A mass concept of human relations
totalitarian
, centralistic, and regimented in orientation tends to dominate the more individ
uated concepts of the past. Bureaucratic techniques of social management tend to
replace humanistic approaches. All that is spontaneous, creative, and individua
ted is circumscribed by the standardized, the regulated, and the massified. The
space of the individual is steadily narrowed by restrictions imposed upon him by
a faceless, impersonal social apparatus. Any recognition of unique personal qua
lities is increasingly surrendered to the needs more precisely, the manipulation
of the group, indeed, of the lowest common denominator of the mass. A quantitat
ive, statistical approach, a beehive manner of dealing with man, tends to triump
h over the precious, individualized-qualities approach that places its strongest
emphasis on personal uniqueness, free expression, and cultural complexity.
The same regressive simplification of the environment occurs in modern agricultu
re.[2] The manipulated people in modern cities must be fed, and feeding them inv
olves an extension of industrial farming. Food plants must be cultivated in a ma
nner that allows for a high degree of mechanization
not to reduce human toil but

to increase productivity and efficiency, to maximize investments, and to exploi


t the biosphere. Accordingly, the terrain must be reduced to a flat plain
to a f
actory floor, if you will and natural variations in topography must be diminishe
d as much as possible. Plant growth must be closely regulated to meet the tight
schedules of food-processing plants. Plowing, soil fertilization, sowing, and ha
rvesting must be handled on a mass scale, often in total disregard of the natura
l ecology of an area. Large areas of land must be used to cultivate a single cro
p a form of plantation agriculture that lends itself not only to mechanization b
ut also to pest infestation. A single crop is the ideal environment for the prol
iferation of pest species. Finally, chemical agents must be used lavishly to dea
l with the problems created by insects, weeds, and plant diseases, to regulate c
rop production, and to maximize soil exploitation. The real symbol of agricultur
e is not the sickle (or for that matter the tractor) but the airplane. The moder
n food cultivator is represented not by the peasant, yeoman, or even the agronom
ist men who could be expected to have an intimate relationship with the unique q
ualities of the land on which they grow crops
but the pilot and chemist, for who
m soil is a mere resource, an inorganic raw material.
The simplification process is carried still further by an exaggerated regional (
indeed national) division of labor. Immense areas of the planet are increasingly
reserved for specific industrial tasks or reduced to depots of raw materials. O
thers are turned into centers of urban population, largely occupied with commerc
e and trade. Cities and regions (in fact, countries and continents) are specific
ally identified with special products Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Youngstown with
steel, New York with finance, Bolivia with tin, Arabia with oil, Europe and Ame
rica with industrial goods, and the rest of the world with raw material of one k
ind or another. The complex ecosystems which make up the regions of a continent
are submerged by the organization of entire nations into economically rationaliz
ed entities, each a way-station in a vast industrial belt system, global in its
dimensions. It is only a matter of time before the most attractive areas of the
countryside succumb to the concrete mixer, just as must of the Eastern seashore
areas of the United States have already succumbed to subdivisions and bungalows.
What remains in the way of natural beauty will be debased by trailer lots, canv
as slums, scenic highways, motels, food stalls, and the oil slicks of motor boats.
The point is that man is undoing the work of organic evolution. By creating vast
urban agglomerations of concrete, metal, and glass, by overriding and undermini
ng the complex, subtly organized ecosystems that constitute local differences in
the natural world in short, by replacing a highly complex organic environment w
ith a simplified, inorganic one
man is disassembling the biotic pyramid that sup
ported humanity for countless millennia. In the course of replacing the complex
ecological relationships on which all advanced living things depend with more el
ementary relationships, man is steadily restoring the biosphere to a stage that
will be able to support only simpler forms of life. If this great reversal of th
e evolutionary process continues, it is by no means fanciful to suppose that the
preconditions for higher forms of life will be irreparably destroyed and the ea
rth will become incapable of supporting man himself.
Ecology derives its critical edge not only from the fact that it alone, among al
l the sciences presents this awesome message to humanity but because it also pre
sents this message in a new social dimension. From an ecological viewpoint, the
reversal of organic evolution is the result of appalling contradictions between
town and country, state and community, industry and husbandry, mass manufacture
and craftsmanship, centralism and regionalism, the bureaucratic scale and the hu
man scale.
The Reconstructive Nature of Ecology
Until recently, attempts to resolve the contradictions created by urbanization,
centralization, bureaucratic growth, and statification were viewed as a vain cou

nterdrift to progress
a counterdrift that could be dismissed as chimerical at best
and reactionary at worst. The anarchist was regarded as a forlorn visionary, a
social outcast, filled with nostalgia for the peasant village or the medieval co
mmune. His yearnings for a decentralized society and for a humanistic community
at one with nature and the needs of the individual the spontaneous individual, u
nfettered by authority were viewed as the reactions of a romantic, of a declasse
d craftsman or an intellectual misfit. His protest against centralization and stra
tification seemed all the less persuasive because it was supported primarily by
ethical considerations by utopian, ostensibly unrealistic notions of what man coul
d be, not of what he was. To this protest, opponents of anarchist thought
libera
ls, rightists, and authoritarian leftists
argued that they were the voices of hist
oric reality, that their statist and centralist notions were rooted in the objec
tive, practical world.
Time is not very kind to the conflict of ideas. Whatever may have been the valid
ity of libertarian and nonlibertarian views a few years ago, historical developm
ent has rendered virtually all objections to anarchist thought meaningless today
. The modern city and state, the massive coal-steel technology of the Industrial
Revolution, the later, more rationalized systems of mass production and assembl
y-line systems of labor organization, the centralized nation, the state and its
bureaucratic apparatus all have reached their limits. Whatever progressive or li
beratory role they may have possessed has clearly become entirely regressive and
oppressive. They are regressive not only because they erode the human spirit an
d drain the community of all its cohesiveness, solidarity, and ethico-cultural s
tandards; they are regressive from an objective standpoint, from an ecological s
tandpoint. For they undermine not only the human spirit and the human community
but also the viability of the planet and all living things on it.
It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the anarchist concepts of a balanced c
ommunity, a face-to-face democracy, a humanistic technology, and a decentralized
society these rich libertarian concepts are not only desirable but necessary. N
ot only do they belong to the great visions of man s future; they now constitute t
he preconditions for human survival. The process of social development has carri
ed them from an ethical, subjective dimension into a practical objective dimensi
on. What was once regarded as impractical and visionary has become eminently pra
ctical. And what was once regarded as practical and objective has become eminent
ly impractical and irrelevant in terms of man s development toward a fuller, unfet
tered existence. If community, face-to-face democracy, a humanistic, liberatory
technology, and decentralization are conceived of merely as reactions to the pre
vailing state of affairs a vigorous nay to the yea of what exists today
a compel
ling, objective case can now be made for the practicality of an anarchist societ
y.
This rejection of the prevailing state of affairs accounts, I think, for the exp
losive growth of intuitive anarchism among young people today. Their love of nat
ure is a reaction against the highly synthetic qualities of our urban environmen
t and its shabby products. Their informality of dress and manners is a reaction
against the formalized, standardized nature of modern institutionalized living.
Their predisposition for direct action is a reaction against the bureaucratizati
on and centralization of society. Their tendency to drop out, to avoid toil and
the rat-race, reflects a growing anger toward the mindless industrial routine br
ed by modern mass manufacture in the factory, the office, or the university. The
ir intense individualism is, in its own elemental way, a de facto decentralizati
on of social life a personal abdication from mass society.
What is most significant about ecology is its ability to convert this often nihi
listic rejection of the status quo into an emphatic affirmation of life
indeed,
into a reconstructive credo for a humanistic society. The essence of ecology s rec
onstructive message can be summed up in the word diversity. From an ecological v
iewpoint, balance and harmony in nature, in society, and by inference in behavio

r, are achieved not by mechanical standardization but by its opposite, organic d


ifferentiation. This message can be understood clearly only by examining its pra
ctical meaning.
Let us consider the ecological principle of diversity
what Charles Elton calls t
he conservation of variety
as it applies to biology, specifically to agriculture.
A number of studies
Lotka s and Volterra s mathematical models, Gause s experiments wi
th protozoa and mites in controlled environments, and extensive field research
c
learly demonstrate that fluctuations in animal and plant populations, ranging fr
om mild to pestlike proportions, depend heavily upon the number of species in an
ecosystem and the degree of variety in the environment. The greater the variety
of prey and predators, the more stable the population; the more diversified the
environment in terms of flora and fauna, the less likely there is to be ecologi
cal instability. Stability is a function of complexity, variety, and diversity:
if the environment is simplified and the variety of animal and plant species is
reduced, fluctuations in population become marked and tend to get out of control
. They tend to reach pest proportions.
In the case of pest control, many ecologists now conclude that we can avoid the
repetitive use of toxic chemicals such as insecticides and herbicides by allowin
g for a greater interplay among living things. We must allow more room for natur
al spontaneity, for the diverse biological forces that make up an ecological sit
uation. European entomologists now speak of managing the entire plant-insect comm
unity, observes Robert L. Rudd. It is called manipulation of the biocenose. The bi
ocenetic environment is varies, complex and dynamic. Although numbers of individ
uals will constantly change, no one species will normally reach pest proportions
. The special conditions which allow high populations of a single species in a c
omplex ecosystem are rare events. Management of the biocenose or ecosystem shoul
d become our goal, challenging as it is. [3]
The manipulation of the biocenose in a meaningful way, however, presupposes a farreaching decentralization of agriculture. Wherever feasible, industrial agricult
ure must give way to soil and agricultural husbandry; the factory floor must yie
ld to gardening and horticulture. I do not wish to imply that we must surrender
the gains acquired by large-scale agriculture and mechanization. What I do conte
nd, however, is that the land must be cultivated as though it were a garden; its
flora must be diversified and carefully tended, balanced by a fauna and tree sh
elter appropriate to the region. Decentralization is important, moreover, for th
e development of the agriculturist as well as for the development of agriculture
. Food cultivation, practiced in a truly ecological sense, presupposes that the
agriculturist is familiar with all the features and subtleties of the terrain on
which the corps are grown. He must have a thorough knowledge of the physiograph
y of the land, its variegated soils
crop land, forest land, pasture land
mineral
and organic content, and its microclimate, and he must be engaged in a continuin
g study of the effects produced by new flora and fauna. He must develop his sens
itivity to the land s possibilities and needs while becoming an organic part of th
e agricultural situation. We can hardly hope to achieve this high degree of sens
itivity and integration in the food cultivator without reducing agriculture to a
human scale, without bringing agriculture within the scope of the individual. T
o meet the demands of an ecological approach to food cultivation, agriculture mu
st be rescaled from huge industrial farms to moderate-sized units.
The same reasoning applies to a rational development of energy resources. The In
dustrial Revolution increased the quantity of energy available to industry, but
it diminished the variety of energy resources used by man. Although it is certai
nly true that preindustrial societies relied primarily on animal power and human
muscles, complex energy patterns developed in many regions of Europe, involving
a subtle integration of resources such as wind and water power, and a variety o
f fuels (wood, peat, coal, vegetable starches, and animal fats).

The Industrial Revolution overwhelmed and largely destroyed these regional energ
y patterns, replacing them first with a single energy system (coal) and later wi
th a dual system (coal and petroleum). Regions disappeared as models of integrat
ed energy patterns
indeed, the very concept of integration through diversity was
obliterated. As I indicated earlier, many regions became predominantly mining a
reas, often devoted to the production of a few commodities. We need not review t
he role this breakdown in true regionalism has played in producing air and water
pollution, the damage it has inflicted on large areas of the countryside, and t
he depletion of our precious hydrocarbon fuels.
We can, of course, turn to nuclear fuels, but it is chilling to think of the let
hal radioactive wastes that would require disposal if power reactors were our ma
jor energy source. Eventually an energy system based on radioactive materials wo
uld lead to the widespread contamination of the environment
at first in a subtle
form, but later on a massive and palpably destructive scale.
Or we could apply ecological principles to the solution of our energy problems.
We could try to reestablish earlier regional energy patterns, using a combined s
ystem of energy provided by wind, water, and solar power. We would be aided by m
ore sophisticated devices than any known in the past. We have now designed wind
turbines that could supply electricity in a number of mountainous areas to meet
the electric power needs of a community of 50,000 people. We have perfected sola
r energy devices that yield temperatures high enough in warmer latitudes to deal
with most metallurgical problems. Used in conjunction with heat pumps, many sol
ar devices could provide as much as three quarters if not all
of the heat requir
ed to comfortably maintain a small family house. And at this writing the French
are completing a tidal dam at the mouth of the Rance River in Brittany that is e
xpected to produce more than 500 million kilowatt-hours of electricity a year. I
n time the Rance River project will meet most of the electrical needs of norther
n France.
Solar devices, wind turbines, and hydroelectric resources taken singly do not pr
ovide a solution for our energy problems and the ecological disruption created b
y conventional fuels. Pieced together as a mosaic, as an organic energy pattern
developed from the potentialities of a region, they could amply meet the needs o
f a decentralized society. In sunny latitudes we could rely more heavily on sola
r energy than on combustible fuels. In areas marked by atmospheric turbulence, w
e could rely more heavily on wind devices, and in suitable coastal areas or inla
nd regions with a good network of rivers, the greater part of our energy would c
ome from hydroelectric installations. In all cases, we would use a mosaic of non
combustible, combustible, and nuclear fuels. The point I wish to make is that by
diversifying our energy resources, by organizing them into an ecologically bala
nced pattern we could combine wind, solar, and water power in a given region to
meet all the industrial and domestic needs of a community with only a minimal us
e of hazardous fuels. And eventually we might sophisticate all our noncumbustion
energy devices to a point where all harmful sources of energy could be eliminat
ed.
As in the case of agriculture, however, the application of ecological principles
to energy resources presupposes a far-reaching decentralization of society and
a truly regional concept of social organization. To maintain a large city requir
es immense quantities of coal and petroleum. By contrast, solar, wind, and tidal
energy can reach us mainly in small packets; except for spectacular tidal dams,
the new devices seldom provide more than a few thousand kilowatt-hours of elect
ricity. It is difficult to believe that we will ever be able to design solar col
lectors that can furnish us with immense blocks of electric power produced by a
giant steam plant; it is equally difficult to conceive of a better of wind turbi
nes that will provide us with enough electricity to illuminate Manhattan Island.
If homes and factories are heavily concentrated, devices for using clean source
s of energy will probably remain mere playthings, but if urban communities are r

educed in size and widely dispersed over the land, there is no reason why these
devices cannot be combined to provide us with all the amenities of an industrial
ized civilization. To use solar, wind, and tidal power effectively, the megalopo
lis must be decentralized. A new type of community, carefully tailored to the ch
aracteristics and resources of a region, must replace the sprawling urban belts
that are emerging today.[4]
An objective case for decentralization, to be sure, does not end with a discussi
on of agriculture and the problems created by combustible energy resources. The
validity of the decentralist case can be demonstrated for nearly all the logistic
al problems of our time. Let me cite an example from the problematical area of tr
ansportation. A great deal has been written about the harmful effects of gasolin
e-driven motor vehicles
their wastefulness, their role in urban air pollution, t
he noise they contribute to the city environment, the enormous death toll they c
laim annually in the large cities of the world and on highways. In a highly urba
nized civilization, it would be meaningless to replace these noxious vehicles wi
th clean, efficient, virtually noiseless, and certainly safer battery-powered ve
hicles The best electric cars must be recharged about every hundred miles
a feat
ure that limits their usefulness for transportation in large cities. In a small,
decentralized community, however, it would be feasible to use these electric ve
hicles for urban or regional transportation and establish monorail networks for
long-distance transportation.
It is fairly well known that gasoline-powered vehicles contribute enormously to
urban air pollution, and there is a strong sentiment to engineer the more noxious
features of the automobile into oblivion. Our age characteristically tries to so
lve all its irrationalities with a gimmick afterburners for toxic gasoline fumes
, antibiotics for ill health, tranquilizers for psychic disturbances. But the pr
oblem of urban air pollution is too intractable for gimmicks, perhaps more intra
ctable than we care to believe. Basically air pollution is caused by high popula
tion densities, by an excessive concentration of people in a small area. Million
s of people, densely concentrated in a large city, necessarily produce serious l
ocal air pollution merely by their day-to-day activities. They must burn fuels f
or domestic and industrial reasons; they must construct or tear down buildings (
the aerial debris produced by those activities is a major source of urban air po
llution); they must dispose of immense quantities of rubbish; they must travel o
n roads with rubber tires (the particles produced by the erosion of tires and ro
adway materials add significantly to air pollution. Whatever pollution control d
evices we add to automobiles and power plants, the improvement these devices wil
l produce in the quality of urban air will be more than canceled out by future m
egalopolitan growth.
There is more to anarchism than decentralized communities. If I have examined th
ese possibilities in some detail, it has been to demonstrate than an anarchist s
ociety, far from being a remote ideal, has become a precondition for the practic
e of ecological principles. To sum up the critical message of ecology: if we dim
inish variety in the natural world, we debase its unity and wholeness. We destro
y the forces making for natural harmony and stability, for a lasting equilibrium
, and what is even more significant, we introduce an absolute retrogression in t
he development of the natural world that may eventually render the environment u
nfit for advanced forms of life. To sum up the reconstructive message of ecology
: if we wish to advance the unity and stability of the natural world, if we wish
to harmonize it on ever higher levels of development, we must conserve and prom
ote variety. To be sure, mere variety for its own sake is a vacuous goal. In nat
ure, variety emerges spontaneously. The capacities of a new species are tested b
y the rigors of climate, by its ability to deal with predators, and by its capac
ity to establish and enlarge its niche. Yet the species that succeeds in enlargi
ng its niche in the environment also enlarges the ecological situation as a whol
e. To borrow E. A. Gutkind s phrase, it expands the environment, both for itself and
for the species with which it enters into a balanced relationship.[5]

How do these concepts apply to social theory? To many readers I suppose, it shou
ld suffice to say that, inasmuch as man is part of nature, an expanding natural
environment enlarges the basis for social development. But the answer to the que
stion, I think, goes much deeper than many ecologists and libertarians suspect.
Again, allow me to return to the ecological principle of wholeness and balance a
s a product of diversity. Keeping this principle in mind, the first step toward
an answer is provided by a passage in Herbert Read s The Philosophy of Anarchism.
In presenting his measure of progress, Read observes: Progress is measured by the d
egree of differentiation within a society. If the individual is a unit in a corp
orate mass, his life will be limited, dull, and mechanical. If the individual is
a unit on his own, with space and potentiality for separate action, then he may
be more subject to accident or chance, but at least he can expand and express h
imself. He can develop develop in the only real meaning of the world
develop in
consciousness of strength, vitality, and joy.
Read s thought, unfortunately, is not fully developed, but it provides an interest
ing point of departure. What first strikes us is that both the ecologist and the
anarchist place a strong emphasis on spontaneity. The ecologist, insofar as he
is more than a technician, tends to reject the notion of power over nature. H spea
ks instead of steering his way though an ecological situation, of managing rather
than recreating an ecosystem. The anarchist, in turn, speaks in terms of social
spontaneity, of releasing the potentialities of society and humanity, of giving
free and unfettered rein to the creativity of people. Each it its own way regard
s authority as inhibitory, as a weight limiting the creative potential of a natu
ral and social situation. Their object is not to rule a domain but to release it
. They regard insight, reason, and knowledge as means for fulfilling the potenti
alities of a situation, as facilitating the working out of the logic of a situat
ion, not of replacing its potentialities with preconceived notions or distorting
their development into dogmas.
Returning now to Read s words, what strikes us next is that like the ecologist, th
e anarchist views differentiation as a measure of progress. The ecologist uses t
he term biotic pyramid in speaking of biological advances; the anarchist, the wo
rd individuation to denote social advances. If we go beyond Read, we will observ
e that, to both the ecologist and the anarchist, an ever-enlarging unity is achi
eved by growing differentiation. An expanding whole is created by the diversific
ation and enrichment of the parts.
Just as the ecologist seeks to elaborate the range of an ecosystem and promote a
free interplay among species, so the anarchist seeks to elaborate the range of
social experience and remove all fetters to its development. Anarchism is not on
ly a stateless society but also a harmonized society that exposes man to the sti
muli provided by both agrarian and urban life, to physical activity and mental a
ctivity, to unrepressed sensuality and self-directed spirituality, to communal s
olidarity and individual development, to regional uniqueness and worldwide broth
erhood, to spontaneity and self-discipline, to the elimination of toil and the p
romotion of craftsmanship. In our schizoid society, these goals are regarded as
mutually exclusive dualities, sharply opposed. They appear as dualities because
of the very logistics of present-day society
the separation of town and country,
the specialization of labor, the atomization of man
and it would be preposterou
s to believe that these dualities could be resolved without a general idea of th
e physical structure of an anarchist society. We can gain some idea of what such
a society would be like by reading William Morris s News from Nowhere and the wri
tings of Peter Kropotkin. But these are mere glimpses. They do not take into acc
ount the post World War II development of technology and the contributions made
by the development of ecology. This is not the place to embark on utopian writing,
but certain guidelines can be presented even in a general discussion. And in pr
esenting these guidelines, I am eager to emphasize not only the more obvious eco
logical premises that support them but also the humanistic ones.

An anarchist society should be a decentralized society, not only to establish a


lasting basis for the harmonization of man and nature, but also to add new dimen
sions to the harmonization of man and man. The ancient Greeks, we are often remi
nded, would have been horrified by a city whose size and population precluded a
face-to-face, often familiar relationship between citizens. Today there is plain
ly a need to reduce the dimensions of the human community
partly to solve our po
llution and transportation problems, partly also to create real communities. In
a sense, we must humanize humanity. Electronic devices, such as telephones, tele
graphs, radios, television receivers, and computers should be used as little as
possible to mediate the relations between people. In making collective decisions
and the ancient Athenian ecclesia was, in some ways, a model for making social
decisions during the classical period
all members of the community should have a
n opportunity to acquire in full the measure of anyone who addresses the assembl
y. They should be in a position to absorb his attitudes, study his expressions,
and weigh his motives as well as his ideas in a direct personal encounter and th
rough full debate and face-to-face discussion.
Our small communities should be economically balanced and well rounded, partly s
o that they can make full use of local raw materials and energy resources, partl
y also to enlarge the agricultural and industrial stimuli to which individuals a
re exposed. The member of a community who has a predilection for engineering, fo
r instance, should be encouraged to steep his hands in humus; the man of ideas s
hould be encouraged to employ his musculature; the inborn farmer should gain a fam
iliarity with the workings of a rolling mill. To separate the engineer from the
soil, the thinker from the spade, and the farmer from the industrial plant may w
ell promote a degree of vocational overspecialization that leads to a dangerous
measure of social control by specialists. What is equally important, professiona
l and vocational specialization would prevent society from achieving a vital goa
l: the humanization of nature by the technician and the naturalization of societ
y by the biologist.
I submit that an anarchist community would approximate a clearly definable ecosy
stem it would be diversified, balanced, and harmonious. It is arguable whether s
uch an ecosystem would acquire the configuration of an urban entity with a disti
nct center, such as we find in the Greek polis or the medieval commune, or wheth
er, as Gutkind proposes, society would consist of widely dispersed communities w
ithout a distinct center. In either case, the ecological scale for any of these
communities would be the smallest biome capable of supporting a population of mo
derate size.
A relatively self-sufficient community, visibly dependent on its environment for
the means of life, would gain a new respect for the organic interrelationships
that sustain it. In the long run, the attempt to approximate self-sufficiency wo
uld, I think, prove more efficient than the prevailing system of a national divi
sion of labor that prevails today. Although there would doubtless be many duplic
ations of small industrial facilities from community to community, the familiari
ty of each group with its local environment and its ecological roots would make
for a more intelligent and more loving use of its environment. I submit that far
from producing provincialism, relative self-sufficiency would create a new matr
ix for individual and communal development
a oneness with the surroundings that
would vitalize the community.
The rotation of civic, vocational, and professional responsibilities would stimu
late all the senses in the being of the individual, rounding out new dimensions
in self-development. In a complete society woe could hope again to create comple
te men; in a rounded society, rounded men. In the Western world the Athenians, f
or all their shortcomings and limitations, were the first to give us a notion of
this completeness. The polis was made for the amateur, Kitto tells us. Its ideal w
as that every citizen (more or less, according as the polis was democratic or ol

igarchic) should play this part in all of its many activities


an ideal that is r
ecognizably descended from the generous Homeric conception of arte as an all-roun
d excellence and an all-round activity. It implies a respect for the wholeness o
r the oneness of life, and a consequent dislike of specialization. It implies a
contempt for efficiency or rather a much higher ideal of efficiency; an efficien
cy which exists not in one department of life, but in life itself. [6] An anarchis
t society, although it would surely aspire for more, could hardly hope to achiev
e less than this state of mind.
If the meshing of ecological and anarchist principles is ever achieved in practi
ce, social life would yield a sensitive development of human and natural diversi
ty, falling together into a well-balanced, harmonious unity. Ranging from commun
ity through region to entire continents, we would see a colorful differentiation
of human groups and ecosystems, each developing its unique potentialities and e
xposing members of the community to a wide spectrum of economic, cultural, and b
ehavioral stimuli. Falling within our purview would be an exciting, often dramat
ic, variety of communal forms here marked by architectural and industrial adapta
tions to semiarid biomes, there to grasslands, elsewhere by adaptation to forest
ed areas. We would witness a dynamic interplay between individual and group, com
munity and environment, humanity and nature. Freed from an oppressive routine, f
rom paralyzing repressions and insecurities, from the burdens of toil and false
needs, from the trammels of authority and irrational compulsion, individuals wou
ld finally be in a position, for the first time in history, to fully realize the
ir potentialities as members of the human community and the natural world.
Observations on Classical

Anarchism and Modern Ecology

The future of the anarchist movement will depend upon its ability to apply basic
libertarian principles to new historical situations. These principles are not d
ifficult to define a stateless, decentralized society, based on the communal own
ership of the means of production. There is also an anarchist ethic, if not meth
odology, which Bakunin basically summarized when he said: We cannot admit, even a
s a revolutionary transition, a so-called revolutionary dictatorship, because wh
en the revolution becomes concentrated in the hands of some individuals, it beco
mes inevitably and immediately reaction. (There is also need, I fear, for a vigor
ous, uncompromising article on Taking Anarchism Seriously. There are far too many
so-called anarchists, comfortably situated in the millenarian world of bourgeois
reform
and its many official and material rewards whose notions can be regarded
as mere extensions of Adam Smith. But that is a separate matter.) What disquiet
s me, for the present, it the word classical as applied to anarchism, a word for
tunately that is usually decorated by quotation marks. The word has strange conn
otations for a movement whose very life-blood is a fervent iconoclasm, not only
with respect to authority in society at large, but in itself.
To my thinking, anarchism consists of a body of imperishable ideals that men hav
e tired to approximate for thousands of years in all areas of the world. The con
text of these ideals has changed with time, but basic libertarian principles hav
e altered very little through the course of history. It is vitally important tha
t anarchists grasp the changing historical context in which these ideals have be
en applied, lest they needlessly stagnate because of the persistence of old form
ulas in new situations.
In the modern world, anarchism first appeared as a movement of the peasantry and
yeomanry against declining feudal institutions. In Germany its foremost spokesm
an during the Peasant Wars was Thomas Muenzer; in England, Gerrard Winstanley, a
leading participant in the Digger movement. The concepts held by Muenzer and Wi
nstanley were superbly attuned to the needs of their time
a historical period wh
en the majority of the population lived in the countryside and when the most mil
itant revolutionary forces came from an agrarian world. It would be painfully ac
ademic to argue whether Muenzer and Winstanley could have achieved their ideals.

What is of real importance is that they spoke to their time; their anarchist co
ncepts followed naturally from the rural society that furnished the bands of the
peasant armies in Germany and the New Model in England.
With Jacques Roux, Jean Varlet, and the Enrags of the Great French Revolution, we
find a reapplication of substantially the same concepts held by Muenzer and Win
stanley to a new historical context: Paris in 1793
a city of nearly 700,000 peop
le, composed (as Rud tells us) of small shopkeepers, petty traders, craftsmen, jou
rneymen, labourers, vagrants, and the city poor. Roux and Varlet address themselv
es to a basically classless people who might properly be compared with the sulle
n Negro masses in the Watts district of Los Angeles. Their anarchism is urbanize
d, so to speak; it is focused on the need to still the pangs of hunger, on the m
isery of the poor in the restless Gravilliers district. Their agitation tends to
center more on the cost of living than on the redistribution of land, more on p
opular control over the administration of Paris than on the formation of communa
l brotherhoods in the countryside.
Proudhon, in his own way, probes the very vitals of this context. He speaks dire
ctly to the needs of the craftsman, whose world and values are being threatened
by the Industrial Revolution. In the background of nearly all his works is the v
illage economy of the Franche-Comte, the memories of Burgille-en-Marnay, and the
tour de France he made as a journeyman in the printing trade. A benign paterfam
ilias, an artisan at heart who loathed Paris ( I suffer from my exile, he wrote fro
m Paris, I detest Parisian civilization ... I shall never by able to write except
on the banks of the Doubs, the Ognon and the Loue ), the fact yet remains that th
e very Parisians who were to storm the heavens in 1830, in 1848, and again in the
Commune of 1871 were mainly artisans, not factory workers, and it was these men
who were to adhere to Proudhon s doctrines. Again, my point is that the Proudhonia
n anarchists were men of their times and dealt with the problems from which stem
med most of the social unrest in France
the painful, agonizing destruction of th
e handicraft workers.
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, anarchist thought finds itself in
a new historical context a period marked by the rise of the industrial proletari
at. Its most effective expression for the time is to be found less in the works
of Bakunin and Kropotkin than in the less permanent articles and speeches of Chr
istian Cornelissen, Pierre Monatte, Big Bill Haywood, Armando Borghi, and Fernand
Pelloutier in short, in the anarcho-syndicalists. That many anarcho-syndicalist
leaders should have drifted from anarchist notions to a reformist trade-union ou
tlook should not surprise us; in this respect they often followed the changing m
entality of the industrial working class and its growing stake in bourgeois soci
ety.
If we look back, then, we find that anarchist principles, insofar as they have b
een more than that personal idea of a few isolated intellectuals, have always be
en clothed in a historical context. Before the Great French Revolution, anarchis
t doctrines rose on the full swell of peasant discontent. Between the French Rev
olution and the Paris Commune, the historical wave that carried these doctrines
forward was artisan discontent. And between the Paris Commune of 1871 and the Sp
anish Revolution of 1936, anarchism
this time, together with Marxian socialism
lowed an ebbed as movements with the fortunes of the industrial proletariat.
There is still widespread peasant discontent in the world today: indeed, the sou
rce of the most violent discontent will be found in the villages of Asia, Latin
America, and Africa. There are still craftsmen whose social position is being un
dermined by modern technology; and there are still millions of industrial works
for whom the class struggle is a brute, immediate fact of life. Many aspects of
the older anarchist programs, sophisticated by historical experience and matured
by later thinkers, doubtless still apply to many parts of the world.

But the fact remains that in the United States and in many countries of Europe,
a new historical context is emerging for anarchist principles. The distinguishin
g feature of this new context is the development of gigantic urban belts, the in
creasing centralization of social life into state capitalism, the extension of a
utomated machinery to all areas of production, the breakdown of the traditional
bourgeois class structure (I refer here to the decline of the working class, not
merely to the disappearance of the old robber barons), the use of welfare techniq
ues to stifle material discontent, the ability of the bourgeoisie
more precisely
, the state to deal with economic dislocations and crises, the development of a
war economy, and the realignment of imperialist nations around the United States
what is crudely called the Pax Americana. This new era of state capitalism, whi
ch has supplanted the older era of industrial laissez-faire capitalism, must be
dealt with earnestly and without regard to earlier precepts by the anarchist mov
ement. To fail to meet this theoretical challenge will doom all existing movemen
ts to a lingering, burdensome stagnation.
New problems have arisen to which an ecological approach offers a more meaningfu
l arena of discussion than the older syndicalist approach. Life itself compels t
he anarchist to concern himself increasingly with the quality of urban life, wit
h the reorganization of society along humanistic lines, with the subcultures cre
ated by new, often indefinable strata
students, unemployables, an immense bohemi
a of intellectuals, and above all a youth that began to gain social awareness wi
th the peace movement and civil rights struggles of the early 1960s. What keeps
all strata and classes in a state of astonishing social mobility and insecurity
is the advent of a computerized and automated technology for it is virtually imp
ossible to predict the vocational or professional future of most people in the W
estern world.
By the same token, this very technology is ripe with promise of a truly liberate
d society. The anarchist movement, more than any other, must explore this promis
e in depth. It must thoroughly assimilate this technology
master its development
, possibilities, and applications and reveal its promise in humanistic terms. Th
e world is already beset with mechanical utopias that more closely resemble Huxley s
brave new world and Orwell s 1984 than the organic utopias of Thomas More and Wil
liam Morris
the humanistic trend in utopian thinking. Only anarchism can infuse
the promise of modern technology with an organic perspective, with a man-oriente
d direction. Ecology provides a superb approach to the fulfillment of this histo
ric responsibility. It is more than likely that if the anarchist movement does n
ot take this responsibility seriously and apply itself fully to the job of trans
lating the promise of technology into an envisionable body of guidelines, a tech
nocratic, mechanistic approach will tend to dominate modern thinking on the futu
re. Men will be asked to resign themselves to improved and gimmick-ridden version
of existing urban monstrosities, of a mass society, of a centralized, bureaucrat
ic state. I do not believe that these monstrosities have permanence or stability
; quite to the contrary, they will seethe with unrest, regress toward a new barb
arism, and eventually fall before the revenge of the natural world. But social c
onflict will be reduced to its most elemental, brutish terms, and it is question
able indeed if mankind will be able to regain its vision of a libertarian societ
y.
There is a fascinating dialectic in the historic process. Our age closely resemb
les the Renaissance, some four centuries ago. From the time of Thomas More to th
at of Valentin Andreae, the breakdown of feudal society produced a strange, inte
rmediate social zone, and indefinable epoch, when old institutions were clearly
in decline and new ones had not yet arisen. The human mind, freed from the burde
n of tradition, acquired uncanny powers of generalization and imagination. Roami
ng freely and spontaneously over the entire realm of experience, it produced ast
onishing visions, often far transcending the material limitations of the time. E
ntire sciences and schools of philosophy were founded in the sweep of an essay o
r a pamphlet. It was a time when new potentialities had replaced the old actuali

ties, when the general, latent with new possibilities, had replaced the burdenso
me particulars of feudal society, when man, stripped of traditional fetters, had
turned from a transfixed creature into a vital, searching being. The establishe
d feudal classes were breaking down, and with them nearly al the values of the m
ediaeval world. A new social mobility, a restless, almost gipsy-like yearning fo
r change, pervaded the Western world. In time, bourgeois society crystallized ou
t of this flux, bringing with it an entirely new body of institutions, classes,
values
and chains
to replace feudal civilization. But for a time the world was l
oosening its shackles, and it still sought a destiny that was far less defined t
han we suppose today, with our retrospective historical attitudes. This world haun
ts us like an unforgettable dawn, richly tinted, ineffably beautiful, laden with
the promise of birth.
Today, in the last half of the twentieth century, we too are living in a period
of social disintegration. The old classes are breaking down, the old values are
in disintegration, and the established institutions so carefully developed by tw
o centuries of capitalist development are decaying before our eyes. Like our Ren
aissance forebears, we live in an epoch of potentialities, of generalities, and
we too are searching, seeking a direction from the first lights on the horizon.
It will no longer do, I think, to ask of anarchism that it merely free itself fr
om nineteenth-century fetters and update its theories to the twentieth century.
In a time of such instability, every decade telescopes a generation of change un
der stable conditions. We must look even further, to the century that lies ahead
; we cannot be extravagant enough in releasing the imagination of man.

[1] For insight into this problem, the reader may consult Charles S. Elton, The
Ecology of Invasions (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1953); Edward Hyams, Soil and
Civilization (London: Thames and Hudson, 1952); Lewis Herber, Our Synthetic Env
ironment (New York: Knopf, 1962); and Rachel Carson, Silent Spring this last to
be read less as a diatribe against pesticides than as a plea for ecological dive
rsification.
[2] For insight into this problem, the reader may consult Charles S. Elton, The
Ecology of Invasions (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1953); Edward Hyams, Soil and
Civilization (London: Thames and Hudson, 1952); Lewis Herber, Our Synthetic Env
ironment (New York: Knopf, 1962); and Rachel Carson, Silent Spring this last to
be read less as a diatribe against pesticides than as a plea for ecological dive
rsification.
[3] Rudd s use of the word manipulation is likely to create the erroneous impressi
on that an ecological situation can be reduced to simple mechanical terms. Lest
this impression arise, I would like to emphasize that our knowledge of an ecolog
ical situation and the practical use of this knowledge is a matter of insight an
d understanding rather than power. Elton, I think, states the case for the manag
ement of an ecological situation when he writes: The world s future has to be manag
ed, but this management would not be just like a game of chess
[but] more like s
teering a boat.
[4] Lewis Herber, Crisis in Our Cities (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1965), 194.
[5] I do not wish to saddle Gutkind with the notions I have advanced above, but
I believe the reader would benefit enormously by reading Gutkind s masterful discu
ssion of communities, The Expanding Environment (Freedom Press).
[6] H.D.F. Kitto, The Greeks (Chicago: Aldine, 1964), 161.

Murray Bookchin
Freedom and Necessity in Nature: A Problem in Ecological Ethics
Overcoming Dualism
Participatory Evolution
Ecological Ethics: An Objective Ground
Ecological Society
Conclusion
One of the most entrenched ideas in western thought is the notion that nature is
a harsh realm of necessity, a domain of unrelenting lawfulness and compulsion.
From this underlying view, two extreme either/or attitudes have emerged. Either
humanity must yield with a religious, a more recently, ecological humility to the
dicta of natural law and take its abject place side by side with the lowly ants on
which it arrogantly treads or it must conquer nature with its technological and rat
ional astuteness an enterprise, I may add, that may very well entail the subjuga
tion of human by human in a shared project to ultimately liberate all of humanity
from the compulsion of natural necessity.
This quasi-religious quietism, typified by certain schools of antihumanism and soc
iobiology, and the more conventional activism, typified by the liberal and Marxi
an image of an omniscient humanity cast defiantly in a Promethean posture, often
interpenetrate each other with quixotic results. Modern science unwittingly tak
es on an ethical mantle of its own despite all its claims of value-free objectivi
ty
when it commits itself to a concept of nature as comprehensible, as orderly in t
he sense that nature s laws are causally unyielding and hence necessitarian. [1]
The Greeks viewed this orderly structure of the natural world as evidence of an
inherently rational nature, of the existence of nous or logos, that produced a s
ubjective, if not spiritual, presence in natural phenomena as a whole. Yet with
only a minimal shift in emphasis, this very same notion of an orderly nature can a
lso yield the dismal conclusion that freedom is the recognition of necessity (to u
se Frederick Engels rephrasing in Anti-Dhring of Hegel s definition). In this latter
case, freedom is subtly turned into its opposite: the mere consciousness of wha
t we can or cannot do.
Such an internalized view of freedom, subject to the higher dicta of Spirit (Hegel
) or History (Marx), not only served Luther in his break with the Church s hierarchy
; it provided an ideological justification for Stalin s worst excesses in the name
of dialectical materialism and his brutal industrialization of Russia under the a
egis of society s natural laws of development. It may also yield a forthright Skinne
rian notion of an overly determined world in which human behaviour is reducible
to mere responses to external or internal stimuli.
Leaving these extremes aside, western conventional wisdom still sees nature as a
realm of necessity
morally, as well as materially which constitutes a challenge t
o humanity s survival and well-being. Despite the considerable intellectual herita
ge which embraces both dystopian thinkers like Hobbes and utopian ones like Marx
, the very self-definition of major disciplines embodies this tension, indeed, t
his conflict.
Economics has been forged in the crucible of a necessitarian, even a stingy nature t
hat opposes its scarce resources to humanity s unlimited needs. Sociology has been gui
ded by the need to explain the emergence of rational man from brute animality, a pro
ject that still awaits its fulfilment in a rational society that presumably will
succeed a mindless natural world from which contemporary irrationalities are said
to emerge. Psychology, certainly in its psychoananlytic forms, and pedagogy stre
ss the importance of controlling human internal nature with the bonus that the sub
limination of individual energy will find its expression in the subjugation of e
xternal nature.
Theories of work, society, behaviour, even sexuality, turn around an image of a

necessitarian nature that must in some sense be manipulated to serve human ends
presumably on the old theory that what is human is rational per se and what is nat
ural is irrational in that it lacks any elements of choice and freedom. Nor has na
ture philosophy been less tainted by this necessitarian image. Indeed, more ofte
n than not, it has served as an ideological justification for a hierarchical soc
iety, modelled on a hierarchically structured natural order.
This image and its social implications, generally associated with Aristotle, sti
ll lives in our midst as a cosmic justification for domination in general
in its
more noxious cases, for racial and sexual discrimination, and in its most night
marish form, for the outright extermination of entire peoples. Raised to the lev
el of a moral calling man emerges from this massive ideological apparatus as a bei
ng beyond nature, a creature in whom Spirit or God has imparted a supranatural quali
ty of a transcendental kind and mission to govern an ordered universe that has i
ts inception in a supernatural world.
Overcoming Dualism
To overcome the problem of the conflict between necessity and freedom-basically,
between nature and society-we must go beyond the building of bridges between th
e two, such as we find in value systems that are based on purely utilitarian att
itudes toward the natural world. The argument that our abuse of nature subverts
the material conditions for our own survival, although surely true, is crassly i
nstrumental. It assumes that our concern for nature rests on our self-interest,
rather than on a feeling for the community of life of which we are part, albeit
in a very unique and distinctive way.
Given such an argument, our relationship with nature is neither better nor worse
than the success with which we plunder the natural world without harming oursel
ves. This is a warrant for undermining the natural world provided we can find wo
rkable or adequate substitutes for existing life-forms and ecological relationsh
ips, however synthetic, simple, or mechanical they may be. Time has shown that i
t is precisely this view that has played a major role in the present ecological
crisis a crisis that results not only from physical disruption but also from a s
erious derangement of our ethical and biotic sensibilities.
In any case, bridge-building preserves a dualism that works with the nature/soci
ety split but presumably reconciles it structurally by merely bridging a gulf that a
ccounts for the division between the natural and social worlds. This kind of mec
hanical thinking also gives rise to splits between body and mind, reality and th
ought, object and subject, country and town, and, ultimately, society and the in
dividual. It is not far-fetched to say that the primary schism between nature an
d humanity, a schism that may well have its original source in the hierarchical
subordination of women to men, has nourished splits of enormous scope in everyda
y life as well as in our theoretical sensibilities.
To overcome these dualisms simply by reducing one element of the duality to the
other is no less a serious fallacy. The universal night in which all cows are bla
ck, to use Hegel s phrase in the Phenomenology of Spirit, purchases unity at the ex
pense of the very real variety and qualitative differences that surround us and
nourish creative thinking. Such reductionism yields a crude mechanistic spiritua
lism that is merely the counterpart of the prevailing mechanistic materialism. I
n both cases, the need for a nuanced interpretation of complex phenomena that ta
kes delicate distinctions and gradations into account in any explanation of deve
lopment is sacrificed to a simplistic dualism that dismisses the need to emphasi
ze the phases that enter into any process. Alternatively, it embraces an equally
simplistic oneness that overrides the immense wealth of differentia to which the
present biosphere is heir
the rich, fecund and interconnected constituents that
make up our evolution and that are still preserved in nearly all existing phenom
ena.

It is surprising that ecology, one of the most organic of our contemporary disci
plines, is itself so lacking in organic ways of thinking. I refer to the need to
inwardly derive differentia from each other, the full from the germinal, the mo
re complex from the simpler
in short, to think biologically, not merely to deduce
conclusions from hypotheses in typical mathematical fashion, or simply to tabula
te and classify facts. Whether as ecologists or accountants, we tend to share the
same mode of reasoning so prevalent today, one that is largely analytical and cl
assificatory rather than processual and developmental. Appropriate as analytical
, classificatory and deductive modes of reasoning may be for disassembling or re
assembling automobile engines or constructing buildings, they are woefully inade
quate in ascertaining the phases that make up a process, each conceived in its o
wn integrity, yet part of an ever-developing continuum.
It is becoming a cliche to fault separation as the source of apartness in our high
ly fragmented world. We must see that every process is also a form of alienation i
n the very non-Marxist sense of differentiation in which the whole is seen as th
e richly varied fulfillment of its latent potentialities. [2]

Underlying this distinction between alienation conceived as opposition on the on


e hand and self-expression or self-articulation on the other is an all-pervasive
epistemology of rule that sorts difference as such (indeed, the other in all its
forms) into an ensemble or pyramid of antagonistic relationships structured arou
nd obedience and command. The modern ethical procedure for assembling all phenom
ena into an order of one to ten and benefits versus risks, each summed up by ascertai
ing a bottom line (the businesses here, is as delicious as the image of marriage,
child- rearing, and education as investment ) testifies to a conception of variety
not as unity, but as a problem of conflict. That the other can be seen as part of
a whole, however differentiated in one degree or another, eludes the modern mind
in a flux of experience that knows only division as conflict or dissolution.
The real world is indeed divided antagonistically and herein lies its tainted ch
aracter which must be remedied by struggle as well as reconciliation. But if the
thrust of evolution has any meaning, it is that a continuum is precisely proces
sual in that it is graded as well as united, a flow of derived phases as well as
a shared development from the simpler to the more complex. The reality of confl
ict must never override the reality of differentiation as the long-range charact
er of development in nature and society.
Participatory Evolution
What then, does it mean to speak of complexity, variety, and unity-in-diversity
in the overall thrust of developmental processes? Ecologists have generally trea
ted diversity as a source of ecological stability, an approach, I may add, that
was still rather new some twenty-five years ago. Experiences in agriculture show
ed that the treatment of single crops by pesticides could easily reach alarming
proportions and seemed to suggest that the more diversified a crop, the more pla
nt and animal species interacted to produce natural checks on pest populations.
Today, this notion, like the value of organic methods of agriculture, has become
commonplace in present-day ecological and environmental thinking
a view which t
his writer pioneered together with a few rare colleagues like Charles S. Elton.
But the notion that biotic and, as we shall see, social evolution has been marke
d until recently by the development of ever more complex species and ecocommunit
ies (or ecosystems, to use a very unsatisfactory term) raises an even more challen
ging issue. Diversity maybe regarded as a source not only of greater ecocommunit
y stability, it may also be regarded in a very fundamental sense as an ever-expa
nding, albeit nascent, source of freedom within nature, a medium for objectively
anchoring varying degrees of choice, self-directiveness, and participation by l
ifeforms in their own evolution. I wish to propose that the evolution of living

beings is no passive process, the product of chance conjunctions between random


genetic changes and selective environmental forces, that the origin of species is no
ere result of external influences that determine the fitness of a life-form to surv
ive as a result of random factors in which life is merely an object of an indetermi
nable selective process.
I wish to go beyond the increasingly popular notion that symbiosis is quite as i
mportant as struggle to contend that the increase in diversity in the biosphere op
ens increasingly new evolutionary pathways, indeed, alternative evolutionary dir
ections in which species play an active role in their own survival and change. H
owever rudimentary and nascent it may be, choice is not totally absent in biotic
evolution. Indeed, it increases as individual animals become structurally, phys
iologically, and, above all, neurologically more complex. Mind has its own evolu
tionary history in the natural world and, as the neurological capability of life
-forms to function more actively and flexibly increases, so too does life itself
help create new evolutionary directions that lead to enhanced self-awareness an
d self-activity.
Finally, choice becomes increasingly evident as the ecological contexts within w
hich species evolve
the communities and interactions they form themselves become
more complex so that they open new avenues for evolution, a greater ability to
act self-selectively, forming the bases for some kind of choice, fostering preci
sely those species that can participate in ever-greater degrees in their own evo
lution, basically in the direction of more complex life-forms. Indeed, species a
nd the ecocommunities in which they interact to create more complex forms of evo
lutionary development are, in increasing degree, the very forces that are often tr
eated as the external agents that account for evolution as a whole.
I wish to propose that this view, which I call a participatory evolution, is very
much at odds with the prevalent Darwinian or neo-Darwinian syntheses in which a
non-human life-forms are seen primarily as objects of selective forces exogenous t
o them. It is also at odds with Henri Bergson s creative evolution with its semi-mys
tical elan vital. Ecologists, no less than biologists, have yet to come to terms
with the notion that symbiosis (not only struggle ) and participation (not only com
petition ) factor in the evolution of species. The prevalent view of nature still
stresses the cruelty and necessitarian character of the natural world, a view that i
s as moral as it is physical in its overtones. An immense literature, no less ar
tistic than scientific, stresses the unseeing muteness of a nature that bears no w
itness to the suffering of life and has no ears to the cry of pain in the struggl
e for existence. Cruel nature in this imagery offers no solace for extinction merel
y an all-embracing darkness of meaningless motion to which humanity can only opp
ose the light of its culture and mind, in short, a stoic worldview that ethicall
y expires in a sigh of resignation and loneliness.
We may reasonably ask whether human will and freedom, at least as self-conscious
ness and self-reflection, have their own natural history in developments within
nature itself-or whether they are simply sui generis, a self-aggrandizing ruptur
e with the whole principle of development, such that will and freedom are so unp
recedented and so self-contained in their uniqueness that they contradict our co
nception that all phenomena are emergent: that phenomena are graded from anteced
ent potentialities that lie behind and within every product of a processual kind.
Such a claim to uniqueness is as self-serving as it is self-aggrandizing. It und
erwrites our claim to be justified in dealing with the natural world as we choos
e-indeed, in Marx s words in the Grundisse to regard it merely as an object for man
kind, purely a matter of utility...
The dim choices that animals exercise in their own evolution are not the will th
at human beings exhibit in their social lives. Nor is the nascent freedom confer
red by natural complexity the same as the rational decisions that human beings b
ring to the service of their own development. Our prejudice against the concept

of complicity between evolving life-forms and the environmental forces that selec
t them has its pedigree in the Newtonian mechanism that still clings to evolution
ary theory into our own time. The inert matter and mechanical operations, hypostas
ized by Newton and the Enlightenment thinkers have their counterpart in the cont
emporary image of all non-human life-forms as basically inert. All anti-Cartesia
n protestations to the contrary, non-human life-forms are still viewed as little
more than machines. Structurally, we may fill them out with protoplasm, but ope
rationally they are imparted with as little meaning as we impute to mechanical d
evices, a judgment that is not without its economic utility. Despite the monumen
tal nature of his work, Darwin did not orgarlicize evolutionary theory. He confe
rred a sense of evolution on the origin of species, but species in the minds of hi
s acolytes still stood somewhere between inorganic machines and mechanically fun
ctioning organisms.
No less significant are the empirical origins of Darwin s own work, a work that is
deeply rooted in the Lockean atomism that nourished nineteenth-century British
science as a whole. Allowing for a reasonable amount of shading and nuance that
exists in all great books, The Origin of Species is an account of origins in a f
airly isolated sense, notably, the way in which a species originates, evolves, a
dapts, survives, changes, or pays the penalty of extinction.
Any one species can stand for the world of life as a whole in isolation from the
life-forms that normally interact with it. Although predators depend upon their
prey, to be sure, the strand from ancestor to descendant stands in lofty isolat
ion such that early eohippus rises, step-by-step, from a plebeian dog-like estat
e to the aristocratic grandeur of a sleek race horse. This paleontological diagr
amming of bones from what were formerly missing links to the culminating beauty of
Equos caballus more closely resembles the adaptation of Robinson Crusoe from an
English seafarer to a self-sufficient island dweller than the reality of a trul
y emerging being.
This reality is contextual in an ecological sense. The modern horse did not evol
ve alone. It lived not only among its predators and prey but in creatively inter
active relationships with a great variety of plants and animals. It evolved in e
ver-changing ecocommunities such that the rise of Equos caballus occurred conjoint
ly with other herbivores that shared, maintained, and even played a major role i
n creating their grasslands. The string of bones that traces eohippus to Equus i
s really evidence of the succession of the ecocommunities in which the animal an
d its ancestor interacted with each other.
One could more properly modify The Origin of Species to read as the evolution of
ecocommunities as well as the evolution of species. [3] Indeed, to place the co
mmunity in the foreground of evolution is not to deny the integrity of species,
their capacity for variation, and their development. Quite to the contrary: spec
ies become vital participants in their own evolution active beings, not merely p
assive components which thus takes full account of their self-directive and nasc
ent freedom in the natural process.
Will and reason are not sui generis. They have their origins in the growing choi
ces conferred by complexity, the alternative pathways opened by the growth of co
mplex ecocommunities, and the development of increasingly complex neurological s
ystems in short, processes that are both internal and external to life-forms. Th
ey appear germinally in the communities which life-forms establish as active age
nts in their own evolution, a view that cuts across the grain of conventional ev
olutionary theory in which non-human life-forms are seen as little more than pas
sive objects of natural selection apart from their ability to produce random var
iations. Even genetic changes seem to occur in patterns that cohere into organs
and organ systems whose capacity to serve biotic needs are hard to understand as
products of mere chance events.

Does this warrant the need to introduce an elan vital or a hidden hand that has
entered into western thought as Spirit,
God, or Mind, a predetermining agent that pre
ides over the development of life-forms? I think not even if only because the co
ncept of such a hidden hand restores the very dualities that underpin hierarchy
and the conception of all differentiation as conflict. We may well ask ourselves
if we have ever understood life itself as a creative and co ative phenomenon wh
en we see it as little more than a factor in production, a natural resource, place
d in the service of wealth rather than a reproductive process, promised in the v
ery way life is constituted.
Again, we encounter a western sensibility that is alien to processual thought, d
evelopment, and its phases, an inability to see nature as a phenomenon whose bas
ic organization challenges our mechanistic and analytic modes of thought. Dualis
m inheres in our mental operations so profoundly that the conative striving of l
ife-forms toward freedom and self-awareness tends to slip into supernature rathe
r than nature, reductionism rather than differentiation, succession rather than
culmination.
This much is clear: The way we position ourselves in our view of the natural wor
ld is deeply entangled with the way we view the social world. In large part, the
former derives from the latter and serves, in turn, to reinforce social ideolog
y. Every society extends its own perception of itself into nature, whether as a
tribal cosmos that is rooted in kinship communities, a feudal cosmos that origin
ates in and; underpins a strict hierarchy of rights and duties, a bourgeois cosm
os structured around a market society that fosters human rivalry and competition
, or a corporate cosmos, diagrammed as flow charts, feedback systems, and hierar
chies that mirror the operational systems of modern corporate society.
That some of these images reveal an aspect of nature, whether as a community or
a cybernetic flow of energy, does not justify the universal, almost imperialisti
c, claims that they stake out over the world as a whole. Ultimately, only a soci
ety that has come into its truth, to use Theodor Adorno s term
an ecological society
-can free us from the limits that oppressive and hierarchical societies impose o
n our understanding of nature.
Ecological Ethics: An Objective Ground

Granting the limitations which every society in its own one-sidedness imposes on
our thinking, herein lies an objective ground for an ethics, indeed, for formul
ating a vision of the true society that is neither hierarchical at one extreme nor
relativistic at the other. I speak of an ethics that neither justifies atavisti
c appeals to blood and soil and modernistic appeals to law ( dialectical or scientifi
n the one hand, nor the wayward consensus that justifies capital punishment duri
ng one year and confinement during another. Freedom becomes an end in itself as
self-reflexivity, self-management, and, most excitingly, as a creative and activ
e process that, with its ever-expanding horizon and growing wealth of diversity,
resists the moral imperatives of a rigid definition and the jargon of temporall
y conditioned biases. [4]
Reverence for nature, the mythologizing of the natural world, and the so-called bio
centric hypostasizing of the natural over the human all degrade nature by denying
the natural world its universality as that which exists everywhere, free of all
dualities like Spirit and God, indeed, a nature that encompasses the very congregat
ion of worshipers, idolators and antihumanists who subtly deny their own specifici
ty as part of nature.
A revered nature is a separated nature in the bad sense of the term. Like the idol
s which human beings create from the depths of their imagination and worship fro
m afar with the mediation of priests and gurus, and in temples with incantations
and rituals, this separated nature becomes reified, a contrived phenomenon that

helps set the natural world apart from the human during the very act of genufle
cting and voicing incantations before a mystified it. Much has been said about the
alienation produced by work, anomie, fear, and insecurity: but a nature reconst
ructed into forms apart from itself, however reverentially, is no less an alienate
d nature than the Marxian image of nature as a mere object of utility.
Herein lies the paradox of biocentricity and antihumanism, indeed, any centricity
rd nature: the 0 alienation and reification of nature to a point where the revere
nce for the natural world negates any existential respect for the diversity of li
fe. Preliterate peoples are no less locked into this paradox than their so-calle
d civilized cousins. Happily, they are simply incapable, whether by inclination,
r technical development or tradition, of inflicting too much harm on the natura
l world, although they are not immune to this charge as the extermination of so
many great mammals of the late Pleistocene seems to indicate.

tow

What is perhaps more irksome than this overblown biocentricity that denies humanit
y s real place in nature is the vision of a natural world
overburdened by reverence
and dissolved into a mystical oneness
that preserves and even fosters the traditio
nal split between nature and society, the basic source in my view of philosophy s
theoretically elaborate separation of the concept from the real world. One think
s, here, of the traditions created by Plato in the ancient world and Kant in the
modern.
A nature that is reverentially hypostasized is a nature that is set apart from i
ts own place in humanity in the very real sense that human reason, too, is an ex
pression of nature rendered self-conscious, a nature that finds its voice in one
of its own creations. It is not only we who must have our own place in nature b
ut nature which must have its place in us in an ecological society and in an eco
logical ethics based on humanity s catalytic role in natural evolution.
Nor should we ignore the fact that the reverence for nature, so poetically cultiva
ted by the Romantic tradition, has been warped by biocentrically oriented antihuman
ists and acolytes of natural law into the insidious image of a humanity that is domi
nated by nature
the converse of the old liberal and Marxian image of a nature domi
nated by man. In both cases, the theme of domination is re-instated in ecological
discourse. If liberal and Marxist theorists prepared the ideological bases for c
ontrolling and plundering the natural world, antihumanists and natural law devotees m
ay be preparing the ideological bases for controlling and plundering the human s
pirit. Indeed some natural law acolytes have already justified the use of authorit
arian measures to control population growth and to legitimate the forcible expul
sion of urban dwellers from large, congested cities as though a society that har
nesses human beings can be expected to leave the natural world intact.
A humanity that has been rendered oblivious to its own responsibility to evoluti
on a responsibility that brings reason and the human spirit to evolutionary deve
lopment, diversity, and ecological guidance such that the accidental, the hurtfu
l and the fortuitous in the natural world are diminished
is a humanity that betr
ays its own evolutionary heritage. It surrenders its species-distinctiveness and
its uniqueness. It is grossly misleading to invoke biocentricity, natural law, and
ntihumanism for ends that deny what is most distinctive in all human natural attr
ibutes.
I speak of humanity s ability to reason, to foresee, to will and to act insightful
ly on behalf of directiveness within nature and enhance nature s own development.
It is also an insult to nature to separate these subjective attributes from natu
re, to deal with them as though they did not emerge out of evolutionary developm
ent and are not implicitly part of nature in a deeper sense than the law of fang
and claw that we so flippantly impute to natural evolution as a metaphor for the c
ruelty and harshness of that evolutionary process. Nature, in short, is defamed in
the very process of being hypostasized over humanity at one extreme or subordina

ted to humanity at the other. Here, the faulty reasoning based on deduction, so co
mmonplace today in conventional logic, claims its toll at the expense of an orga
nismic form of reasoning based on derivation, as rooted in a dialectical outlook
.
Social ecology, by definition, takes on the responsibility of evoking, elaborati
ng, and giving an ethical content to the natural core of society and humanity. [
5] The steady denaturing of humanity by biocentricity in all its forms or by the r
eduction of human beings to commodities is not a metaphor; it is compellingly re
al and in both cases involves the denaturing of humanity into a mere object.
The commodification of humanity takes its most pernicious form in the manipulati
on of the individual as a means of production and as a means of consumption.
Here, human nature is either employed (in the literal sense of the term) as a te
chnique in production or a technique in consumption, a mere device whose creativ
e powers and authentic needs are equally perverted into objectified phenomena. A
s a result, we have today not only the fetishization of commodities (to use Marx s f
amous formulation) but the fetishization of needs. [6] Human beings thus become
separated from the natural world and from their own nature in a real split that
replaces the theoretical one attributed to Descartes. In this sense, the claim t
hat capitalism is a totally unnatural order is only too accurate.
To recover human nature is to renature it, to restore its continuity with the crea
tive process of natural evolution, its freedom and participation in that evoluti
on conceived as a realm of incipient freedom and as a participatory process. Her
e, it is freedom and participation not necessity and the hierarchical organizati
on of relationships
that must be emphasized, an emphasis that involves a radical
break with the conventional western image of nature.
Social Ecology
Social ecology, in effect, stands at odds with the notion that culture alone is
the realm of freedom. Indeed, it tries to root the cultural in the natural and t
o ascertain the gradations that unite them. To identify society as such with the
present society, to see in capitalism an emancipatory movement precisely because
it frees us from nature is not only to ignore the roots of nature in society; it
is also an attempt to identify a perverted capitalist society with humanism and t
hereby to give credence to certain atavistic trends in ecological thinking that
appear under the name of antihumanism.
The power of social ecology lies in the association it establishes between socie
ty and ecology, the social conceived as a fulfillment of the latent dimension of
freedom in nature, and the ecological conceived as the organizing principle of
social development
in short, the guidelines for an ecological society.
The great divorce between nature and society
or between the biological and the cult
ural, as Europeans like to put it
is overcome by shared concepts of development a
s such; increasing diversity; the wider and more complete participation of all c
omponents in a whole; ever more fecund potentialities that expand the horizon of
freedom, self-directiveness, and self-reflexivity. Society ceases to be sui gen
eris. Like mind
which has its own natural history in the evolution of the human
nerve network from simple invertebrates through ever-complex ganglia, the spinal
cord, layered brains and cortices (each functionally incorporating the others suc
h that they exist as a united apparatus in human beings as well as neurologicall
y less complex animals)
social life too, emerges from the loosely banded animal
community to form the highly institutionalized human community. [7]
Ultimately, it is the institutionalization of the human community that distingui
shes society from the non-human community-whether for the worse as in the case o

f weak, unfeeling tyrants like Nicholas II or Louis XVI who were raised to comma
nding positions by bureaucracies, armies, and social classes or, for the better,
in forms of self-governance and management that empower the people as a whole.
We see no such contrived institutional infrastructures in non-human communities,
although the rudiments of a social bond do exist in the mother-offspring relati
onship and in common forms of mutual aid.
The social bond that human parents create with the young as the biocommunity pha
ses into the social community is fundamental to the emergence of society and it
is retained in every society as an active factor in the elaboration of history.
It is not only that prolonged human immaturity develops the lasting ties so nece
ssary for human interdependence, a fact which Robert Briffault so forcefully poi
nted out in The Mothers. It is also that care, sharing, participation, and compl
ementarity develop this bond beyond the material division of labour, which has r
eceived so much emphasis in economic interpretations of social origins.
This social bond gives rise to a fascinating elaboration of the tentative parent
-offspring relationship: love, friendship, responsibility, loyalty
not only to p
eople but to ideals and beliefs, and hence makes belief, commitment and civil co
mmunities possible.
It also gives rise to a constellation of functions each unique in its creativity
, often highly personalized, and richly developed into different cultures based
on gender, age, intercommunity relationships, myths specific to women and men, e
ven differences in body language and behavioral traits.
I do not wish to reduce the cultural expression of these functions to their biol
ogical sources. Rather, I wish to emphasize that the sources do not disappear bu
t work subtly within society, culture, and even the human psyche as wellsprings
of ever new elaborations of social and personal association. In any case, to spe
ak of society without recognizing that men and women, to deal with one of the most
basic and ever-present divisions within humanity, have often formed separate fr
aternities and sororities in preliterate and well into historical societies is t
o ignore two sources of human development which still require careful study as a
lternatives to the present course of social evolution. The militarized, indeed,
warrior society in which we live was made by men; its culture, traceable back fo
r thousands of years, still works upon our civilization with a vengeance that th
reatens the very existence of social life itself. To go backward in time and in
mind to its beginning is not atavistic. The thorough exploration of its origins,
development, and forms may be indispensable for going forward in any rational a
nd meaningful sense of the term.
Social ecology, in short, challenges the image of an unmediated natural evolutio
n: the image of the human mind, society, and even culture as sui generis, of a n
on-human nature that is irretrievably separated from human nature, and, ethicall
y, of a defamed nature that finds no expression in society, mind, and human will
. It seeks to throw a new, critical, and meaningful light on the phased, graded,
and cumulative development of nature into society, richly mediated by the prolo
nged dependence of the human young on parental, particularly maternal, care (a b
iological fact that is rich in social and ethical implications), on the blood ti
e as the earliest social and cultural bond that extends beyond immediate parenta
l care (still another biological fact of social importance that enters into clan
and tribal communities), on the so-called sexual division of labour (no less biol
ogical in its origins than social in its elaborations into gender-oriented cultu
res), and on age as the basis of status and the origins of hierarchy (but no les
s a biological fact in its early phases).
The historic effort, political as well as ideological, to rid us of this prehuma
n slime of our natural origins has served only to make us its unknowing victims in
the sense that we have followed its most necessitarian instead of libertarian p

aths of development: toward the nascent elements of struggle that inhere in the
prey-predator relationship, toward the celebration of death in what E.E. Thompso
n has called exterminism rather than its acceptance in the larger cycle of life, t
oward a process of destructuring the elaborate food-webs that are a metaphor for
natural complexity rather than their elaboration. Our civilization has turned i
nto one vast hurricane of destruction and threatens to turn back the evolutionar
y clock to a simpler world where the survival of a viable human species will be
impossible.
With a growing knowledge of the need for care, fondling, and attention that fost
ers healthy human consociation, with technical disciplines that open the way for
a creative metabolism between humanity and nature, and with a host of new insight
s into the presence of nature in so much of our own development toward civilizati
on, can it be denied any longer that nature is still with us
indeed, that it has
returned to us ideologically as a challenge to our exploitation of natural resour
ces and our simplification of the biosphere? That we can no longer speak meaningf
ully of a new or rational society without also tailoring our social relationships an
d institutions to the ecocommunities in which our social communities are located
? In short, that any viable future society must be an ecological society, all it
s presumable autonomous cultural artifacts and uniquely human achievements aside?
It is myopic to reduce nature to mere slime when, because of the very sensibility
that deals with the natural world as such, we are sinking into it with a vengean
ce. The ecological principles that enter into biotic evolution do not disappear
from social evolution any more than the natural history of mind can be dissolved
into Kant s ahistorical epistemology. Quite the contrary: the societal and cultur
al can be seen as ecologically derivative, as the men s houses and the women s hom
es in tribal communities so clearly illustrate. [8] The relationship can also be
seen as a cumulative one while still remaining highly original and creative in
its own right. Perhaps most significantly, the societal and the cultural can be
seen as a clerivative
and cumulative in terms of a nature that is definable as a
realm of freedom and subjectivity, yet without ceasing to be the most self-cons
cious and self-reflexive expression of that natural development.
Herein lies the ground for an ecological ethics of freedom that provides an obje
ctive directiveness to the human enterprise. We have no need to degrade nature o
r society into a crude biologism at one extreme or a crude dualism at the other.
A diversity that nurtures freedom, an interactivity that enhances participation
, a wholeness that fosters creativity, a community that strengthens individualit
y, a growing subjectivity that yields reason
all are desiderata that provide the
ground for an objective ethics They are also the real principles of any graded
evolution, one that not only renders that past explicable but also renders the f
uture meaningful.
An ecological ethics of freedom cannot be divorced from a technics that harmoniz
es our relationship with a nature
a creative, not destructive, metabolism with nat
ure. An ecotechnology is a moral technology. There is a profoundly ethical dimen
sion to the attempt to bring soil, flora, and fauna (or what we neatly call the
food chain) into our lives, not only as wholesome sources of food but as part of a
broad movement in which consumption is no less a creative process than producti
on originating in the soil and returning to it in a richer form all the componen
ts that make up the food cycle. Here, consumption goes beyond the pure economic
domain of the buyer-seller relationship, indeed, beyond the domain of mere mater
ial sustenance, and enters into the ecological domain as a mode of enhancing the
fecundity of an ecocommunity. An ecological technology
for consumption no less
than production serves to increase natural complexity, not simplify it, as is th
e case with modern technics.
By the same token, an ecological ethics cannot be divorced from a politics of pa
rticipation, a politics that fosters self-empowerment rather than state empowerm
ent. Such a politics must become a truly peopled politics, organic in the sense

that political participation is literally protoplasmic and peopled by assemblies


, face-to-face discussion that is reinforced by the veracity of body language as
well as the reasoning process of discourse. The political ethics that follows f
rom this ground is meant to create a moral community, not simply an efficient one;
an ecological community, not simply a contractual one; a social praxis that enh
ances diversity, not only a political culture that invites the widest public par
ticipation.
Within this nexus of ideas, commitments, and sensibilities, human freedom can be
brought to the service of natural fecundity, a participatory society to the ser
vice of complex and interactive ecocommunities, creative people to the service o
f a more organic community, and mind to the service of a more subjectivized natu
re. To say that nature belongs in humanity just as humanity belongs in nature is
to express the need for a highly reciprocal relationship between the two instea
d of one structured around subordination and domination. Neither society nor nat
ure dissolve into each other. Rather, social ecology tries to recover the distin
ctive attributes of both in a continuum that gives rise to a substantive ethics,
wedding the social to the ecological without denying the integrity of each.
Ecological Society
Life must again be returned to Life vividly, expressively, actively
not by retre
ating into the passive animism of early humanity, much less the inert matter of
Newtonian mechanism. Society must recover the plasticity of the organic in the s
ense that every dimension of experience must be infused with the vitality of lif
e and an ecological sensibility. It makes all the difference in the world if we
cultivate food, for example, in order to maintain the soil as well as our physic
al well-being. Inasmuch as agriculture is always a culture, the difference in ou
r methods and intentions is no less cultural than the composition of a book on e
ngineering. Yet in the first case, our intentions are informed by an ecological
sensibility; in the second, by economic considerations at best and greed at wors
t. So, tocX, in the production of objects. It makes all the difference in the wo
rld if craftpersons work along the grain of the materials on which they exercise
their creative powers or warp the materials in order to serve the ends of mass
production. In these examples, our choice is either an ecological or an economic
one and in both cases is profoundly influenced by social institutions. Hence th
e inseparability of the social from the ecological. In the end, our choice that
primal exercise of freedom will be between an ecocommunity or a market community
, a society infused by life or a society infused by gain.
It is enough to recognize that nature, conceived as a realm of potential freedom
, is basically part of that choice to demonstrate that an ecological sensibility
is always a social one and a social view point is always, at least implicitly,
an ecological one. Whatever our choice may be, even the rejection of an ecologic
al viewpoint affirms its existence, and in the very act of rejection will be exp
ressed by the revenge nature will claim for being factored out of social developme
nt.
Finally, the recognition that nature is a realm of potential freedom that phases
into society as a realm of authentic freedom raises an important issue for theo
ries about the emergence of society, particularly from a feminist perspective.
Woman s domestic world has been dishonoured and dealt with shabbily by man s civil w
orld. From Aristotle s day to fairly recent times the domestic world has been seen
as little more than a privatized domain of biological necessity that exists exclu
sively to satisfy the male s animal needs for food, shelter, reproduction, and physi
cal renewal. The male s civil world, in turn, has been traditionally counterposed
to the female s domestic world as the realm of culture, rational consociation, and
freedom.

This duality has made it difficult to see woman s domestic sphere, once the authen
tic center of tribal society, as the cradle of society itself, the all-important
phase where the biological is transmuted everyday into the social and the natur
al into the cultural more by a process of integration than by substitution. Here
the duality between biology and society or nature and culture is not only overc
ome: the social and cultural worlds are literally formed out of the biological n
eeds for care and institutionalized consociation.
The graded continuum between nature and society is thus filled out processually by
the mediating domain of women s domestic world and the mystery that produced soci
ety as the leap dispelled. Anthropologically, woman s domestic world was the arena n
ot only for the socialization of the young into a permanent and organized commun
ity in which the individual acquired his or her identity and satisfied his or he
r emotional needs (needs that were formed and enlarged by the domestic sphere);
it was also home in the ecological sense that men and women, young and old, form
ed as the environment for their sense of place in the world and the ecocommunity
in which they lived.
I say home in the sense of a treasured place enhanced by tradition, the imprint of
the past, long-gone generations to which we still belong, a personal remembranc
e of our origins and our individual development, the palpable stuff from which w
e have formed our biography, a loyalty to the land and community that surrounds
it, a dedication to the preservation of its uniqueness and meaning for us. All o
f these sentiments have yet to be fully incorporated into the splendid work of t
he bioregionalists, who call for a sense of regionality in terms of watersheds a
nd the flora and fauna with which we share a given area.
Today, what we misname home is not a place, but a residence that often is as trans
ient as the cheap commodities that circulate through our lives and like the jobs
we tentatively occupy as rungs in the climb up the corporate ladder. The tradit
ional ecological home to which I have alluded was largely created by woman-thoug
h not without the oppressions and insults that man inflicted on her. There she p
layed the indispensable role of giving it life, continuity, and care. If we are
homeless, today, it is less because we have lost our openness to Being as Heidegger
might say, than because we have degraded woman and home, reducing her to a homema
ker and reducing home to a plastic ranch-house in a sanitized suburb.
The domestic world still remains the immediate source of humanity s emergence from
nature into society, indeed, the domain that includes both and phases them into
an organic continuum without losing the integrity of either one. The attempt of
man s civil society totally to subordinate the domestic world
to reduce it to wom
an s place in the kitchen
violates not only the biosocial medium for the individual s
own phasing into society; it preserves the Cartesian dualism that has been used
not only to seek the domination of nature but the domination of human by human p
articularly of woman by man.
In our own time, we are bearing witness to the total commodification of the remn
ant domestic and civil worlds, to their reduction to a common world of things in
which a market economy threatens to become a market society. No restoration of
a domestic or civil society is possible or even desirable. Rather, the future in
any rational sense depends upon the development of an ecological society that w
ill integrate the virtues of domestic and civil life in a new, balanced, and mor
al social dispensation a social dispensation that transcends both past and prese
nt.
Conclusion
To know the world we have lost, to use Peter Laslett s words, is to lay the ground f
or hope and social reconstruction, indeed, to establish criteria drawn from the
past that will provide us with the coordinates for a harmonious future. The fecu

ndity and potentiality for freedom that variety and complexity bring to natural
evolution, indeed, that emerge from natural evolution, can also be said to apply
to social evolution and psychic development. The more diversified a society and
its psychic life, the more creative, and the greater the opportunity for freedo
m it is likely to offer
not only in terms of new choices that open up to human b
eings but also in terms of the richer social background that diversity and compl
exity create. As in natural evolution, so too in social evolution we must go bey
ond the image that diversity and complexity yield greater stability
the usual cl
aim that ecologists make for the two-and emphasize that they yield greater creat
ivity and freedom.
The terrible tragedy of the present social era is not only that it is polluting
the environment but also that it is simplifying natural ecocommunities, social r
elationships, and even the human psyche. The pulverization of the natural world
is being followed by the pulverization of the social world and the psychological
. In this sense, the conversion of soil into sand in agriculture can be said, in
a metaphoric sense, to apply to society and to the human spirit. The greatest d
anger we face apart from nuclear immolation is the homogenization of the world b
y a market society and its objectification of all human relationships and experi
ences.
If history is a bloody slaughter bench, to use Hegel s phrase, it is covered not onl
y by the blood of civilization s innocent victims but also by that of the angry men
and women who have left us a legacy of freedom. The legacy of freedom and the le
gacy of domination have been mingled up to now in a dialectic that mutually defi
ned them and affected the horizon of both a shared horizon in which freedom and
domination were mutually intermingled. If we are to rescue ourselves from the ho
mogenizing effects of a market society, it is necessary that history, humanity s w
aning memory, be rescued from this society s pollution and simplification of the p
ast, a process that has already gone very far in Marxism, liberalism and pop cul
ture.
More than at any time in the past, the two legacies must be disengaged from each
other and set in opposition to each other. The loss of the legacy of freedom an
d the lessons it imparts to future struggles for freedom will produce irreparabl
e results for we will have lost not only our sense of natural development and th
e graded evolution which gave rise to society. We will have become completely im
mersed in a concept of the social that has no past beyond the present and no fut
ure beyond the extrapolation of the present into the years ahead. The idea that
there can be fundamental and qualitative change in the present era will have bee
n lost in a knowness that is eternal in every respect but its quantitative expansi
on and contraction.

[1] Characteristically, one thinks of the pathetic argument advanced in psychoan


alysis of an inherent (read: natural ) dimension of the human psyche that is guided
solely by self-interest and the impulse for immediate gratification which educa
tion and civilization redirects toward creative ends.
[2] Despite some recent nonsense to the effect that the Frankfurt School reconnoit
ered a nonhierarchical and ecological view of society s future, in no sense were i
ts most able thinkers, notably Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, resolutely
critical of hierarchy and domination. Rather, their views were clearly pessimist
ic: reason and civilization, for better or worse, entail the need by uncompromisi
ng individuals [who] may have been in favour of unity and cooperation... to buil
d a strong hierarchy... The history of the old religions and schools like that o
f the modern parties and revolutions teaches us that the price for survival is p
ractical involvement, the transformation of ideas into domination. Max Horkheimer
and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (New York, Herder & Herder, 1

972. originally published in 1944). pp 213, 215. The power of these thinkers lie
s in the problematical nature of their work, not in the solutions they had to of
fer. Attempts to make them into social ecologists, much less precursors of bioregio
nalism and the like involve a gross misreading of their ideas, or worse, an attem
pt to impute ideas to them without a serious study of their works.
[3] Darwin did not deny the role of animal interactivity in evolution, particula
rly in the famous Chapter III of The Origin of Species, where he suggests that ev
er-increasing circles of complexity check populations that, left uncontrolled, wo
uld reach pest proportions. But he sees this as a Battle within battles [which] m
ust be continually recurring with varying success. (p.58)
Moreover, The dependency of one organic being on another
is secondary to the strug
gle between individuals of the same species. (p.60) Like most Victorians, Darwin h
ad a strongly providential and moral side to his character: awe may console ours
elves, he tells reassuringly, that the war of nature is generally prompt, and that
the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply, (p.62) Indeed: How
fleeting are the wishes and efforts of man! how short his time! and consequentl
y how poor will be his results, compared with those accumulated by Nature s produc
tions during whole geological periods! Can we wonder, then, that Nature s producti
ons should be far truer than man s productions: that they should be infinitely bette
r adapted to the most complex conditions of life, and should plainly bear the st
amp of a far higher workmanship? (p.663 citations from Modern Library Edition, Ne
w York) These remarks do not make Darwin an ecologist, but are the marvelous asi
des to a thesis that emphasizes variation, selection, fitness, and above all, st
ruggle. Yet one cannot help but be entranced by a moral sensibility that would h
ave been magnificently responsive to the message of modern ecology and deserves
none of the onerous rubbish that has been imputed to the man because of social D
arwinism.
[4] Hence freedom is no longer resolvable into a strident Hegelian negativity or
a trite instrumental positivity. Rather, in its openendedness, it contains both
and transcends them as a continuing process. Freedom thus resists precise defin
ition just as it resists terminal finality. It is always becoming, hopefully sur
passing what it was in the past and developing into what it can be in the future
. Neither a Hegelian Absolute nor identity philosophy has any meaning in the realm
of freedom, a realm that is not constrained by any fixed boundaries apart from
its respect for individual rights.
[5] This project is not an abstraction. It is elaborated in considerable detail
in my book, The Ecology of Freedom (Montreal, Black Rose Books, 1990) and should
be carefully examined by the interested reader.
[6] Ibid., pp 6849.
[7] The extent to which an ecological approach spares us some of the worst absur
dities of sociobiology and biological reductionism is illustrated by the highly
popularized notion that our deep-seated reptilian brain is responsible for our agg
ressive, brutish, and cruel behavioral traits. This argument may make for good tel
evision dramas like Cosmos but it is ridiculous science. Like all the great animal
groups, most Mesozoic reptiles were almost certainly gentle herbivores, not car
nivores
and even many of the carnivores were probably neither more nor less aggr
essive, brutish, or cruel than mammals. The images we have of Tyranosaurus rex (the
generic name is a delicious example of sociological nonsense created by taxonomi
sts) may seem inordinately frightening, but they grossly distort reptilian lifef
orms on which the carnivore preyed. If anything, the majority of Mesozoic reptil
es were probably very pacific and easily frightened, all the more because they w
ere not particularly intelligent vertebrates. What remains unacknowledged in thi
s imagery of fierce, fire-breathing, and unfeelingly cruel reptiles is the implici
t assumption of different psychic sensibilities in reptiles and mammals, the lat
ter presumably being more sensitive and understanding than the former. Thus we are t

alking about a psychic evolution in non-human beings that goes together with the
evolution of intelligence. Yet confronted with the unstated premises of such ev
olutionary trends, few scientists would find them comfortable.
[8] The insidious nature of expressions like woman s place in the division of labor
is seen in the denial implicit in these terms of woman s contribution to the makin
g of human culture. When culture and woman s development of it along sororal lines
is reduced to labor or even, more generously, to the economy
the whole problemati
c of cultural development becomes safe and sanitized, not to speak of liberalize
d and Marxified. We no longer have to concern ourselves with the early role soro
ral cultures played in history, the alternatives they opened to the emergence of
a male-oriented warrior civilization, the terrible role this civilization played
in history (natural as well as social), and the sensibilities it introduced. Woma
n s place in the division of labor becomes merely an economic problematic not a cul
tural and moral one. Hence it can be comfortably resolved by raising women s incom
es, managerial and professional status, quotas in industry by doing everything t
hat avoids recognizing woman as a reproducer of life rather than a producer of c
ommodities.

Murray Bookchin
The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism
Anarchism: The Communal Dimension
Anarchism: The Syndicalist Dimension
Workers and Citizens
List of References
One of the most persistent of human frailties is the tendency of individuals and
groups to fall back, in times of a terribly fragmented reality, onto obsolete,
even archaic ideologies for a sense of continuity and security. Today we find th
is not only on the right, where people are evoking the ghosts of Nazism and dead
ly forms of an embattled nationalism, but also on the left (whatever that word may
mean anymore), where many people evoke ghosts of their own, be they the Neolith
ic goddess cults that many feminist and ecological sects celebrate or the genera
lly anti-civilizational ambiance that exists among young middle-class people thr
oughout the English-speaking world.
Unfortunately, backward-looking tendencies are by no means absent among a number
of self-professed anarchists, either, some of whom have turned to mystical, oft
en expressly primitivistic ideas imbricated with ecotheologies and goddess-worsh
iping ideologies of one kind or another. Still others have turned uncritically t
o the eternal verities of anarcho-syndicalism, even though it came to its end as
a historical force in the Spanish Civil War of 1936 39. Enough critical literatur
e on ecotheologies is now available that serious people can exorcise those ghost
s from feminism and ecologism. But anarcho-syndicalism, one of the most cloister
ed of libertarian tendencies today, still evokes a great deal of sympathy owing
to its roots in a once-insurgent labor movement.
What I find disturbing about much anarcho-syndicalist literature is its tendency
to claim that anarcho-syndicalism is the alpha and omega of true anarchism, in co
ntrast to other libertarian tendencies that involve a broader view of social str
uggle than one that is largely focused on traditional conflicts between wage lab
or and capital. Certainly not all anarcho-syndicalists would be unsympathetic to
, say, eco-anarchism or a communitarian anarchism that is concerned with confede
rations of villages, towns, and cities, but a degree of dogmatism and stodgy fix
ity persists among worker-oriented anarchists that I believe should hardly be ch
aracteristic of left libertarians generally.
To be told, as anarcho-syndicalist theorist Helmut Rdiger wrote in 1949, that syn
dicalism is the only ideology that can relate anarchistic ideas to working people

hat is, to the larger part of the population [der groen Menge der Bevlkerung] seems
a cruel joke in the world of the 1990s (Rdiger, 1949, p. 160). At least the auth
or of so sweeping a claim was an old-timer, an editor of Arbetaren (a Swedish sy
ndicalist weekly), and he penned them in 1949, when it was still unclear that th
e proletariat had ceased to be the hegemonic revolutionary class that it seemed to
be a decade earlier. Rdiger was also willing to broaden the scope of anarcho-syn
dicalist ideology by introducing some of the more community-oriented views of Pr
oudhon into his ideas. But in conversations with and writings of more recent ana
rcho-syndicalists, I have increasingly come across similar claims maintaining th
at syndicalism or workers control of industry is synonymous with anarchism. Many an
archo-syndicalists seem to regard any libertarian ideas that challenge even the h
egemony of syndicalism in its various mutations
generally anarcho-syndicalist in
character
anti-proletarian, anti- classist, and as propagating a cultural deviation
m their own bedrock anarchist analysis of class conflict in capitalist society.
That the proletariat that once rallied to the banners of the Spanish National Co
nfederation of Labor (CNT) and the early French General Confederation of Labor (
CGT) has changed its apparent character, structure, and outlook over the past ce
ntury; that capitalism today is no longer quite the capitalism that emerged gene
rations ago; that vital issues have emerged that have a great deal to do with hi
erarchical structures based on race, gender, nationality, and bureaucratic statu
s, not only economic classes; and that capitalism is now on a collision course w
ith the natural world
all these problems and many more that are in such dire nee
d of coherent analysis and sweeping solution tend to largely elude the anarcho-s
yndicalists I have encountered that is, when they do not simply deal with them m
arginally, in metaphorical or economistic terms. What is no less troubling, the
trade-unionist mentality among some of my own anarcho-syndicalist critics tends
to obscure the fact that anarchism itself has historically made a response to so
cial and cultural issues that is much broader than the class struggle between wo
rkers and bosses. The result is that today, the more wide-ranging tendencies in
anarchist history are either ignored or simply written out of the movement s past.
How successful I or anyone else am likely to be in challenging this deeply entr
enched syndicalist mentality, with its claims to ideological hegemony, is question
able. But at least the record of anarcho-syndicalism should be clarified and cer
tain of the problems it presents should be confronted. Some attempt should be ma
de to take into consideration the sweeping changes have occurred since the 1930s
, to which many anarcho-syndicalists seem oblivious; certain truths that are par
t of the history of anarchism generally have to be redeemed and explored; and pr
oblems should be faced, disagreeable as they may be, and resolved as much as pos
sible, or at least discussed without leaning on a fixed dogma as a substitute fo
r frankness.
Anarchism: The Communal Dimension
It is arguable whether anarchism is primarily a product of relatively modern ind
ividualistic ideologies, of Enlightenment rationalism, or of initially inchoate
but popular attempts to resist hierarchical domination the latter, an interpreta
tion that I share with Kropotkin. In any case, the word anarchist already appear
ed in the English Revolution when a Cromwellian periodical denounced Cromwell s mo
re radical critics as Switzering anarchists (Bookchin, n.d., vol. 1, p. 161). Duri
ng the French Revolution, a generation before Proudhon employed the term to desi
gnate his own views, royalists and Girondins repeatedly used the word anarchiste
s to attack the enrags. That the Reformation peasants of Germany in the 1520s who
rose up to defend their common lands and village autonomy in the name of an aut
hentic folk version of Christianity are characterized as anarchist, as is Tolsto
y despite his devout religiosity, should lay to rest any denials of the fact tha
t the anarchist tradition encompasses expansive, folk-like movements.
It is questionable whether individualism as such is the sine qua non of anarchis
m my own view of anarchism is strongly social
but anarchism can be seen as emerg

ing in different social periods and conditions in many different forms. It can b
e found among tribal peoples who resisted the emergence of statist institutions;
in the popular opposition of peasants, serfs, slaves, and yeomen to various sys
tems of rule; in the conflict of the enrags and radical sectionnaires of the Pari
sian assemblies with the Jacobin centralists; and in the proletariat s struggle in
its more heroic periods against capitalist exploitation which is not to deny th
e presence of statist elements in many of these forms of popular resistance as w
ell. Proudhon seems to have spoken largely for craftspeople and the emerging wor
king classes of the nineteenth century; Bakunin, for peasants and an emerging in
dustrial proletariat; avowed anarcho-syndicalists, for factory workers and the a
gricultural proletariat; Kropotkin, for oppressed people generally, in a still l
ater period when a communistic society based on the principle From each according
to his or her ability, to each according to his or her needs (or a post-scarcity
society, in my language), seemed eminently feasible.
I must emphasize that I am not trying to present a rigorous scheme here. It is t
he remarkable overlap of evolving social conditions and ideologies in the past t
wo centuries that may well explain what seems like confusion in an unavoidably dis
parate body of libertarian ideas. It is important to emphasize, in my view, that
anarchism is above all antihierarchical rather than simply individualistic; it
seeks to remove the domination of human by human, not only the abolition of the
state and exploitation by ruling economic classes. Indeed, far from being mainly
individualistic or mainly directed against a specific form of class rule, anarc
hism has historically been most creative and challenging when it was focused on
the commune rather than on its economic components such as the factory, and furt
her that the confederal forms of organization that it elaborated were based on a
n ethics of complementarity rather than on a contractual system of services and
obligations.
Indeed, the importance of the commune in traditional anarchist thought has not r
eceived the full attention it deserves, possibly due to the influence that Marxi
an economism had on anarchism and the hegemonic role it assigned to the industri
al proletariat. This economism may also have been supported by Proudhon s influent
ial writings, many of which anarchists cite without due regard to the time and c
ircumstances in which they were written. Today only a diehard Proudhonian, for e
xample, is likely to agree with Proudhon s belief, expressed in The Principle of F
ederalism, that the idea of anarchy ... means that political functions have been
reduced to industrial functions, and that the social order arises from nothing b
ut transactions and exchanges (Proudhon, 1863, p. 11). Proudhon s economistic inter
pretation of anarchy, with its focus on the self-sovereign individual as a contr
actual bearer of goods and services (a focus he shared with traditional liberali
sm in that he structured his views around indivdiual contracts as well as a socia
l contract ), is not the most edifying of his ideas.
What I find most worth emphasizing in Proudhon is his highly communal notion of
confederalism. He was at his best, allowing for certain reservations, when he de
clared that the federal system is the contrary of hierarchy or administrative and
governmental centralization ; that the essence of federal contracts is always to res
erve more powers for the citizen than for the state, and for municipal and provi
ncial authorities than for the central power ; that the central power must be imperce
ptibly subordinated ... to the representatives of departments or provinces, prov
incial authority to the delegates of townships, and municipal authority to its i
nhabitants (Proudhon, 1863, pp. 41, 45, 48). Indeed, Edward Hyams, in his highly
sympathetic 1979 biography, glows with appreciation as he summarizes Proudhon s fe
deralism:
It is of the essence of the Proudhonian federation contract that when entering i
nto it, the contracting parties undertaking equivalent and reciprocal obligation
s towards each other, each reserves to himself a greater measure of rights, of l
iberty, authority and property than he concedes to the federal authority: the ci

tizen remains master of and in his own house, restricting his rights only in so
far as it is necessary to avoid encroaching on those of others in his parish or
commune. The commune is self-governing through the assembly of citizens or their
delegates, but it vests the county federal authority with certain powers which
it thus surrenders. The county, again self-governing through the assembly of del
egates from the federated communes, vests the federal authority of the national
federation of counties, with powers which it surrenders. So the federation of co
unties, or regions is the confederation into which the erstwhile sovereign state
has been transformed; and it may, in its turn, enter into federative contracts
with other such confederations. (Hyams, 1979, p. 254)
To be sure, Hyams places a disquieting emphasis on Proudhon s individualism of the
citizen, who seems to exist in tension with his or her commune, and on contract
ual relationships as such. Hyams uncritically accepts Proudhon s notion of differe
nt confederal levels of society as each involving the surrender of rights rather t
han being structured into merely administrative and coordinative (as distinguish
ed from policy-making) bodies. Nonetheless, Hyams s notion of Proudhon s federation c
ontract has a certain modern ring to it. The proprietarian mentality that appears
in so many of Proudhon s writings
which might well be mistaken for recent version
s of market socialism
is dispensable. The point I wish to stress is that Proudhon
here appears as a supporter of direct democracy and assembly self-management on
a clearly civic level, a form of social organization well worth fighting for in
an era of centralization and oligarchy.
Before Mikhail Bakunin became deeply involved with the International Workingmen s
Association (IWMA) in the 1870s, he too placed a very strong emphasis on the com
mune or municipality in his vision of an anarchist society. In his Revolutionary
Catechism of 1866 (not to be confused with Nechayev s of 1869), Bakunin observed:
First: all organizations must proceed by way of federation from the base to the
summit, from the commune to the coordinating association of the country or natio
n. Second: there must be at least one autonomous intermediate body between the c
ommune and the country, the department, the region, or the province... The basic
unit of all political organization in each country must be the completely auton
omous commune, constituted by the majority vote of all adults of both sexes... T
he province must be nothing but a free federation of autonomous communes. (Bakun
in, 1866, pp. 82 83)
Even more boldly, as late as 1870 Bakunin drew an implicit distinction between n
ational parliamentarism and local electoralism, patently favoring the latter ove
r the former.
Due to their economic hardships the people are ignorant and indifferent and are
aware only of things closely affecting them. They understand and know how to con
duct their daily affairs. Away from their familiar concerns they become confused
, uncertain, and politically baffled. They have a healthy, practical common sens
e when it comes to communal affairs. They are fairly well informed and know how
to select from their midst the most capable officials. Under such circumstances,
effective control is quite possible, because the public business is conducted u
nder the watchful eyes of the citizens and vitally and directly concerns their d
aily lives. This why municipal elections always best reflect the real attitude a
nd will of the people. Provincial and county governments, even when the latter a
re directly elected, are already less representative of the people. (Bakunin, 18
70, p. 223) [1]
For Peter Kropotkin, the form that the social revolution must take [is] the indep
endent commune (Kropotkin, 1913, p. 163). Commenting on Bakunin s views, which Krop
otkin held to be communist rather than collectivist in reality, he went on to ad
d that federalism and autonomy in themselves are not enough. Although he critica
lly greeted the Paris Commune of 1871 as an attempt which opened a new era in his
tory, elsewhere in his writings he saw it as a largely cloistered phenomenon, in
which the commune itself, composed of a sizable number of Jacobins, was separate
d from the people. Not only would socialism have to become communistic in the econom

ic sense, he averred; it would also have to have the political structure of selfgoverning communes, or in contemporary words, a participatory democracy. In France,
Spain, England and the United States, he wrote optimistically, we notice in thes
e countries the evident tendency to form into groups of entirely independent com
munes, towns and villages, which would combine by means of free federation, in o
rder to satisfy innumerable needs and attain certain immediate ends... The futur
e revolutions in France and Spain will be communalist not centralist (Kropotkin,
1913, pp. 185 86).
Underpinning these visions of Proudhon, Bakunin, and Kropotkin was a communalist
ethics
mutualist in Proudhon, collectivist in Bakunin, and communist in Kropotk
in that corresponds to a sense of civic virtue and commitment. Whether it was re
garded as contractual or complementary, confederalism was to constitute a moral
cement and a source of communal solidarity that transcended a bourgeois egotism
based on self-interest. It was precisely this sensibility that gave anarchism th
e right to claim that
in contrast to Marx s emphasis on class economic interests,
indeed on interest as such
it was an ethical socialism, not simply a scientific so
cialism
Kropotkin s zeal in the latter respect notwithstanding (see Kropotkin, 190
5, p. 298).
Anarchism: The Syndicalist Dimension
The historic opposition of anarchists to oppression of all kinds, be it that of
serfs, peasants, craftspeople, or workers, inevitably led them to oppose exploit
ation in the newly emerging factory system as well. Much earlier than we are oft
en led to imagine, syndicalism
essentially a rather inchoate but radical form of
trade unionism
became a vehicle by which many anarchists reached out to the ind
ustrial working class of the 1830s and 1840s. In the nineteenth century the soci
al contours of what may be called proletarian anarchism were very difficult to def
ine. Were peasants, especially landless peasants, members of the working class?
Could farmers with small landholdings be so regarded? What of intellectuals, fai
rly privileged technicians, office and service employees, civil servants, profes
sionals, and the like, who rarely regarded themselves as members of the proletar
iat?

Marx and Engels personally eschewed terms like workers,


toilers, and laborers, althou
h they were quite prepared to use these words in their popular works. They prefe
rred to characterize industrial workers by the scientifically precise name of prole
tarians
that is, people who had nothing to sell but their labor power, and even m
ore, who were the authentic producers of surplus value on production lines (an a
ttribute that even Marxists tend to ignore these days). Insofar as the European
proletariat as a class evolved from displaced preindustrial strata like landless
peasants who had drifted toward the cities, the factory system became their eco
nomic home, a place that
presumably unlike the dispersed farmsteads and villages
of agrarian folk
organized them into a cohesive whole. Driven to immiseration by
capitalist accumulation and competition, this increasingly (and hopefully) class
-conscious proletariat would be inexorably forced to lock horns with the capital
ist order as a hegemonic revolutionary class and eventually overthrow bourgeois so
ciety, laying the foundations for socialism and ultimately communism. [2]
However compelling this Marxian analysis seemed from the 1840s onward, its attem
pt to reason out the proletariat s hegemonic role in a future revolution by analogy
with the seemingly revolutionary role of the bourgeoisie in feudal society was a
s specious as the latter was itself historically erroneous (see Bookchin, 1971,
pp. 181 92). It is not my intention here to critically examine this fallacious his
torical scenario, which carries considerable weight among many historians to thi
s very day. Suffice it to say that it was a very catchy thesis
and attracted not
only a great variety of socialists but also many anarchists. For anarchists, Ma
rx s analysis provided a precise argument for why they should focus their attentio
n on industrial workers, adopt a largely economistic approach to social developm

ent, and single out the factory as a model for a future society, more recently i
n particular, based on some form of workers control and federal form of industrial or
ganization. But here an array of problems confronted anarchists even more than M
arxists. How were they to relate to small farmers, craftspeople, dclass elements,
and intellectuals? Many of these groups were in fact more predisposed in the pas
t to hold a broader libertarian perspective than were industrial workers, who af
ter a generation or two of industrial discipline tended to accept the factory hi
erarchy as a normal, indeed natural, way of life. And were industrial workers real
ly as hegemonic in their class struggle with the bosses as the sturdy anarchist peas
antry of Spain, many of whom were easily drawn to Bakuninst collectivism, or the
largely craft-type workers who embraced Proudhonian mutualism, or the Zapatista
Indian peons of Mexico who, like the Makhnovist Ukrainian militia, adhered to w
hat was an intuitive anarchistic outlook? To the extent that anarchists tried to
mingle their ethical views with Marxian claims to scientific precision, they laid
the basis for tensions that would later seriously divide the anarchist movement
itself and lead more economistically oriented anarchists into compromises that
vitiated the ethical thrust of anarchism as a social movement.
The involvement of anarchists with the IWMA reinforced the vague syndicalist tre
nd that certainly had existed in their movement before the word anarcho-syndicali
sm was coined. As early as the 1870s, more than a decade before French anarchists
proclaimed anarcho-syndicalism to be the best, often the only approach for achi
eving a libertarian society, Spanish anarchists influenced primarily by Bakunini
sm had created a diffuse but largely syndicalist union movement that combined th
e visions of a revolutionary general strike with insurrections and a commitment
to a confederally organized system of workers control (see Bookchin, 1977, p. 137).
Nor did French anarcho-syndicalism itself emerge ex nihilo: the General Confede
ration of Labor (CGT), established in 1895 with its dual chambers of local and n
ational industrial confederations, encompassed a wide spectrum of reformist, rev
olutionary, pure syndicalist, and anarchist views. Anarcho-syndicalism never fully
dominated the CGT s outlook even in its most militant period, the decade before t
he outbreak of the First World War (see Stearns, 1971, which shows how tame the
CGT really was.)
Nor was anarcho-syndicalism ever completely accepted among anarchists as coeval
with anarchism. Many outstanding anarchists opposed syndicalism as too parochial
in its outlook and in its proletarian constituency. At the famous Amsterdam Con
gress of 1907, Errico Malatesta, the gallant Italian anarchist, challenged the v
iew that anarcho-syndicalism should supersede anarcho-communism. [3] Without den
ying the weapon which syndicalist forms of action might place in [anarchism s] hand
s, observes George Woodcock in his account of Malatesta s objections at the congres
s, Malatesta insisted that syndicalism could be regarded only as a means, and an
imperfect means at that, since it was based on a rigid class conception of soci
ety which ignored the fact that the interests of the workers varied so much that
sometimes workers are economically and morally much nearer to the bourgeoisie th
an to the proletariat. ... The extreme syndicalists, in Malatesta s view, were seek
ing an illusory economic solidarity instead of a real moral solidarity; they pla
ced the interests of a single class above the true anarchist ideal of a revoluti
on which sought the complete liberation of all humanity, at present enslaved from
the triple economic, political and moral point of view. (Woodcock, 1962, p. 267)
This passage touches upon all the problems anarcho-syndicalism not only pure synd
icalism
were to create in the anarchist movement. Ideologically, anarcho-syndical
ists slowly began to debase communist anarchism s emphases on the commune in favor
of trade unions, on the humanistic ethics of mutualism in favor of the economis
tic interpretation of social conflict, on the opposition to a generalized notion
of domination in favor of the particularistic class interests of the proletaria
t.
This is not to contend that anarchists should have ignored trade unions, economi

c problems, and class conflicts. But anarcho-syndicalists increasingly supplante


d the communal, ethical, universalistic, and anti-domineering character of anarc
hism as a broad vision of freedom in all spheres of life with their own narrower
one. Ultimately, the tendency to parochialize anarchism along economistic and c
lass lines grossly constricted its scope to a trade-unionist mentality. As Malat
esta himself warned, Trade Unions are by their very nature reformist and never re
volutionary. Moreover: the real and immediate interests of organized workers, whi
ch is the Unions role to defend, are very often in conflict with their [i.e., rev
olutionaries ] ideals and forward- looking objectives; and the Union can only act
in a revolutionary way if permeated by a spirit of sacrifice and to the extent t
hat the ideal is given precedence over interest, that is, only if, and to the ex
tent that, it ceases to be an economic Union and becomes a political and idealis
tic group. (Malatesta, 1922, p. 117; emphasis added)
Malatesta s fears, in fact, were subsequently realized with a vengeance. It is fai
r to say that the performance of the anarcho-syndicalist movement has been one o
f the most dismal in the two-century history of modern anarchism. A few examples
may suffice to show what became a general affliction that burdened self-styled
libertarian trade unions. In the Mexican Revolution, the anarcho-syndicalist lea
ders of the Casa del Obrera Mundial shamelessly placed their proletarian Red Batt
alions in the service of Carranza, one of the revolution s most blatant thugs, to f
ight against the revolutionary militia of Emiliano Zapata
all to gain a few refo
rms, which Carranza withdrew once the Zapatista challenge had been definitively
broken with their collaboration. The great Mexican anarchist Ricardo Flores Magn
justly denounced their behavior as a betrayal (Magn, 1977, p. 27).
In the United States, lest present-day anarcho-syndicalists get carried away by
the legendary Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), or Wobblies, they should be a
dvised that this syndicalist movement, like many others elsewhere, was by no mea
ns committed to anarchism. Big Bill Haywood, its most renowned leader, was never a
n anarchist, and after he jumped bail and fled to Moscow rather than face judici
al challenges to the shock of his Wobbly supporters
he eventually drifted toward t
he Communist Red Trade International (Profintern), however uncomfortable he may ha
ve felt with it. Still other Wobblies such as Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, William Z. F
oster, Bob Minor, and Earl Browder, who either were anarchists or tilted toward
anarchism, found a comfortable home in the American Communist Party well into th
e 1940s and after. Many Wobblies who attended meetings of the Communist Internatio
nal soon began to shun Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman in Moscow, despite the
ir close friendship with the two anarchists in the pre-Bolshevik period, as Gold
man bitterly attested (Goldman, 1931, vol. 2, p. 906).
In France, where the ostensibly syndicalist General Confederation of Labor (CGT)
generated the strong syndicalistic emphasis among anarchists throughout the wor
ld at the turn of the century, the union was never itself anarcho-syndicalist. M
any French anarchists, to be sure, flocked into this very fragile confederation
and tried to influence its members along libertarian lines. The CGT s members, how
ever, no less than many of its leaders, tended toward reformist goals and eventu
ally were absorbed into the Communist movement after the Bolshevik revolution. N
ot only was anarchist influence on the CGT limited at best, but as Peter Stearns
tells us, One strike resulted when a manager spoke of anarchy on the site, for the
ditchdiggers (in Paris, interestingly enough) felt that he had accused them of
being anarchists. Further:
It is clear that, even in Paris, convinced syndicalists were a small minority of
active union members. And only a minority of even the more excitable workers we
re unionized and therefore likely to be syndicalist; in Paris in 1908, that is,
in the peak period of agitation by unskilled construction workers [who were the
most likely candidates for supporters of an anarcho-syndicalist outlook
M.B.], o
nly 40% belonged to a union. The resentment some expressed against being called
anarchists suggests a persistent distrust of radical doctrines, even among activ

e strikers. (Stearns, 1971, pp. 58, 96)


Nor can much more be said about the CNT in Spain, which by 1938 comprised the mo
st militant and socially conscious working class in the history of the labor mov
ement and at least exhibited considerably more anarchist zeal than any other syn
dicalist union. Yet this extraordinary confederation tended repeatedly to move t
oward pure and simple trade unionism in Barcelona, whose working class might well
have drifted into the Socialist General Union of Workers (UGT) had the Catalan b
ourgeoisie showed even a modicum of liberality and sophistication in dealing wit
h the proletariat of that area. The Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI) was organ
ized in 1927 largely to prevent CNT moderates like Salvado Segui, who tended to
hold class-collaborationist views, and the Thirty, who were bitterly opposed to FA
I militancy and that of insurgent CNT unions, from gaining control of the confed
eration as a whole. This moderate tendency came very much to the fore with the o
utbreak of the civil war.
A host of complex issues existed in the relationships between the Catalan state
and the syndicalist CNT, which all but absorbed the FAI in the 1930s (often cojo
ining its acronym to that of the union as the CNT-FAI ). But its anarcho-syndicalis
t leadership after the July 1936 uprising actually made no effort to collectiviz
e the economy. Significantly, no left organization issued calls for revolutionary
takeovers of factories, workplaces or the land, as Ronald Fraser observes.
Indeed, the CNT leadership in Barcelona, epicentre of urban anarcho-syndicalism,
went further: rejecting the offer of power presented to it by President [Luis]
Companys, it decided that the libertarian revolution must stand aside for collab
oration with the Popular Front forces to defeat the common enemy. The revolution
that transformed Barcelona in a matter of days into a city virtually run by the
working class sprang initially from individual CNT unions, impelled by their mo
st advanced militants; and as their example spread it was not only large enterpr
ises but small workshops and businesses that were being taken over. (Fraser, 198
4, p. 226 27)
Fraser s interpretation is corroborated by Gaston Laval, one of the most distingui
shed anarchists in the Spanish libertarian movement, whose Collectives in the Sp
anish Revolution (1975) is generally regarded as the most comprehensive work on
the collectives. Laval emphasizes the importance of the usually unknown anarchis
t militants, a minority in the CNT, who constituted the authentic and most thoro
ughgoing impetus for collectivization. It is clear, observes Laval, that the socia
l revolution which took place then did not stem from a decision by the leading o
rganisms of the C.N.T. or from the slogans launched by the militants and agitato
rs who were in the public limelight but who rarely lived up to expectations.
Laval does not specify which luminaries he means here, but continues:
It occurred spontaneously, naturally, not (and let us avoid demagogy) because the
people in general had suddenly become capable of performing miracles, thanks to
a revolutionary vision which suddenly inspired them, but because, and it is wort
h repeating, among those people there was a large minority who were active, stro
ng, guided by an ideal which had been continuing through the years a struggle st
arted in Bakunin s time and that of the First International; for in countless plac
es were to be found men, combattants, who for decades had been pursuing construc
tive objectives, gifted as they were with a creative initiative and a practical
sense which were indispensable for local adaptation and whose spirit of innovati
on constituted a power leaven, capable of coming up with conclusive solutions at
the required time. (Laval, 1975, p. 80)
These combattants were probably among the first to enlist in the militias in 1936
and to perish on the battlefronts of the civil war an irreparable loss to the Sp
anish anarchist movement.
To sort out and critically appraise the different kinds of collectives or system

s of workers control that emerged after the street fighting in Barcelona, moreover,
would require a volume substantially larger than Laval s Collectives. Laval, whos
e anarcho-syndicalist credentials are unimpeccable, frankly made the following o
bservation:
Too often in Barcelona and Valencia, workers in each undertaking took over the f
actory, the works, or the workshop, the machines, raw materials, and taking adva
ntage of the continuation of the money system and normal capitalist commercial r
elations, organised production on their own account, selling for their own benef
it the produce of their labour. (Laval, 1975, p. 227; emphasis added)
The Catalan government s decree of October 1936 legalized these collectives with the
CNT s approval and opened the door to governmental participation in various worker
s control committees, eventually all but turning them into nationalized enterprise
s. But even before this process was completed, Laval acknowledges, there was a wo
rkers neo-capitalism, a self-management straddling capitalism and socialism, whic
h we maintain would not have occurred had the Revolution been able to extend its
elf fully under the direction of our Syndicates (Laval, 1975, p. 227 28).
Whether or not the full socialization (that is, CNT control) of the collectivized
factories and enterprises would have obviated the highly centralized economic te
ndency within the CNT, however syndicalistic, is arguable. In cases where the CN
T actually achieved syndicalist control, the union became like a large firm, notes
Fraser in his remarkable oral history of the civil war, Blood of Spain. Its stru
cture grew increasingly rigid. Observes Eduardo Pons Prades, a member of the Libe
rtarian youth, From outside it began to look like an American or German trust, and
he then goes on to declare that within the collectives (specifically the wood a
nd furniture one), the workers felt they weren t particularly involved in decision
-making. If the general staff decided that production in two workshops should be s
witched, the workers weren t informed of the reasons. Lack of information
which co
uld easily have been remedied by producing a news-sheet, for example bred discon
tent, especially as the CNT tradition was to discuss and examine everything. For
tnightly delegates meetings became monthly and ended up, I think, being quarterly
. [4] (Pons Prado quoted in Fraser, 1979, pp. 222 23)
That the Spanish workers and peasants in the mid- thirties made social changes a
nd moved toward a degree of industrial and agricultural democracy unprecedented
in the history of past revolutions this, I must emphasize, at a time when the le
gitimacy of proletarian socialism seemed to be warranted by a century of rising wo
rking-class militancy and class consciousness
does not alter the problems raised
by the prospect of a future society structured around trade unions and a very s
pecific class interest. Certainly, to make anarcho-syndicalism the equivalent of
anarchism as such must be vigorously challenged. Indeed, it is by no means a ma
tter of purely historical interest to ask whether a tendency in the anarchist tr
adition is alive or dead a problem that anyone sympathetic to syndicalist versio
ns of anarchism faces especially today, in view of the pragmatic nature of its d
octrine and orientation. And if it has no life among proletarians, we are oblige
d to ask why. For when we examine the possibilities, failings, and history of an
archo-syndicalism, we are examining how we define anarchism itself: whether its
ideals can be built on the interests of a very particularistic part of society l
argely guided by limited economic interests (a problem that Malatesta clearly pe
rceived), or on an ethical socialism or communism that includes but goes beyond
the material interests of an oppressed humanity. If we cannot regard anarcho-syn
dicalism as viable, we must try to determine what, in the existing society, does
offer some avenue to a free community of cooperative people who still retain th
eir autonomy and individuality in an increasingly massified world.
Workers and Citizens
What after all did anarcho-syndicalists mean by the proletariat, apart from those
who were prepared to include agrarian workers in unions (which the CGT did not do

and the CNT largely neglected in the late 1920s and early 1930s)?
I have suggested that the concept was defined mainly along Marxian lines, albeit
without Marx s more searching, if erroneous, economic analysis. It implicitly inc
luded key concepts on which Marx s theory of historical materialism rested, notably
the notion of the economy as the base of social life and the privileging of the in
dustrial workers as a historically hegemonic class. To their credit, nonsyndicalis
t anarchists who gave a friendly nod to syndicalism because of moral pressure te
nded at the same time to resist this troubling simplification of social issues a
nd forces. On the eve of the Spanish Civil War, the CNT was largely composed of
industrial workers (a fact, I may add, that belies Eric Hobsbawn s view of anarchi
sts as primitive rebels ). It had already lost most of its agrarian following to th
e Spanish Socialist rural unions, apart from a few strongholds in Andalusia and
Aragon (see Malefakis, 1970). Gerald Brenan s image of Spanish anarchism as a peas
ant movement as late as the 1930s, although still rather popular, is largely fla
wed. It represents a typically Andalusian view of anarcho-syndicalism that advan
ced a limited perspective on the movement (Brenan, 1943). [5] In fact, the leftw
ard shift of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) in the 1930s can be expla
ined in great measure by the entry of thousands of Andalusian day laborers into
Socialist-controlled unions, even while they still retained the anarchic impulse
s of the previous generation (Bookchin, 1977, pp. 274 75, 285, 288 90).
Despite the moral tone that anarchists gave to the CNT (as Pons Prado phrases it i
n the recent Granada video documentary), the highly economistic emphasis of lead
ing CNT figures, or cenetistas, such as Diego Abad de Santilln in his widely read w
ork After the Revolution, reveals the extent to which syndicalism had absorbed a
narchism in its image of a new society, unwittingly melding Marxian methods of s
truggle, organizational ideas, and rationalized concepts of labor with anarchism s
professed commitment to libertarian communism (see citations in Bookchin, 1977, p
p. 310 11). The CNT s notion of socializing production often involved a highly central
ized form of production, not unlike the Marxist notion of a nationalized economy.
It differed surprisingly little from statist forms of economic planning that slo
wly eroded workers control on the factory level. Their efforts led to serious con
frontations between the more anarchistic moralists and the syndicalistic realists, w
hose libertarian views often served as a patina for a narrow trade unionist ment
ality (see Fraser, 1979, pp. 221 22; Peirats, n.d., pp. 295 96). [6]
Indeed, the CNT became more and more bureaucratic after the halcyon days of 1936
, until its slogan of libertarian communism merely echoed its anarchic ideals of e
arlier decades (Peirats, n.d., p. 229 30). By 1937, especially after the May upris
ing, the union was anarcho-syndicalist only in name. The Madrid and Catalan gove
rnments had taken over most of the industrial collectives, leaving only the appe
arance of workers control in most industries. [7] The revolution was indeed over.
It had been arrested and undermined not only by the Communists, the right-wing
Socialists, and the liberals but by the realists in the CNT itself.
How did a change so sweeping occur in a period of time so brief, in an anarcho-s
yndicalist organization that had such a huge proletarian following? How is it th
at a professedly libertarian movement that, by Frederica Montseney s own admission
(see Granada Films, n.d.), could have stopped the Franquista advance by using l
ibertarian tactics alone that is, the preservation of the militias, the collecti
vization of industry and agriculture, and the resolute defense of the revolution
ary gains in the cities and countryside against an unswerving Communist strategy
of counterrevolution
failed to do so? And failed in such a tragic, humiliating,
and demoralizing fashion? Franco s military victories and the fear they inspired
do not fully explain this defeat. Historically, no revolution has ever occurred
without civil war, and it was by no means evident that Franco was receiving effe
ctive military support from Germany and Italy until well into 1937. Even if exte
rnal circumstances doomed the revolution to defeat, as Laval (1975, p. 68) and A
bad de Santilln (1940) seem to have believed early on, the anarcho-syndicalist mo

vement would seem to have had little to lose at the time if it had permitted the
Barcelona uprising of May 1937 to recover the revolution s gains and militarily c
onfront its enemies from within the republic. Why, in fact, did the workers who
raised barricades in Barcelona during that fateful week obey their leaders and a
llow themselves to be disarmed?
These questions point to an underlying issue: the limitations of a movement that
privileges any class as hegemonic within the capitalist system. Such issues as wh
at stratum, class, or constellation of groups in society constitute the subject of
historical change today are in the foreground of discussions in nearly all radi
cal movements with the possible exception of the anarcho-syndicalists I have enc
ountered. In Spain, to be sure, the most fervent anarchists went to the front in
the early months of the civil war and suffered an immensely high death toll, wh
ich probably contributed to the considerable decline in the moral tone of the move
ment after 1936. But even if these anarchist militants had remained behind, it i
s questionable whether they could have overcome the largely trade unionist menta
lity of the syndicalists and inertial forces that shaped the mentality of the wo
rking class itself.
Which brings us to what in my view is one of the major sources of error in the n
otion of proletarian hegemony. The industrial working class, for all the oppress
ion and exploitation to which it is subjected, may certainly engage in class str
uggles and exhibit considerable social militancy. But rarely does class struggle
escalate into class war or social militancy explode into social revolution. The
deadening tendency of Marxists and anarcho-syndicalists to mistake struggle for
war and militancy for revolution has plagued radical theory and practice for ov
er a century but most especially during the era of proletarian socialism par excel
lence, from 1848 to 1939, that gave rise to the myth of proletarian hegemony. As F
ranz Borkenau contends, it is easier to arouse nationalist feeling in the workin
g class than feelings of international class solidarity, especially in periods o
f warfare, as the two world wars of this century so vividly reveal (Borkenau, 19
62, [8] pp. 57 79). Given the steady diet of betrayals to which Marxists and anarcho
-syndicalists attribute the failure of the proletariat to establish a new societ
y, one may well ask if these betrayals are really evidence of a systemic factor th
at renders meaningless and obscure the kind of proletariat that Marxists and anarc
ho-syndicalists adduce as the basis for privileging the working class as a whole
in the name of proletarian hegemony.
Often lacking in explications of the notion of proletarian hegemony is a historica
lly nuanced account of the workers who did raise barricades in Paris in June 184
8, in Petrograd in 1905 and 1917, and in Spain between 1870 and 1936. These prole
tarians were most often craftspeople for whom the factory system was a culturally
new phenomenon. Many others had an immediate peasant background and were only a
generation or two removed from a rural way of life. Among these proletarians, ind
ustrial discipline as well as confinement in factory buildings produced very uns
ettling cultural and psychological tensions. They lived in a force-field between
a preindustrial, seasonally determined, largely relaxed craft or agrarian way o
f life on the one hand, and the factory or workshop system that stressed the max
imum, highly rationalized exploitation, the inhuman rhythms of machinery, the ba
rracks-like world of congested cities, and exceptionally brutal working conditio
ns, on the other. Hence it is not at all surprising that this kind of working cl
ass was extremely incendiary, and that its riots could easily explode into nearinsurrections.
Marx saw the proletariat as a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined
, united, organised by the very mechanisms of the process of capitalist producti
on itself. As for the class struggle: Centralisation of the means of production an
d socialization of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible w
ith their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of
capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated (Marx, 190

6, vol. 1, pp. 836 37). Allowing for their varying alternatives in managing the in
dustrial system, anarcho-syndicalists share this theoretical construct about the
fate of capitalism and the role of the proletariat no less than Marxists. In Sp
ain, this largely economistic approach, with its high regard for the unity that
the factory system imposes on workers, proved fatal. In areas influenced by the
CNT, the workers did indeed expropriate the economy, albeit in a variety in ways a
nd forms that ranged from neo- capitalist to highly socialized (or centralized) form
s. But workers control, whatever its form, did not produce a new society. The underly
ing idea that by controlling much of the economy the anarcho-syndicalist movemen
t would essentially control the society (a rather simplistic version of Marx s his
torical materialism) proved a myth. The Catalan state in particular, before it f
inally turned to violence to completely eviscerate socialized workers control, exer
cised its leverage over the Catalan financial and marketing system and simply in
serted its own representatives into the workers committees and confederal bodies,
eventually reshaping the industrial collectives into de facto nationalized ente
rprises (see Laval, 1975, p. 279).
To the extent that wage-labor and capital do confront each other economically, t
heir struggle
a very real one indeed normally occurs within a thoroughly bourgeo
is framework, as Malatesta foresaw generations ago. The struggle of workers with
capitalists is essentially a conflict between two interlocking interests that i
s nourished by the very capitalist nexus of contractual relationships in which b
oth classes participate. It normally counterposes higher wages to higher profits
, less exploitation to greater exploitation, and better working conditions to po
orer working conditions. These patently negotiable conflicts turn around differe
nces in degree, not in kind. They are fundamentally contractual differences, not
social differences.
Precisely because the industrial proletariat is disciplined, united, organised by
the very mechanism of capitalist production itself, as Marx put it, it is also m
ore amenable to rationalized systems of control and hierarchical systems of orga
nization than were the precapitalist strata that historically became the proleta
riat. Before this proletariat became integrated into the factory system, it moun
ted uprisings in France, Spain, Russia, Italy, and other relatively unindustrial
ized countries that are now so legendary in radical history books. Factory hiera
rchies, with their elaborate structures of managerial supervision, were often ca
rried over into trade unions, even professedly anarcho-syndicalist ones, where w
orkers were unusually vulnerable to labor bosses of all kinds
a problem that still
plagues the labor movement of our own day.
Inasmuch as anarcho-syndicalists and doctrinaire Marxists alike often characteri
ze the views advanced in this article as anti-proletarian or anti-working class,
me once again emphasize very strongly that I am not denying the importance of g
aining working-class support for anarchist ideals. Nor am I deprecating the extr
aordinary achievements of the Spanish workers and peasants in the revolution of
1936, many of which were unmatched by any previous revolution. But it would be t
he height of self-deception, victimizing anarchists no less than concerned reade
rs of other radical viewpoints, to ignore major limitations that also marked the
Spanish revolution
limitations that, seen in retrospect, must now inform anarch
ist theory and practice. Indeed, many Spanish anarchists in various ways serious
ly questioned the involvement of their movement with syndicalism, even after the
y succumbed quite understandably to a syndicalist version of political correctnes
s that seemed meaningful a half-century ago.
To its credit, Spanish anarchism
like anarchist movements elsewhere
never comple
tely focused on the factory as the locus classicus of libertarian practice. Quit
e often throughout the last century and well into the civil war period, villages
, towns, and the neighborhoods of large cities, as well as popular cultural cent
ers, were major loci of anarchist activities. In these essentially civic arenas,
women no less than men, peasants no less than workers, the elderly no less than

let

the young, intellectuals no less than workers, dclass elements no less than defin
able members of oppressed classes
in short, a wide range of people concerned not
only with their own oppressions but with various ideals of social justice and c
ommunal freedom attracted anarchist propagandists and proved to be highly recept
ive to libertarian ideas. The social concerns of these people often transcended
strictly proletarian ones and were not necessarily focused on syndicalist forms
of organization. Their organizations, in fact, were rooted in the very communiti
es in which they lived.
We are only now beginning to understand, as I have emphasized in my writings ove
r the years and as Manuel Castells (1983) has empirically shown, how much many r
adical workers movements were largely civic phenomena, grounded in specific neigh
borhoods in Paris, Petrograd, and Barcelona, and in small towns and villages tha
t formed the arenas not only of class unrest but civic or communal unrest. In su
ch milieux, oppressed and discontented people acted in response to the problems
they faced not only as economic beings but as communal beings. Their neighborhoo
ds, towns, and villages, in turn, constituted vital sources of support for their
struggles against a wide range of oppressions that were more easily generalized
into broad social movements whose scope was wider than the problem of their sho
ps and factories. It was not in the factory or workshop alone that radical value
s and broad social ideals were usually nourished but also in community centers o
f one kind or another, even in town halls, as history of the Paris Commune of 18
71 so clearly demonstrates. It was not only in Petrograd s factories that mass mob
ilization against czarist oppression emerged but in the city s Vyborg district as
a whole.
Similarly, the Spanish revolution was born not only in Barcelona s textile plants
but in the city s neighborhoods, where workers and nonworkers alike set up barrica
des, acquired what arms they could, alerted their fellow residents to the danger
s that the military uprising posed, functioned communally in terms of supply and
surveillance of possible counterrevolutionaries, and tried to satisfy the needs
of the infirm and the elderly within the larger framework of a modern city and
seaport. Gaston Laval devotes a substantial section of his book, called Towns and
Isolated Achievements, to a civic form of socialization that, in his words, we sha
ll call municipalist, which we could also call communalist, and which has its ro
ots in Spanish traditions that have remained living... It is characterized by th
e leading role of the town, the commune, the municipality, that is, to the predo
minance of the local organisation which embraces the city as a whole. (Laval, 19
75, p. 279)
This kind of anarchist organization is by no means unique to Spain. Rather, it i
s part of the larger anarchist tradition that I described earlier and that has r
eceived, I must emphasize, comparatively little recognition since the emergence
of syndicalism. Anarchism, in fact, has not been well-served by the forms of syn
dicalism that have shifted its focus from the commune to the factory and from mo
ral values to economic ones. In the past, what gave anarchism its moral tone
and w
hat practical activists in unions and on shop floors so often resisted was precise
ly its concern for a communism structured around civic confederations and demand
s for freedom as such, not simply for economic democracy in the form of workers c
ontrol. Presyndicalist forms of anarchism were occupied with human liberation, i
n which the interests of the proletariat were not neglected, to be sure, but wer
e fused in a generalized social interest that spanned a broad horizon of needs,
concerns, and problems. Ultimately the satisfaction and resolution of these need
s, concerns, and problems could be met only in the commune, not in a part of it,
such as the factory, workshop, or farm.
To the degree that anarchists regarded a free society as nonhierarchical as well
as classless, they hoped that specific interests would give way to communal and
regional interests, indeed, to the abolition of interest as such by placing all
the problems of the community and the confederated region onto a shared agenda.

This agenda was to be the concern of the people at large in a direct face-to-fa
ce democracy. Workers, food cultivators, professionals, and technicians, indeed,
people in general, were to no longer think of themselves as members of specific
classes, professional groups, and status groups; they were to become citizens o
f a community, occupied with resolving not separate particularistic conflicting
interests but a shared general human body of concerns.
It is this kind of moral vision of a new society that gives to present-day anarc
hism a relevance that no other form of communistic or socialistic movement has a
dvanced in recent memory. Its concept of emancipation and community speaks to th
e transclass problems of gender, age, ethnic, and hierarchical oppression
proble
ms whose scope reaches beyond the dissolution of a class-ridden economy and that
are resolved by a truly ethical society in which the harmonization of human wit
h human leads also to the harmonization of humanity with the natural world. Anyt
hing less than this vision, I submit, would fall short of the potentialities of
humanity to function as a rational, creative, and liberatory agent in both socia
l and natural history. Over many books and essays, I have articulated this broad
conception of humanity s self-realization in what I consider to be a constructive
vision of anarchy: a directly democratic, humanly scaled, confederal, ecologica
lly oriented, and communistic society.
To perpetuate the historical shift of anarchism from a largely ethical form of s
ocialism (in its most generic sense) to anarcho-syndicalism
a largely economisti
c form of socialism most often premised on the factory structure would be, in my
view, highly regressive. Many of the largely syndicalist tendencies in Spain an
d elsewhere that professed to believe in a libertarian communist society did not
hesitate to borrow methods and immoral forms of behavior from the capitalist ec
onomy itself. The economistic mentality of the so-called practicals and realists who
presumably knew how to manipulate workers and express their pragmatic interests
brought an increasingly amoral, even immoral tone into the CNT s leadership. This
tone still seems to linger on in the dwindling anarcho-syndicalism of the 1990s
. A disregard for nuanced ideas, a simplistic vision of social change, and a som
etimes absolutist claim to the anarchist legacy surfaces, in my experience, with
a frequency that tends to make anarcho-syndicalism a very intolerant, if not an
unsavory movement.
No one, least of all myself, would want to prevent anarchists from entering fact
ories, sharing the problems of workers, and hopefully winning them to libertaria
n ideals. It would be helpful, in fact, if many of them followed through on thei
r own pragmatically oriented ideas by participating in the lives of the proletar
ians they tend to hypostasize. What I challenge is the specious claim that anarc
ho-syndicalism constitutes the totality of anarchist thought and practice, that
it is the only ideology that can relate anarchistic ideas to working people, that it
preaches a doctrine of proletarian hegemony despite the repeated failures of siza
ble, even mass syndicalist movements and the steady distortions of syndicalist h
istory. Helmut Rdiger notwithstanding, the proletariat is not the larger part of t
he population. Indeed, as a result of changes in the productive and organizationa
l forms of modern capitalism, the factory proletariat is drastically diminishing
in numbers today, and the future of factories with large workforces is very muc
h up in the air. Certainly Spain today, like the rest of the Western world, bear
s very little resemblance to what it was early in the twentieth century
even to
what I personally saw in Spain a quarter-century ago. Sweeping technological rev
olutions and major cultural changes, as a result of which formerly class-conscio
us workers now identify with the middle class, have turned anarcho-syndicalism int
o a ghost of its former self. To the extent that this ghost claims to constitute
the totality of anarchism, it is utterly incapable of dealing with social issue
s that were latent even in times past, when a commitment to proletarian socialism
was the outstanding feature of radical movements.
Actually, workers have always been more than mere proletarians. Much as they hav

e been concerned about factory issues, workers are also parents who are concerne
d about the future of their children, men and women who are concerned about thei
r dignity, autonomy, and growth as human beings, neighbors who are concerned abo
ut their community, and empathetic people who were concerned with social justice
, civic rights, and freedom. Today, in addition to these very noneconomic issues
, they have every reason to be concerned about ecological problems, the rights o
f minorities and women, their own loss of political and social power, and the gr
owth of the centralized state
problems that are not specific to a particular cla
ss and that cannot be resolved within the walls of factories. Indeed, it should,
I think, be a matter of particular concern to anarchists to help workers become
fully conscious not only of their concerns an economic class but of the broadly
human concerns of the potential citizens of a free and ecological society. The h
umanization of the working class, like any other section of the population, cruci
ally depends upon the ability of workers to undo their workerness and advance them
selves beyond class consciousness and class interest to a community consciousnes
s as free citizens who alone can establish a future ethical, rational, and ecolo
gical society.
As practical and realistic as anarcho-syndicalism may seem, it represents in my view
an archaic ideology rooted in a narrowly economistic notion of bourgeois intere
st, indeed of a sectorial interest as such. It relies on the persistence of soci
al forces like the factory system and the traditional class consciousness of the
industrial proletariat that are waning radically in the Euro-American world in
an era of indefinable social relations and ever-broadening social concerns. Broa
der movements and issues are now on the horizon of modern society that, while th
ey must necessarily involve workers, require a perspective that is larger than t
he factory, trade union, and a proletarian orientation.
November 6, 1992
List of References
Abad de Santilln, Diego 1940. Por qu perdimos la guerra. Buenos Aires, Imn
Abad de Santilln, Diego 1937. After the Revolution. New York, Greenberg
Bakunin, Michael 1870. Representative government and universal suffrage . In Bakuni
n on Anarchy, ed. Sam Dolgoff, pp. 218 24. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1972
Bakunin, Michael 1866. Revolutionary catechism . In Bakunin on Anarchy, ed. Sam Dol
goff, pp. 76 97. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1972
Bookchin, Murray 1969, 1971. Listen, marxist!
, Black Rose Books

In Post-Scarcity Anarchism. Montreal

Bookchin, Murray 1977. The Spanish Anarchists. New York, Free Life Editions (rep
ublication forthcoming by A.K. Press, Stirling, Scotland)
Bookchin, Murray n.d. The Third Revolution: Popular Movements in the Revolutiona
ry Era (1525 1939). Unpublished manuscript
Borkenau, Franz 1962. World Communism. Ann Arbor, Mich., University of Michigan
Press
Brenan, Gerald 1943. The Spanish Labyrinth. Cambridge, Cambridge University Pres
s
Castells, Manuel 1983. The City and the Grassroots: A Cross-Cultural Theory of U
rban Social Movements. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Fraser, Ronald 1984. The popular experience of war and revolution 1936 38 . In Revolu
tion and War in Spain, 1931 39, ed. Paul Preston. London and New York, Methuen
Fraser, Ronald 1979. Blood of Spain: An Oral History of the Spanish Civil War. N
ew York, Pantheon Books
Goldman, Emma 1931. Living My Life. New York, Alfred A. Knopf
Granada Films. n.d.

Inside the Revolution, part 5 of The Spanish Civil War.

Hyams, Edward 1979. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: His Revolutionary Life, Mind and Wor
ks. London, John Murray
Kropotkin, Peter 1905. Anarchism. Entry from The Encyclopaedia Britannica. In Kr
opotkin s Revolutionary Pamphlets: A Collection of Writings by Peter Kropotkin, ed
. Roger N. Baldwin. New York, Vanguard Press, 1927; Dover Publications, 1970
Kropotkin, Peter 1913. Modern science and anarchism . In Kropotkin s Revolutionary Pa
mphlets: A Collection of Writings by Peter Kropotkin, ed. Roger N. Baldwin. New
York, Vanguard Press, 1927; Dover Publications, 1970
Laval, Gaston 1975. Collectives in the Spanish Revolution. Trans. Vernon Richard
s. London, Freedom Press
Magn, Ricardo Flores 1977. Land and Liberty: Anarchist Influences in the Mexican
Revolution, ed. David Poole. Sanday, Orkney Islands, Cienfuegos Press
Malatesta, Errico 1922. In Umanit Nova, April 6. Reprinted in Errico Malatesta: H
is Life and Ideas, ed. Vernon Richards, pp. 116 19. London, Freedom Press, 1965
Malefakis, Edward E. 1970. Agrarian Reforms and Peasant Revolution in Spain. New
Haven, Yale University Press
Marx, Karl 1906. Capital. Chicago, Charles H. Kerr & Co.
Peirats, Jose n.d. Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution (English translation of
Los anarquistas en la crisis politica espaola, 1964). Toronto, Solidarity Books
Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph 1863. The Principle of Federation. Reprinted by Toronto,
University of Toronto Press, 1969
Rdiger, Helmut 1949. ber Proudhon, Syndikalismus und Anarchismus. In Anarchismus H
eute: Positionen, ed. Hans-Jrgen Degen. Verlag Schwarzer Nachtschatten, 1991
Stearns, Peter 1971. Revolutionary Syndicalism and French Labor: A Cause Without
Rebels. New Brunswick, N.J., Rutgers University Press
Woodcock, George 1962. Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements.
New York, World Publishing Co.

[1] The editor, Sam Dolgoff, interpolated into this passage his own interpretati
ons, which I have omitted here. Dolgoff s own preference for syndicalism often see
ms to have colored his interpretation of Bakunin s writings.
[2] Since in the fully-formed proletariat the abstraction of all humanity, even o
f the semblance of humanity, is practically complete; since the conditions of li
fe of the proletariat sum up all the conditions of life of society today in thei
r most inhuman form; since man has lost himself in the proletariat, yet at the s

ame time has not only gained theoretical consciousness of the loss, but through
urgent, no longer removable, no longer disguisable, absolutely imperative need
p
ractical expression of necessity is driven directly to revolt against this inhum
anity, it follows that the proletariat can and must emancipate itself. But it ca
nnot emancipate itself without abolishing the conditions of its own life. Karl Ma
rx and Friedrich Engels, The Holy Family (Moscow: Progress Publisher, 1956), p.
47. A volume could be written on the bases, nature, and prognoses of Marx and En
gels in this passage. It essentially underpins the anarcho-syndicalist positions
on the hegemony of the proletariat but with greater sophistication.
[3] It is worth noting that a present-day anarcho-syndicalist journalist, Ulrike
Heider, dismisses Malatesta as a mere utopian and derogates Vernon Richards merel
y for engaging in a dispute with Sam Dolgoff, to whom she rather fervently appli
es the sobriquet the last anarchist. This arrogant fatuity, I suppose, should fina
lly settle the future of anarchism for good, now that Dolgoff is no longer with
us, which gives us some insight into the dogmatism of at least one anarcho-syndi
calist. Despite Dolgoff s mutations from anarcho-syndicalism to free socialism in th
e mid-1960s and then back to anarcho-syndicalism after the CNT reemerged in the
1970s, he seems to have been Heider s guru. See her Die Narren der Freiheit (Berli
n: Karin Kramer Verlag, 1992).
[4] Eduardo Pons Prado, it may be noted, also figures prominently in the excelle
nt Granada Films series The Spanish Civil War, which contains original interview
s with both leading figures and ordinary participants in the conflict.
[5] I speak of Brenan s Andalusian approach, because he had a strong tendency to ove
rstate the primitiveness of Spanish anarchism as an agrarian movement. In fact, Sp
anish anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism were predominantly urban by the 1930s an
d were more strongly rooted, at least in membership, in the northeastern part of
Spain than in the south.
[6] The appalling thrust of the CNT s syndicalist leadership in the direction of a
virtually authoritarian organization
or what Abad de Santilln called the Communis
t line (as cited by Peirats) in policy as well as in structure
dramatizes more fo
rcefuly than I can describe Malatesta s prescience and the fragility of the organi
zation s commitment to libertarian communism.
[7] See Fraser s interview with Pons Prado in Blood of Spain, p. 223. I also rely
here on my own interviews with Peirats in Toulouse and with Laval in Paris in Se
ptember 1967.
[8] In other respects, Borkenau s book is of much less value, especially where he
contends that Spanish anarchism was the substitute for a Spanish Reformation and
that the movement was entirely millennarian in nature.

Murray Bookchin
Libertarian Municipalism: An Overview
A Civic Ethics
Means and Ends
Confederalism
Municipalizing the Economy
Addendum
Perhaps the greatest single failing of movements for social reconstruction
I ref
er particularly to the Left, to radical ecology groups, and to organizations tha
t profess to speak for the oppressed is their lack of a politics that will carry
people beyond the limits established by the status quo.
Politics today means duels between top-down bureaucratic parties for electoral o

ffice, that offer vacuous programs for social justice to attract a nondescript elec
torate. Once in office, their programs usually turn into a bouquet of compromises.
In this respect, many Green parties in Europe have been only marginally differen
t from conventional parliamentary parties. Nor have socialist parties, with all
their various labels, exhibited any basic differences from their capitalist coun
ter parts. To be sure, the indifference of the Euro-American public its apolitici
sm
is understandably depressing. Given their low expectations, when people do vot
e, they normally turn to established parties if only because, as centers of powe
r, they cart produce results of sorts in practical matters. If one bothers to vo
te, most people reason, why waste a vote on a new marginal organization that has
all the characteristics of the major ones and that will eventually become corru
pted if it succeeds? Witness the German Greens, whose internal and public life i
ncreasingly approximates that of other parties in the new Reich.
That this political process has lingered on with almost no basic alteration for de
cades now is due in great part to the inertia of the process itself. Time wears
expectations thin, and hopes are often reduced to habits as one disappointment i
s followed by another. Talk of a new politics, of upsetting tradition, which is as
old as politics itself, is becoming unconvincing. For decades, at least, the ch
anges that have occurred in radical politics are largely changes in rhetoric rat
her than structure. The German Greens are only the most recent of a succession o
f nonparty parties (to use their original way of describing their organization) th
at have turned from an attempt to practice grassroots politics
ironically, in th
e Bundestag, of all places!
into a typical parliamentary party. The Social Democ
ratic Party in Germany, the Labor Party in Britain, the New Democratic Party in
Canada, the Socialist Party in France, and others, despite their original emanci
patory visions, barely qualify today as even liberal parties in which a Franklin
D. Roosevelt or a Harry Truman would have found a comfortable home. Whatever so
cial ideals these parties may have had generations ago have been eclipsed by the
pragmatics of gaining, holding, and extending their power in their respective p
arliamentary and ministerial bodies.
It is precisely such parliamentary and ministerial objectives that we call politi
cs today. To the modern political imagination, politics is precisely a body of tech
niques for holding power in representative bodies
notably the legislative and ex
ecutive arenas not a moral calling based on rationality, community, and freedom.
A Civic Ethics
Libertarian municipalism represents a serious, indeed a historically fundamental
project, to render politics ethical in character and grassroots in organization
. It is structurally and morally different from other grassroots efforts, not me
rely rhetorically different. It seeks to reclaim the public sphere for the exerc
ise of authentic citizenship while breaking away from the bleak cycle of parliam
entarism and its mystification of the party mechanism as a means for public repres
entation. In these respects, libertarian municipalism is not merely a political s
trategy. It is an effort to work from latent or incipient democratic possibilitie
s toward a radically new configuration of society itself-a communitarian society
oriented toward meeting human needs, responding to ecological imperatives, and
developing a new ethics based on sharing and cooperation. That it involves a con
sistently independent form of politics is a truism. More important, it involves
a redefinition of politics, a return to the word s original Greek meaning as the m
anagement of the community or polis by means of direct face-to-face assemblies o
f the people in the formulation of public policy and based on an ethics of compl
ementarily and solidarity.
In this respect, libertarian municipalism is not one of many pluralistic techniq
ues that is intended to achieve a vague and undefined social goal. Democratic to
its core and nonhierarchical in its structure, it is a kind of human destiny, n
ot merely one of an assortment of political tools or strategies that can be adop

ted and discarded with the aim of achieving power. Libertarian municipalism, in
effect, seeks to define the institutional contours of a new society even as it a
dvances the practical message of a radically new politics for our day.
Means and Ends
Here, means and ends meet in a rational unity. The word politics now expresses d
irect popular control of society by its citizens through achieving and sustainin
g a true democracy in municipal assemblies
this, as distinguished from republica
n systems of representation that preempt the right of the citizen to formulate c
ommunity and regional policies. Such politics is radically distinct from statecr
aft and the state a professional body composed of bureaucrats, police, military,
legislators, and the like, that exists as a coercive apparatus, clearly distinc
t from and above the people. The libertarian municipalist approach distinguishes
statecraft
which we usually characterize as politics today
and politics as it onc
e existed in precapitalist democratic communities.
Moreover, libertarian municipalism also involves a clear delineation of the soci
al realm as well as the political realm
in the strict meaning of the term social
: notably, the arena in which we live our private lives and engage in production
. As such, the social realm is to be distinguished from both the political and t
he statist realms. Enormous mischief has been caused by the interchangeable use
of these terms social, political, and the state. Indeed, the tendency has been t
o identify them with one another in our thinking and in the reality of everyday
life. But the state is a completely alien formation, a thorn in the side of huma
n development, an exogenous entity that has incessantly encroached on the social
and political realms. Often, in fact, the state has been an end in itself, as w
itness the rise of Asian empires, ancient imperial Rome, and the totalitarian st
ate of modern times. More than this, it has steadily invaded the political domai
n, which, for all its past shortcomings, had empowered communities, social group
ings, and individuals.
Such invasions have not gone unchallenged. Indeed, the conflict between the stat
e on the one hand and the political and social realms on the other has been an o
ngoing subterranean civil war for centuries. It has often broken out into the op
en in modern times in the conflict of the Castilian cities (comuneros) against t
he Spanish monarchy in the 1520s, in the struggle of the Parisian sections again
st the centralist Jacobin Convention of 1793, and in endless other clashes both
before and after these encounters.
Today, with the increasing centralization and concentration of power in the nati
on-state, a new politics
one that is genuinely new
must be structured institutiona
lly around the restoration of power by municipalities. This is not only necessar
y but possible even in such gigantic urban areas as New York City, Montreal, Lon
don, and Paris. Such urban agglomerations are not, strictly speaking, cities or
municipalities in the traditional sense of those terms, despite being designated
as such by sociologists. It is only if we think that they are cities that we be
come mystified by problems of size and logistics. Even before we confront the ec
ological imperative of physical decentralization (a necessity anticipated by Fre
derick Engels and Peter Kropotkin alike), we need feel no problems about decentr
alizing them institutionally. When Francois Mitterand tried to decentralize Pari
s with local city halls a few years ago, his reasons were strictly tactical (he
wanted to weaken the authority of the capital s right-wing mayor). Nonetheless, he
failed not because restructuring the Large metropolis was impossible but becaus
e the majority of the affluent Parisians supported the mayor.
Clearly, institutional changes do not occur in a social vacuum. Nor do they guar
antee that a decentralized municipality, even if it is structurally democratic.
will necessarily be humane, rational, and ecological in dealing with public affa
irs. Libertarian municipalism is premised on the struggle to achieve a rational

and ecological society, a struggle that depends on education and organization. F


rom the beginning, it presupposes a genuinely democratic desire by people to arr
est the growing powers of the nation-state and reclaim them for their community
and their region. Unless there is a movement
hopefully an effective Left Green m
ovement
to foster these aims, decentralization can lead to local parochialism as
easily as it can lead to ecological humanist communities.
But when have basic social changes ever been without risk? The case that Marx s co
mmitment to a centralized state and planned economy would inevitably yield burea
ucratic totalitarianism could have been better made than the case that decentral
ized libertarian municipalities will inevitably be authoritarian and have exclus
ionary and parochial traits Economic interdependence is a fact of life today, an
d capitalism itself has made parochial autarchies a chimera. While municipalitie
s and regions can seek to attain a considerable measure of self-aufficiency, we
have long left the era when self-aufficient communities that can indulge their p
rejudices are possible.
Confederalism
Equally important is the need for confederation
the interlinking of communities
with one another through recallable deputies mandated by municipal citizens assem
blies and whose sole functions are coordinative and administrative. Confederatio
n has a long history of its own that dates back to antiquity and that surfaced a
s a major alternative to the nation state. From the American Revolution through
the French Revolution and the Spanish Revolution of 1936, confederalism constitu
ted a major challenge to state centralism. Nor has it disappeared in our own tim
e, when the breakup of existing twentieth-century empires raises the issue of en
forced state centralism or the relatively autonomous nation. Libertarian municip
alism adds a radically democratic dimension to the contemporary discussions of c
onfederation (as, for example, in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia) by calling for
confederations not of nation-states but of municipalities and of the neighborhoo
ds of giant megalopolitan areas as well as towns and villages.
In the case of libertarian municipalism parochialism can thus be checked not only
by the compelling realities of economic interdependence but by the commitment o
f municipal minorities to defer to the majority wishes of participating communit
ies. Do these interdependencies and majority decisions guarantee us that a major
ity decision will be a correct one? Certainly not
but our chances for a rational
and ecological society are much better in this approach than in those that ride
on centralized entities and bureaucratic apparatuses. I cannot help but marvel
that no municipal network has been emergent among the German Greens, who have hu
ndreds of representatives in city councils around Germany but who carry on a loc
al politics that is completely conventional and self enclosed within particular
towns and cities.
Many arguments against libertarian municipalism even with its strong confederal
emphasis derive from a failure to understand its distinction between policy-maki
ng and administration. This distinction is fundamental to libertarian municipali
sm and must always be kept in mind. Policy is made by a community or neighborhoo
d assembly of free citizens; administration is performed by confederal councils
composed of mandated, recallable deputies of wards, towns, and villages. If part
icular 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 may
hem is permitted, the majority in a local or regional confederation has every ri
ght to prevent such malfeasances through its confederal council. This is not a d
enial of democracy but the assertion of a shared agreement by all to recognize c
ivil rights and maintain the ecological integrity of a region. These rights and
needs are not asserted so much by a confederal council as by the majority of the
popular assemblies conceived as one large community that expresses its wishes t
hrough its confederal deputies. Thus policy-making still remains local, but its

administration is vested in the confederal network as a whole. The confederation


in effect is a Community of communities based on distinct human rights and ecol
ogical imperatives.
If libertarian municipalism is not to be totally warped of its form and divested
of its meaning, it is a desideratum that must be fought for. It speaks to a tim
e hopefully, one that will yet come when people feel disempowered and actively s
eek empowerment. Existing in growing tension with the nation-state, it is a proc
ess as well as a destiny, a struggle to be fulfilled, not a bequest granted by t
he summits of the state. It is a dual power that contests the legitimacy of the
existing state power. Such a movement can be expected to begin slowly, perhaps s
poradically, in communities here and there that initially may demand only the mo
ral authority to alter the structuring of society before enough interlinked conf
ederations exist to demand the outright institutional power to replace the state
. The growing tension created by the emergence of municipal confederations repre
sents a confrontation between the state and the political realms. This confronta
tion can be resolved only after libertarian municipalism forms the new politics
of a popular movement and ultimately captures the imagination of millions.
Certain points, however, should be obvious. The people who initially enter into
the duel between confederalism and statism will not be the same human beings as
those who eventually achieve libertarian municipalism. The movement that tries t
o educate them and the struggles that give libertarian municipalist principles r
eality will turn them into active citizens, rather than passive constituents. No o
ne who participates in a struggle for social restructuring emerges from that str
uggle with the prejudices, habits, and sensibilities with which he or she entere
d it. Hopefully, then, such prejudices like parochialism
will increasingly be re
placed by a generous sense of cooperation and a caring sense of interdependence.
Municipalizing the Economy
It remains to emphasize that libertarian municipalism is not merely an evocation
of all traditional antistatist notions of politics. Just as it redefines politi
cs to include face-to-face municipal democracies graduated to confederal levels,
so it includes a municipalist and confederal approach to economics. Minimally,
a libertarian municipalist economics calls for the municipalization of the econo
my, not its centralization into state-owned nationalized enterprises on the one ha
nd or its reduction to worker-controlled forms of collectivistic capitalism on the
other. Trade-union control of worker controlled enterprises (that is, syndicalism
) has had its day. This should be evident to anyone who examines the bureaucraci
es that even revolutionary trade unions spawned during the Spanish Civil War of
1936. Today, corporate capitalism too is increasingly eager to bring the worker
into complicity with his or her own exploitation by means of workplace democracy.
Nor was the revolution in Spain or in other countries spared the existence of co
mpetition among worker-controlled enterprises for raw materials, markets, and pr
ofits. Even more recently, many Israeli kibbutzim have been failures as examples
of nonexploitative, need-oriented enterprises, despite the high ideals with whi
ch they were initially founded.
Libertarian municipalism proposes a radically different form of economy one that
is neither nationalized nor collectivized according to syndicalist precepts. It
proposes that land and enterprises be placed increasingly in the custody of the
community more precisely, the custody of citizens in free assemblies and their
deputies in confederal councils. How work should be planned, what technologies s
hould be used, how goods should be distributed are questions that can only be re
solved in practice. The maxim from each according to his or her ability, to each
according to his or her needs would seem a bedrock guide for an economically rati
onal society, provided to be sure that goods are of the highest durability and q
uality, that needs are guided by rational and ecological standards, and that the
ancient notions of limit and balance replace the bourgeois marketplace imperati

ve of

grow or die.

In such a municipal economy


confederal, interdependent, and rational by ecologic
al, not simply technological, standards
we would expect that the special interes
ts that divide people today into workers, professionals, managers, and the like
would be melded into a general interest in which people see themselves as citize
ns guided strictly by the needs of their community and region rather than by per
sonal proclivities and vocational concerns. Here, citizenship would come into it
s own, and rational as well as ecological interpretations of the public good wou
ld supplant class and hierarchical interests.
This is the moral basis of a moral economy for moral communities. But of overarc
hing importance is the general social interest that potentially underpins all mo
ral communities, an interest that must ultimately cut across class, gender, ethn
ic, and status lines if humanity is to continue to exist as a viable species. Th
is interest is the one created in our times by ecological catastrophe. Capitalis
m s grow or die imperative stands radically at odds with ecology s imperative of inter
dependence and limit The two imperatives can no longer coexist with each other n
or can any society founded on the myth that they can be reconciled hope to survi
ve. Either we will establish an ecological society, or society will go under for
everyone, irrespective of his or her status.
Will this ecological society be authoritarian, or possibly even totalitarian, a
hierarchial dispensation that is implicit in the image of the planet as a spacesh
ip Or will it be democratic? If history is any guide, the development of a democr
atic ecological society, as distinguished from a commend ecological society, mus
t follow its own logic. One cannot resolve this historical dilemma without getti
ng to its roots. Without a searching analysis of our ecological problems and the
ir social sources, the pernicious institutions that we now have will lead to inc
reased centralization and further ecological catastrophe. In a democratic ecolog
ical society, those roots are literally the grass roots that libertarian municip
alism seeks to foster.
For those who rightly call for a new technology, new sources of energy, new mean
s of transportation, and new ecological lifeways, can a new society be anything
less than a Community of communities based on confederation rather than statism?
We already live in a world in which the economy is overglobalized, overcentralize
d, and overbureaucratized. Much that can be done locally and regionally is now b
eing done largely for profit, military needs, and imperial appetites on a global
scale with a seeming complexity that can actually be easily diminished.
If this seems too utopian for our time, then so must the present flood of literatu
re that asks for radically sweeping shifts in energy policies, far-reaching redu
ctions in air and water pollution, and the formulation of worldwide plans to arr
est global warming and the destruction of the ozone layer be seen as utopian. Is i
t too much, it is fair to ask, to take such demands one step further and call fo
r institutional and economic changes that are no less drastic and that in fact a
re based on traditions that are deeply sedimented in American indeed, the world s
noblest democratic and political traditions?
Nor are we obliged to expect these changes to occur immediately. The Left long w
orked with minimum and maximum programs for change, in which immediate steps tha
t can be taken now were linked by transitional advances and intermediate areas t
hat would eventually yield ultimate goals. Minimal steps that can be taken now i
nclude initiating Left Green municipalist movements that propose popular neighbo
rhood and town assemblies even if they have only moral functions at first
and el
ecting town and city councilors that advance the cause of these assemblies and o
ther popular institutions. These minimal steps can lead step-by-step to the form
ation of confederal bodies and the increasing legitimation of truly democratic b
odies. Civic banks to fund municipal enterprises and land purchases; the fosteri

ng of new ecologically oriented enterprises that are owned by the community; and
the creation of grassroots networks in many fields of endeavor and the public w
eal
all these can be developed at a pace appropriate to changes that are being m
ade in political life.
That capital will likely migrate from communities and confederations that are movi
ng toward libertarian municipalism is a problem that every community, every nati
on, whose political life has become radicalized has faced. Capital, in fact, nor
mally migrates to areas where it can acquire high profits, irrespective of politic
al considerations. Overwhelmed by fears of capital migration, a good case could
be established for not rocking the political boat at any time. Far more to the p
oint are that municipally owned enterprises and farms could provide new ecologic
ally valuable and health-nourishing products to a public that is becoming increa
singly aware of the low-quality goods and staples that are being foisted on it n
ow.
Libertarian municipalism is a politics that can excite the public imagination, a
ppropriate for a movement that is direly in need of a sense of direction and pur
pose. The papers that appear in this collection offer ideas, ways, and means not
only to undo the present social order but to remake it drastically
expanding it
s residual democratic traditions into a rational and ecological society.
Addendum
This addendum seems to be necessary because some of the opponents of libertarian
municipalism and, regrettably, some of its acolyte
misunderstand what libertari
an municipalism seeks to achieve indeed, misunderstand its very nature.
For some of its instrumental acolytes, libertarian municipalism is becoming a ta
ctical device to gain entry into so called independent movements and new third p
arties that call for grassroots politics, such as those proposed by NOW and certai
n Labor leaders In the name of libertarian municipalism, some radical acolytes of
the view are prepared to blur the tension that they should cultivate between the
civic realm and the state presumably to gain greater public attention in electo
ral campaigns for gubernatorial, congressional, and other state offices. These r
adicals regrettably warp libertarian municipalism into a mere tactic or strategy and
drain it of its revolutionary content.
But those who propose to use tenets of libertarian municipalism for tactical reaso
ns as a means to enter another reformist party or function as its left wing have l
ittle in common with the idea. Libertarian municipalism is not a product of the
formal logic that has such deep roots in left-wing analyses and strategies today, de
spite the claims of many radicals that dialectics is their method. The struggle towa
rd creating new civic institutions out of old ones (or replacing the old ones al
together) and creating civic confederations is a self formative one, a creative
dynamic formed from the tension of social conflict. The effort to work along the
se lines is as much a part of the end as the process of maturing from the child
to the adult from the relatively undifferentiated to the fully differentiated
wi
th all its difficulties. The very fight for a municipal confederation, for munic
ipal control of property, and for the actual achievement of worldwide municipal co
nfederation is directed toward achieving a new ethos of citizenship and communit
y, not simply to gain victories in largely reformist conflicts.
Thus, libertarian municipalism is not merely an effort simply to take over city co
uncils to construct a more environmentally friendly city government. These adheren
ts or opponents of libertarian municipalism, in effect, look at the civic struct
ures that exist before their eyes now and essentially (all rhetoric to the contr
ary aside) take them as they exist. Libertarian municipalism, by contrast, is an
effort to transform and democratize city governments, to root them in popular a
ssemblies, to knit them together along confederal lines, to appropriate a region

al economy along confederal and municipal lines.


In fact, libertarian municipalism gains its life and its integrity precisely fro
m the dialectical tension it proposes between the nation-state and the municipal
confederation. Its law of life, to use an old Marxian term, consists precisely in
its struggle with the state. The tension between municipal confederations and t
he state must be clear and uncompromising. Since these confederations would exis
t primarily in opposition to statecraft, they cannot be compromised by state, pr
ovincial, or national elections, much less achieved by these means. Libertarian
municipalism is formed by its struggle with the state, strengthened by this stru
ggle, indeed defined by this struggle. Divested of this dialectical tension with
the state, of this duality of power that must ultimately be actualized in a fre
e Commune of communes, libertarian municipalism becomes little more than sewer soci
alism.
Many heroic comrades who are prepared to do battle (one day) with the cosmic for
ces of capitalism find that libertarian municipalism is too thorny, irrelevant,
or vague to deal with and opt for what is basically a form of political particul
arism. Our spray-can or
alternative cafe radicals may choose to brush libertarian
municipalism aside as a ludicrous tactic, but it never ceases to amaze me that we
ll-meaning radicals who are committed to the overthrow of capitalism (no less!) fi
nd it too difficult to function politically
and, yes, electorally
in their own n
eighborhoods for a new politics based on a genuine democracy. If they cannot pro
vide a transformative politics for their own neighborhood relatively modest task
or diligently work at doing so with the constancy that used to mark the more ma
ture left movements of the past, I find it very hard to believe that they will e
ver do much harm to the present social system. Indeed, by creating cultural cent
ers, parks, and good housing, they may well be improving the system by giving ca
pitalism a human face without diminishing its under lying unfreedom as a hierarc
hical and class society.
A bouquet of struggles for identity has often fractured rising radical movements s
ince SDS in the 1960s, ranging from foreign to domestic nationalisms. Because th
ese identity struggles are so popular today, some of the critics of libertarian
municipalism invoke public opinion against it. But when has it been the task of re
volutionaries to surrender to public opinion not even the public opinion of the oppr
essed, whose views can often be very reactionary? Truth has its own life regardl
ess of whether the oppressed masses perceive or agree on what is true. Nor is it
elitist to invoke truth, in contradiction to even radical public opinion, when th
at opinion essentially seeks a march backward into the politics of particularism
and even racism. It is very easy to drop to all fours these days, but as radica
ls our most important need is to stand on two feet
that is, to be as fully human
as possible and to challenge the existing society in behalf of our shared commo
n humanity, not on the basis of gender, race, age, and the like.
Critics of libertarian municipalism even dispute the very possibility of a genera
l interest. If, for such critics, the face-to-face democracy advocated by liberta
rian municipalism and the need to extend the premises of democracy beyond mere j
ustice to complete freedom do not suffice as a general interest, it would seem to
me that the need to repair our relationship with the natural world is certainly
a general interest that is beyond dispute
and, indeed, it remains the general inter
est advanced by social ecology. It may be possible to coopt many dissatisfied ele
ments in the present society, but nature is not cooptable. Indeed, the only poli
tics that remains for the Left is one based on the premise that there is a genera
l interest in democratizing society and preserving the planet Now that traditiona
l forces such as the workers movement have ebbed from the historical scene, it ca
n be said with almost complete certainty that without libertarian municipalism,
the left will have no politics whatever.
A dialectical view of the relationship of confederalism to the nation-state, an

understanding of the narrowness, introverted character, and parochialism of iden


tity-movements. and a recognition that the workers movement is essentially dead a
ll illustrate that if a new politics is going to develop today, it must be unfli
nchingly public, in contrast to the alternative-cafe politics advanced by many rad
icals today. It must be electoral on a municipal basis, confederal in its vision
, and revolutionary in its character.
Indeed, in my view, libertarian municipalism, with its emphasis on confederalism
, is precisely the Commune of communes for which anarchists have fought over the p
ast two centuries. Today, it is the red button that must be pushed if a radical mo
vement is to open the door to the public sphere. To leave that red button untouc
hed and slip back into the worst habits of the post-1968 New Left, when the noti
on of power was divested of utopian or imaginative qualities, is to reduce radical
ism to yet another subculture that will probably live more on heroic memories th
an on the hopes of a rational future.
April 3, 1991; addendum, October 1, 1991

Murray Bookchin
The Meaning of Confederalism
Decentralism and Self-Sustainability
Problems of Decentralism
Confederalism and Interdependence
Confederation as Dual Power
Few arguments have been used more effectively to challenge the case for face-toface participatory democracy than the claim that we live in a complex society. Mod
ern population centers, we are told, are too large and too concentrated to allow
for direct decision-making at a grassroots level. And our economy is too global,
presumably, to unravel the intricacies of production and commerce. In our presen
t transnational, often highly centralized social system, it is better to enhance
representation in the state, to increase the efficiency of bureaucratic institu
tions, we are advised, than to advance utopian localist schemes of popular control
over political and economic life.
After all, such arguments often run, centralists are all really localists in the s
ense that they believe in more power to the people
or at least, to their represent
atives. And surely a good representative is always eager to know the wishes of h
is or her constituents (to use another of those arrogant substitutes for citizens ).
But face-to-face democracy? Forget the dream that in our complex modern world we c
an have any democratic alternative to the nation-state! Many pragmatic people, i
ncluding socialists, often dismiss arguments for that kind of localism as otherwor
ldly with good-natured condescension at best and outright derision at worst. Ind
eed, some years back, in 1972, I was challenged in the periodical Root and Branc
h by Jeremy Brecher, a democratic socialist, to explain how the decentralist vie
ws I expressed in Post-Scarcity Anarchism would prevent, say, Troy, New York, fr
om dumping its untreated wastes into the Hudson River, from which downstream cit
ies like Perth Amboy draw their drinking water.
On the surface of things, arguments like Brecher s for centralized government seem
rather compelling. A structure that is democratic, to be sure, but still largely
top-down is assumed as necessary to prevent one locality from afflicting another
ecologically. But conventional economic and political arguments against decentr
alization, ranging from the fate of Perth Amboy s drinking water to our alleged add
iction to petroleum, rest on a number of very problematical assumptions. Most dis
turbingly, they rest on an unconscious acceptance of the economic status quo.
Decentralism and Self-Sustainability

The assumption that what currently exists must necessarily exist is the acid tha
t corrodes all visionary thinking (as witness the recent tendency of radicals to
espouse market socialism rather than deal with the failings of the market economy
as well as state socialism). Doubtless we will have to import coffee for those
people who need a morning fix at the breakfast table or exotic metals for people
who want their wares to be more lasting than the junk produced by a consciously
engineered throwaway economy. But aside from the utter irrationality of crowdin
g tens of millions of people into congested, indeed suffocating urban belts, mus
t the present-day extravagant international division of labor necessarily exist
in order to satisfy human needs? Or has it been created to provide extravagant p
rofits for multinational corporations? Are we to ignore the ecological consequen
ces of plundering the Third World of its resources, insanely interlocking modern
economic life with petroleum-rich areas whose ultimate products include air pol
lutants and petroleum-derived carcinogens? To ignore the fact that our global eco
nomy is the result of burgeoning industrial bureaucracies and a competitive growor-die market economy is incredibly myopic.
It is hardly necessary to explore the sound ecological reasons for achieving a c
ertain measure of self-sustainability. Most environmentally oriented people are
aware that a massive national and international division of labor is extremly wa
steful in the literal sense of that term. Not only does an excessive division of
labor make for overorganization in the form of huge bureaucracies and tremendou
s expenditures of resources in transporting materials over great distances; it r
educes the possibilities of effectively recycling wastes, avoiding pollution tha
t may have its source in highly concentrated industrial and population centers,
and making sound use of local or regional raw materials.
On the other hand, we cannot ignore the fact that relatively self-sustaining com
munities in which crafts, agriculture, and industries serve definable networks o
f confederally organized communities enrich the opportunities and stimuli to whi
ch individuals are exposed and make for more rounded personalities with a rich s
ense of selfhood and competence. The Greek ideal of the rounded citizen in a rou
nded environment
one that reappeared in Charles Fourier s utopian works
was long c
herished by the anarchists and socialists of the last century.
The opportunity of the individual to devote his or her productive activity to ma
ny different tasks over an attenuated work week (or in Fourier s ideal society, ov
er a given day) was seen as a vital factor in overcoming the division between ma
nual and intellectual activity, in transcending status differences that this maj
or division of work created, and in enhancing the wealth of experiences that cam
e with a free movement from industry through crafts to food cultivation. Hence s
elf-sustainability made for a richer self, one strengthened by variegated experi
ences, competencies, and assurances. Alas, this vision has been lost by leftists
and many environmentalists today, with their shift toward a pragmatic liberalis
m and the radical movement s tragic ignorance of its own visionary past.
We should not, I believe, lose sight of what it means to live an ecological way
of life, not merely follow sound ecological practices. The multitude of handbook
s that teach us how to conserve, invest, eat, and buy in an ecologically responsi
ble manner are a travesty of the more basic need to reflect on what it means to t
hink yes, to reason
and to live ecologically in the full meaning of the term. Th
us, I would hold that to garden organically is more than a good form of husbandr
y and a good source of nutrients; it is above all a way to place oneself directl
y in the food web by personally cultivating the very substances one consumes to
live and by returning to one s environment what one elicits from it.
Food thus becomes more than a form of material nutririent. The soil one tills, t
he living things one cultivates and consumes, the compost one prepares all unite
in an ecological continuum to feed the spirit as well as the body, sharpening o

ne s sensitivity to the nonhuman and human world around us. I am often amused by z
ealous spiritualists, many of whom are either passive viewers of seemingly natural
andscapes or devotees of rituals, magic, and pagan deities (or all of these) who
fail to realize that one of the most eminently human activities namely, food cu
ltivation
can do more to foster an ecological sensibility (and spirituality, if
you please) than all the incantations and mantras devised in the name of ecologi
cal spiritualism.

Such monumental changes as the dissolution of the nation-state and its substitut
ion by a participatory democracy, then, do not occur in a psychological vacuum w
here the political structure alone is changed. I argued against Jeremy Brecher t
hat in a society that was radically veering toward decentralistic, participatory
democracy, guided by communitarian and ecological principles, it is only reason
able to suppose that people would not choose such an irresponsible social dispen
sation as would allow the waters of the Hudson to be so polluted. Decentralism,
a face-to-face participatory democracy, and a localist emphasis on community val
ues should be viewed as all of one piece they most assuredly have been so in the
vision I have been advocating for more than thirty years. This one piece involves
not only a new politics but a new political culture that embraces new ways of t
hinking and feeling, and new human interrelationships, including the ways we exp
erience the natural world. Words like politics and citizenship would be redefined by
the rich meanings they acquired in the past, and enlarged for the present.
It is not very difficult to show item by item
how the international division of
labor can be greatly attenuated by using local and regional resources, implement
ing ecotechnologies, resealing human consumption along rational (indeed, healthf
ul) lines, and emphasizing quality production that provides lasting (instead of
throwaway) means of life. It is unfortunate that the very considerable inventory
of these possibilities, which I partly assembled and evaluated in my 1965 essay
Toward a Liberatory Technology, suffers from the burden of having been written to
o long ago to be accessible to the present generation of ecologically oriented p
eople. Indeed, in that essay I also argued for regional integration and the need
to interlink resources among ecocommunities. For decentralized communities are
inevitably interdependent upon one another.
Problems of Decentralism
If many pragmatic people are blind to the importance of decentralism, many in th
e ecology movement tend to ignore very real problems with localism
problems that a
re no less troubling than the problems raised by a globalism that fosters a tota
l interlocking of economic and political life on a worldwide basis. Without such
wholistic cultural and political changes as I have advocated, notions of decent
ralism that emphasize localist isolation and a degree of self-sufficiency may le
ad to cultural parochialism and chauvinism. Parochialism can lead to problems th
at are as serious as a global mentality that overlooks the uniqueness of cultures,
the peculiarities of ecosystems and ecoregions, and the need for a humanly scal
ed community life that makes a participatory democracy possible. This is no mino
r issue today, in an ecology movement that tends to swing toward very well-meani
ng but rather naive extremes. I cannot repeat too emphatically that we must find
a way of sharing the world with other humans and with nonhuman forms of life, a
view that is often difficult to attain in overly self-sufficient communities.
Much as I respect the intentions of those who advocate local self-reliance and s
elf-sustainabilty, these concepts can be highly misleading. I can certainly agre
e with David Morris of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, for example, that
if a community can produce the things it needs, it should probably do so. But se
lf-sustaining communities cannot produce all the things they need unless it invo
lves a return to a back-breaking way of village life that historically often pre
maturely aged its men and women with hard work and allowed them very little time
for political life beyond the immediate confines of the community itself.

I regret to say that there are people in the ecology movement who do, in fact, a
dvocate a return to a highly labor-intensive economy, not to speak of Stone Age
deities. Clearly, we must give the ideals of localism, decentralism, and self-su
stainability greater and fuller meaning.
Today we can produce the basic means of life
and a good deal more
in an ecologic
al society that is focused on the production of high-quality useful goods. Yet s
till others in the ecology movement too often end up advocating a kind of collect
ive capitalism, in which one community functions like a single entrepreneur, with
a sense of proprietorship toward its resources. Such a system of cooperatives o
nce again marks the beginnings of a market system of distribution, as cooperativ
es become entangled in the web of bourgeois rights
that is, in contracts and bookk
eeping that focus on the exact amounts a community will receive in exchange for wh
at it delivers to others. This deterioration occurred among some of the worker-c
ontrolled enterprises that functioned like capitalistic enterprises in Barcelona
after the workers expropriated them in July 1936 a practice that the anarcho-sy
ndicalist CNT fought early in the Spanish Revolution.
It is a troubling fact that neither decentralization nor self-sufficiency in its
elf is necessarily democratic. Plato s ideal city in the Republic was indeed desig
ned to be self-sufficient, but its self-sufficiency was meant to maintain a warr
ior as well as a philosophical elite. Indeed, its capacity to preserve its selfsufficiency depended upon its ability, like Sparta, to resist the seemingly corru
ptive influence of outside cultures (a characteristic, I may say, that still appe
ars in many closed societies in the East). Similarly, decentralization in itself
provides no assurance that we will have an ecological society. A decentralized
society can easily co-exist with extremely rigid hierarchies. A striking example
is European and Oriental feudalism, a social order in which princely, ducal, an
d baronial hierarchies were based on highly decentralized communities. With all
due respect to Fritz Schumacher, small is not necessarily beautiful.
Nor does it follow that humanly scaled communities and appropriate technologies in
themselves constitute guarantees against domineering societies. In fact, for ce
nturies humanity lived in villages and small towns, often with tightly organized
social ties and even communistic forms of property. But these provided the mate
rial basis for highly despotic imperial states. Considered on economic and prope
rty terms, they might earn a high place in the no-growth outlook of economists lik
e Herman Daly, but they were the hard bricks that were used to build the most aw
esome Oriental despotisms in India and China. What these self-sufficient, decent
ralized communities feared almost as much as the armies that ravaged them were t
he imperial tax-gatherers that plundered them.
If we extol such communities because of the extent to which they were decentrali
zed, self-sufficient, or small, or employed appropriate technologies, we would be
obliged to ignore the extent to which they were also culturally stagnant and eas
ily dominated by exogenous elites. Their seemingly organic but tradition-bound d
ivision of labor may very well have formed the bases for highly oppressive and d
egrading caste systems in different parts of the world-caste systems that plague
the social life of India to this very day.
At the risk of seeming contrary, I feel obliged to emphasize that decentralizati
on, localism, self-sufficiency, and even confederation each taken singly do not
constitute a guarantee that we will achieve a rational ecological society. In fa
ct, all of them have at one time or another supported parochial communities, oli
garchies, and even despotic regimes. To be sure, without the institutional struc
tures that cluster around our use of these terms and without taking them in comb
ination with each other, we cannot hope to achieve a free ecologically oriented
society.

Confederalism and Interdependence


Decentralism and self-sustainability must involve a much broader principle of so
cial organization than mere localism. Together with decentralization, approximat
ions to self-sufficiency, humanly scaled communities, ecotechnologies, and the l
ike, there is a compelling need for democratic and truly communitarian forms of
interdependence
in short, for libertarian forms of confederalism.
I have detailed at length in many articles and books (particularly The Rise of U
rbanization and the Decline of Citizenship) the history of confederal structures
from ancient and medieval to modern confederations such as the Comuneros in Spa
in during the early sixteenth century through the Parisian sectional movement of
1793 and more recent attempts at confederation, particularly by the Anarchists
in the Spanish Revolution of the 1930s. Today, what often leads to serious misun
derstandings among decentralists is their failure in all too many cases to see t
he need for confederation
which at least tends to counteract the tendency of dec
entralized communities to drift toward exclusivity and parochialism. If we lack
a clear understanding of what confederalism means
indeed, the fact that it forms
a key principle and gives fuller meaning to decentralism
the agenda of a libert
arian municipalism can easily become vacuous at best or be used for highly paroc
hial ends at worst.
What, then, is confederalism? It is above all a network of administrative counci
ls whose members or delegates are elected from popular face-to-face democratic a
ssemblies, in the various villages, towns, and even neighborhoods of large citie
s. The members of these confederal councils are strictly mandated, recallable, a
nd responsible to the assemblies that choose them for the purpose of coordinatin
g and administering the policies formulated by the assemblies themselves. Their
function is thus a purely administrative and practical one, not a policy making
one like the function of representatives in republican systems of government.
A confederalist view involves a clear distinction between policymaking and the c
oordination and execution of adopted policies. Policymaking is exclusively the r
ight of popular community assemblies based on the practices of participatory dem
ocracy. Administratiom and coordination are the responsibility of confederal cou
ncils, which become the means for interlinking villages, towns, neighborhoods, a
nd cities into confederal networks. Power thus flows from the bottom up instead
of from the top down, and in confederations, the flow of power from the bottom u
p diminishes with the scope of the federal council ranging territorially from lo
calities to regions and from regions to ever-broader territorial areas.
A crucial element in giving reality to confederalism is the interdependence of c
ommunities for an authentic mutualism based on shared resources, produce, and po
licymaking. If one community is not obliged to count on another or others genera
lly to satisfy important material needs and realize common political goals in su
ch a way that it is interlinked to a greater whole, exclusivity and parochialism
are genuine possibilities. Only insofar as we recognize that confederation must
be conceived as an extension of a form of participatory administration
by means
of confederal networks can decentralization and localism prevent the communitie
s that compose larger bodies of association from parochially withdrawing into th
emselves at the expense of wider areas of human consociation.
Confederalism is thus a way of perpetuating the interdependence that should exis
t among communities and regions
indeed, it is a way of democratizing that interd
ependence without surrendering the principle of local control. While a reasonabl
e measure of self-sufficiency is desirable for every locality and region, confed
eralism is a means for avoiding local parochialism on the one hand and an extrav
agant national and global division of labor on the other. In short, it is a way
in which a community can retain its identity and roundedness while participating
in a sharing way with the larger whole that makes up a balanced ecological soci

ety.
Confederalism as a principle of social organization reaches its fullest developm
ent when the economy itself is confederalized by placing local farms, factories,
and other needed enterprises in local municipal hands
that is, when a community
, however large or small, begins to manage its own economic resources in an inte
rlinked network with other communities. To force a choice between either self-su
fficiency on the one hand or a market system of exchange on the other is a simpl
istic and unnecessary dichotomy. I would like to think that a confederal ecologi
cal society would be a sharing one, one based on the pleasure that is felt in di
stributing among communities according to their needs, not one in which cooperati
ve capitalistic communities mire themselves in the quid pro quo of exchange relat
ionships.
Impossible? Unless we are to believe that nationalized property (which reinforce
s the political power of the centralized state with economic power) or a private
market economy (whose law of grow or die threatens to undermine the ecological st
ability of the entire planet) is more workable, I fail to see what viable altema
tive we have to the confederated municipalization of the economy. At any rate, f
or once it will no longer be privileged state bureaucrats or grasping bourgeois
entrepreneurs or even collective capitalists in so-called workers-controlled enter
prises all with their special to promote who are faced with a community s problems
, but citizens, irrespective of their occupations or workplaces. For once, it wi
ll be necessary to transcend the traditional special interests of work, workplac
e, status, and property relations, and create a general interest based on shared
community problems.
Confederation is thus the ensemble of decentralization, localism, self-sufficien
cy, interdependence
and more. This more is the indispensable moral education and
character building what the Greeks called paideia that makes for rational activ
e citizenship in a participatory democracy, unlike the passive constituents and
consumers that we have today. In the end, there is no substitute for a conscious
reconstruction of our relationship to each other and the natural world.
To argue that the remaking of society and our relationship with the natural worl
d can be achieved only by decentralization or localism or self-sustainabilty lea
ves us with an incomplete collection of solutions. Whatever we omit among these
presuppositions for a society based on confederated municipalities, to be sure,
would leave a yawning hole in the entire social fabric we hope to create. That h
ole would grow and eventually destroy the fabric itself
just as a market economy
, cojoined with socialism, anarchism, or whatever concept one has of the good societ
y, would eventually dominate the society as a whole. Nor can we omit the distinc
tion between policy making and administration, for once policy making slips from
the hands of the people, it is devoured by its delegates, who quickly become bu
reaucrats.
Confederalism, in effect, must be conceived as a whole: a consciously formed bod
y of interdependencies that unites participatory democracy in municipalities wit
h a scrupulously supervised system of coordination. It involves the dialectical
development of independence and dependence into a more richly articulated form o
f interdependence, just as the individual in a free society grows from dependenc
e in childhood to independence in youth, only to sublate the two into a consciou
s form of interdependence between individuals and between the individual and soc
iety.
Confederalism is thus a fluid and ever-developing kind of social metabolism in w
hich the identity of an ecological society is preserved through its differences
and by virtue of its potential for ever-greater differentiation. Confederalism,
in fact, does not mark a closure of social history (as the end of history ideologi
sts of recent years would have us believe about liberal capitalism) but rather t

he point of departure for a new eco-social history marked by a participatory evo


lution within society and between society and the natural world.
Confederation as Dual Power
Above all, I have tried to show in my previous writings how confederation on a m
unicipal basis has existed in sharp tension with the centralized state generally
, and the nation-state of recent times. Confederalism, I have tried to emphasize
, is not simply a unique societal, particularly civic or municipal, form of admi
nistration. It is a vibrant tradition in the affairs of humanity, one that has a
centuries-long history behind it. Confederations for generations tried to count
ervail a nearly equally long historical tendency toward centralization and the c
reation of the nation-state.
If the two
confederalism and statism
are not seen as being in tension with each
other, a tension in which the nation-state has used a variety of intermediaries
like provincial governments in Canada and state governments in the United States
to create the illusion of local control, then the concept of confederation loses
all meaning. Provincial autonomy in Canada and states rights in the United States
are no more confederal than soviets or councils were the medium for popular contr
ol that existed in tension with Stalin s totalitarian state. The Russian soviets w
ere taken over by the Bolsheviks, who supplanted them with their party within a
year or two of the October Revolution. To weaken the role of confederal municipa
lities as a countervailing power to the nation-state by opportunistically runnin
g confederalist candidates for state govemment or, more nightmarishly, for governo
rship in seemingly democratic states (as some U.S. Greens have proposed) is to b
lur the importance of the need for tension between confederations and nation-sta
tes indeed, they obscure the fact that the two cannot co-exist over the long ter
m.
In describing confederalism as a whole
as a structure for decentralization, part
icipatory democracy, and localism
and as a potentiality for an ever-greater diff
erentiation along new lines of development, I would like to emphasize that this
same concept of wholeness that applies to the interdependencies between municipa
lities also applies to the muncipality itself. The municipality, as I pointed ou
t in earlier writings, is the most immediate political arena of the individual,
the world that is literally a doorstep beyond the privacy of the family and the
intimacy of personal friendships. In that primary political arena, where politic
s should be conceived in the Hellenic sense of literally managing the polls or c
ommunity, the individual can be transformed from a mere person into an active ci
tizen, from a private being into a public being. Given this crucial arena that l
iterally renders the citizen a functional being who can participate directly in
the future of society, we are dealing with a level of human interaction that is
more basic (apart from the family itself) than any level that is expressed in re
presentative forms of governance, where collective power is literally transmuted
into power embodied by one or a few individuals. The municipality is thus the m
ost authentic arena of public life, however much it may have been distorted over
the course of history.
By contrast, delegated or authoritarian levels of politics presuppose the abdicati
on of municipal and citizen power to one degree or another. The municipality mus
t always be understood as this truly authentic public world. To compare even exe
cutive positions like a mayor with a govemor in representative realms of power i
s to grossly misunderstand the basic political nature of civic life itself, all
its malformations notwithstanding. Thus, for Greens to contend in a purely forma
l and analytical manner
as modern logic instructs that terms like executive make t
he two positions interchangeable is to totally remove the notion of executive po
wer from its context, to reify it, to make it into a mere lifeless category beca
use of the extemal trappings we attach to the word. If the city is to be seen as
a whole, and its potentialities for creating a participatory democracy are to b

e fully recognized, so provincial governments and state governments in Canada an


d the United States must be seen as clearly established small republics organize
d entirely around representation at best and oligarchical rule at worst. They pr
ovide the channels of expression for the nation-state
and constitute obstacles t
o the development of a genuine public realm.
To run a Green for a mayor on a libertarian municipalist program, in short, is q
ualitatively different from running a provincial or state governor on a presumab
ly libertarian muncipalist program. It amounts to decontextualizing the institut
ions that exist in a municipality, in a province or state, and in the nation-sta
te itself, thereby placing all three of these executive positions under a purely
formal rubric. One might with equal imprecision say that because human beings a
nd dinosaurs both have spinal cords, that they belong to the same species or eve
n to the same genus. In each such case, an institution be it a mayoral, councill
or, or selectperson
must be seen in a municipal context as a whole, just as a pr
esident, prime minister, congressperson, or member of parliament, in turn, must
be seen in the state context as a whole. From this standpoint, for Greens to run
mayors is fundamentally different from running provincial and state offices. On
e can go into endless detailed reasons why the powers of a mayor are far more co
ntrolled and under closer public purview than those of state and provincial offi
ce-holders.
At the risk of repetition, let
don any sense of contextuality
administration, participation,
hall in a town or city is not

me say that to ignore this fact is to simply aban


and the environment in which issues like policy,
and representation must be placed. Simply, a city
a capital in a province, state, or nation-state.

Unquestionably, there are now cities that are so large that they verge on being
quasi-republics in their own right. One thinks for example of such megalopolitan
areas as New York City and Los Angeles. In such cases, the minimal program of a
Green movement can demand that confederations be established within the urban a
rea namely, among neighborhoods or definable districts
not only among the urban
areas themselves. In a very real sense, these highly populated, sprawling, and o
versized entities must ultimately be broken down institutionally into authentic
muncipalities that are scaled to human dimensions and that lend themselves to pa
rticipatory democracy. These entities are not yet fully formed state powers, eit
her institutionally or in reality, such as we find even in sparsely populated Am
erican states. The mayor is not yet a governor, with the enormous coercive power
s that a govemor has, nor is the city council a parliament or statehouse that ca
n literally legislate the death penalty into existence, such as is occurring in
the United States today.
In cities that are transforming themselves into quasi-states, there is still a g
ood deal of leeway in which politics can be conducted along libertarian lines. A
lready, the executive branches of these urban entities constitute a highly preca
rious ground burdened by enormous bureaucracies, police powers, tax powers, and
juridical systems that raise serious problems for a libertarian municipal approa
ch. We must always ask ourselves in all frankness what form the concrete situati
on takes. Where city councils and mayoral offices in large cities provide an are
na for battling the concentration of power in an increasingly s trong state or p
rovincial executive, and even worse, in regional jurisdictions that may cut acro
ss many such cities (Los Angeles is a notable example), to run candidates for th
e city council may be the only recourse we have, in fact, for arresting the deve
lopment of increasingly authoritarian state institutions and helping to restore
an institutionally decentralized democracy.
It will no doubt take a
h as New York City into
n effort is part of the
son why an urban entity

long time to physically decentralize an urban entity suc


authentic municipalities and ultimately communes. Such a
maximum program of a Green movement. But there is no rea
of such a huge magnitude cannot be slowly decentralized

institutionally. The distinction between physical decentralization and instituti


onal decentralization must always be kept in mind. Time and again excellent prop
osals have been advanced by radicals and even city planners to localize democrac
y in such huge urban entities and literally give greater power to the people, on
ly to be cynically shot down by centralists who invoke physical impediments to s
uch an endeavor.
It confuses the arguments of advocates for decentralization to make institutiona
l decentralization congruent with the physical breakup of such a large entity. T
here is a certain treachery on the part of centralists in making these two very
distinct lines of development identical or entangling them with each other. Libe
rtarian municipalists must always keep the distinction between institutional and
physical decentralization clearly in mind, and recognize that the former is ent
irely achievable even while the latter may take years to attain.
November 3, 1990

Murray Bookchin
A Meditation on Anarchist Ethics
Ulrike Heider, Anarchism: Left, Right, and Green (San Francisco: City Lights Boo
ks, 1994; 153 pages)
In the late winter of 1989, one Ulrike Heider appeared at my home in Burlington,
Vermont, for an interview, armed with a tape recorder, clothing for a weekend v
isit
and apparently a butcher s cleaver, looking for as much blood as she could dr
aw from an unsuspecting victim. Citing an old anarchosyndicalist whom I knew as
a reference and her plan to write a book on American anarchists as her aim, she
was housed, fed, kept warm from the rigors of a Vermont winter, and treated in a
comradely way. She was even taken to a small village, Charlotte, to attend a to
wn meeting, to see how a form of face-to-face democracy functions even under the
restrictions of the centralized American governmental system.
After three or four days of probing and note-taking, expressing a minimal number
of her own opinions, she returned to her home in New York City and proceeded to
write a book in her native German, Die Narren der Freiheit (The Fools of Freedo
m) possibly one of the most malicious, fatuous, and basically immoral books I ha
ve encountered on the left in decades. I say this quite soberly, having experien
ced some most unsavory distortions of my work on the part of deep ecologists, so
cialists, self-styled anarchists, and, of course, the liberal bourgeois press. B
ut seldom have I encountered such blatant character assassination and such delib
erate distortions of ideas
not to speak of her willingness to read German tradit
ions into the American context. This book, alas, has now been translated
with su
itable modifications, additions, and deletions into English under the title Anar
chism: Left, Right, and Green, and has been reviewed by The Guardian in Britain.
I realize that Ulrike Heider has a book and a literary career to market. She als
o professes to be an anarchosyndicalist. How then, one may ask, can she effectiv
ely advance her career? Simple: Defame a relatively well-known anarchist, even u
nder the pretense of praising him in the opening paragraphs. Distort his views f
rom beginning to end, then ignore all passages in his works that contradict the
distortions. Pull his words out of context, even when that context explicitly co
untervails the views that are imputed to him. When a quoted passage contains a s
entence, phrase, or even a single word that fails to conform to the distortion,
remove it and replace it with ellipsis points. Make his peripheral remarks seem
of central importance to his ideas, and give his overarching themes little serio
us treatment or even mention. When quoting him, omit the quotation marks that he
put around potentially misleading words and phrases, and treat his obvious meta
phors as if he intended them literally.

Create specious contradictions where there are none between his various works to
make him seem intellectually unstable and opportunistically contemporary, as thou
gh he often bends with the winds of public opinion. Employ guilt by association
by claiming to find similarities, no matter how tenuous, between his views and t
hose of Oswald Spengler; the proprietarian Murray Rothbard; the late General Bas
tian of the German Green Party; and of course, the Bolsheviks and the Nazis. Min
gle imagined ugly characterizations, often ad hominem in character, with words a
ctually quoted from his writings, so that they all seem to come from his mouth o
r pen. Confuse his critique of New Left Maoism and Stalinism with an embrace of Am
erican nationalism, and his rejection of working-class hegemony in overthrowing ca
pitalism with hatred of the proletariat [ Arbeiterfeindlichkeit in the German origina
l]. Attribute views similarly distorted to his companion, Janet Biehl, even if h
er own words must be tortured out of shape in the process.
Frankly, I find it degrading to have to deal with this kind of polemical sewage. B
ut where someone has made a terrible stink, it is a civic duty to get to its sou
rce and clean it up. This is especially necessary when the sewage has found a pl
ace on the pages of the Guardian, a periodical that is doubtless notorious for i
ts love of anarchists. Hence an overview of her distortions, with some detailed
examples, is very much in order.
But where to start? Having placed the proprietarian disciple of Friedrich Hayek,
Murray Rothbard, in an anarchist pantheon of her own making
despite Rothbard s furi
ous attacks on any alternative to capitalism and naked greed Heider devotes some
eighty pages to the libertarian Left: notably seventeen to her mentor, Sam Dolg
off, nine to Noam Chomsky, and forty-two to me. If Heider s attention seems dispro
portionately directed toward me, its purpose becomes obvious once one enters int
o the bulk of the polemic, particularly her method of critique of ideologies (p. 7
) and her ethics.[1]
Method 1: Give descriptive characterizations that have nothing to do with your s
ubject s actual point of view and use them to immediately prejudice the reader. Ex
ample: Since I describe the ultraleftist Third Period of the Communist Internation
al in the early 1930s of which I was a part as a Young Pioneer and later a membe
r of the Young Communist League (ages 9 to 15) as extremely revolutionary, Heider,
who apparently doesn t know the First from the Second from the Tenth Period in th
e history of the Comintern, blanches with shock. To my surprise, says this breathl
ess voyager into the labyrinth of the Left, this eco-anarchist [Bookchin] critic
of communism painted a remarkably positive picture of the Communist Party of his
day (p. 56). My picture, in fact, was neither positive nor negative but simply des
criptive. Perhaps the better explanation for Heider s surprise is her awesome ignora
nce of Communist history of the 1930s.
Accordingly, anyone who reads Heider with a modicum of knowledge about the Old L
eft may be surprised to learn that it was not until the Hitler-Stalin Pact (which, a
s we know, was concluded in 1939) that the Stalinists became the reformist party
of the Popular Front era (which actually began in 1935). Her chronology, with thi
s four-year omission, thereby erases the ideologically vicious rationale for the
counterrevolutionary role played by the Communist Parties of the world during t
he Spanish Revolution of 1936, a role conducted precisely in the name of the Pop
ular Front. Further, she muddies the issue of the Party s tacit support for the Na
zis between 1939 and 1941, after which Russia was invaded by the Third Reich (pp
. 56 57).
Method 2: Use innuendo. Example: One wonders ... and wonders ... and wonders
Heide
r s favorite phrase, by which she sugarcoats her venom as curiosity. Should a vict
im of Heider s wondering fail to have been an anarchist at birth, let him or her bew
are! If I cite my teenage admiration for Trotsky because he stood alone against S
talin in 1937, Heider climbs upon her high horse in the closing years of the twen
tieth century and maliciously inquires: One might ask, of course, why that hero s

tood alone (p. 58). To those who do not know, be assured that Trotsky did not stan
d alone in 1937 only because he was the butcher of Kronstadt and murderer of anarc
hists, as Heider would have the present generation believe. Apart from a small nu
mber of anarchists and independent leftists, relatively few American radicals kn
ew about Kronstadt or Bolshevik atrocities against anarchists. Trotsky stood alon
e in the late 1930s because Stalin had corralled nearly the entire liberal establ
ishment into collusion with him in the name of his allegedly anti-fascist Popular
Front strategy. The smugness with which Heider looks down from her lofty perch o
f more than a half-century later on a time when the intersecting forces of liber
alism and Stalinism assumed a highly complex form bespeaks an ahistorical arroga
nce of dazzling nerviness. Her curiosity and snippy remarks would make me steam wi
th fury, had I not immunized myself from this kind of trash during my experience
s in the Stalinist movement of the thirties.
Presumably, one must be born an anarchist : indeed, What it was exactly [!] that con
verted [!] Bookchin to anarchism in the early 1960s
actually, in the late 1950s
is
not entirely clear to me, Heider observes with a sniff (p. 59). May I suggest th
at she could have received an answer in detail (my conversion was not a flighty af
fair) if she had asked me personally, when we met, instead of making it into a c
ryptic and possibly sinister mystery in her book.
Method 3: There is always a way of establishing that your subject is a nationalis
t
if he is American, possibly by overhearing him or her whistle Yankee Doodle. Exam
ple: This is one of Heider s most treasured methods of slander. Bookchin did not at
that time [during the late 1960s] expound Americanism, writes Heider in an insid
iously tantalizing manner, as though I ever expounded Americanism at any time (p.
59, emphasis added). What Heider is referring to is my opposition within Student
s for a Democratic Society (SDS) to its largely pro-Maoist leadership. Having pl
anted this toxic little seed in the mind of the reader, Heider later drops to al
l fours and howls nationalism at me because I suggest that in the United States it
is important for the Left to build on American, specifically Vermont, face-to-f
ace democratic traditions (in contrast to the centralist and statist Maoist noti
ons of the 1960s) in order to establish some meaningful contact with the general
public, even the proletariat. No one would have accused Friedrich Engels of bei
ng a nationalist for invoking the radical traditions of the German people in his f
amous The Peasant War or Bakunin for invoking the radical implications of the co
llectivist mir, which he associated with traditional forms of Russian peasant la
ndownership. But Bookchin? Heaven forbid!
Method 4: Play the race and the Third World cards! They seldom fail. Example: Unlik
e Dolgoff and Chomsky, Heider writes, ... Bookchin never seems to have been intere
sted in the issues of race or the Third World (p. 59, emphasis added). How the he
ll does she know? Did she query me about my activities in the Congress of Racial
Equality during the early 1960s? Or my work as a shop steward in a predominantl
y African-American iron foundry? Or my work in the Puerto Rican community in New
York s Lower East Side? Did she share my jail cells when I was arrested for civil
rights activities during the 1960s? As for the Third World, perhaps I should have
demonstrated my concern for it by supporting Fidel Castro, as so many of Sam Dol
goff s confreres in the anarchist Libertarian League did. Or perhaps I should have
cheered for Ho Chi Minh, as so many anarchists of Heider s generation did. Or per
haps I should have sagaciously quoted from Mao s infamous Little Red Book, as so m
any anarchosyndicalists were then doing.
Method 5: Consider every change in theory to be evidence of fickleness and insta
bility, rather than the development of ideas over the course of time, and overtl
y or implicitly accuse your subject of trying to court popularity under new soci
al conditions. Example: At the end of the 1960s, [b]urned out by the big city, Hei
der writes, Bookchin moved into his yellow house in Burlington (p. 60). Sinister!
a retreat to the rural world of Vermont! In fact, I was not burned out by the big
city, and I departed for Vermont very reluctantly, mainly because much of the Ne

w York Left, including key members of my Anarchos affinity group, had debarked v
ariously for Vermont, California, and all points of the compass after the collap
se of the New Left in the city.
Moreover, because I tentatively supported a self-styled socialist, Bernard Sanders
, during his first term as mayor of Burlington, and tried unsuccessfully to win
him over to a libertarian municipalist position, Heider now snidely writes that
I now prefer to overlook this terrifying error. How would she have known about thi
s oversight if I hadn t told her about it, with self-critical amusement? That I subs
equently became Sanders s most vigorous left-wing opponent for a decade, writing s
harply critical articles on him, remains unmentioned in her book, despite the fa
ct that I discussed it with her in detail. Heider, needless to emphasize, regard
s all of this as evidence that I turned [my] back on urban activism and that At eac
h juncture [which?] Bookchin attacks former colleagues and friends [who?], espouse
s new theories ... [with a] kind of flexibility [that] makes him seem the exact
opposite of such anarchists as Dolgoff and Chomsky, whose political positions ha
ve remained consistently rock solid (p. 61). Really! I never knew that anarchism
was a rock solid dogma or that the development of ideas in the face of changing co
nditions was apostasy! If development is to be dismissed as flexibility, then I gl
adly plead guilty.
Method 6: When all else fails, blatantly misrepresent your subject s work and view
point, tossing in a few more innuendoes for extras. Example: Heider says, withou
t mentioning names, that I have declared the classic authors of the anarchist wor
kers movement to be representatives of the libertarian municipal tradition of [my]
own historical construct (p. 64). I have never declared such a thing, although I
have pointed out that Bakunin supported the participation of anarchists in muni
cipal elections, and that Bakunin and Kropotkin saw the commune or municipality
as the locus of a libertarian society.
But here Heider cannot resist the opportunity to compound a blatant falsehood wi
th one of her innuendoes: the theoretical proximity of [libertarian municipalism]
to the ideology of the [prefascist and quasi-fascist, as she puts it in a footn
ote] Volksgemeinschaft cannot be overlooked (p. 64). Such an innuendo could apply
quite lavishly to the communal orientation of Proudhon, Bakunin, and Kropotkin
indeed, to exponents of every form of social anarchism that is not fervently com
mitted to the factory-oriented libertarian theories of anarchosyndicalism. With
ignorance infused by venom, Heider must add that I suffer from nostalgia, nationa
lism [!], and disavowal [!] of the labor movement
this last a flippant misreading
of my disavowal of the theory of proletarian hegemony, a largely Marxist notion
to which Heider seems to adhere.
Thereafter, Heider lets another person, Howard Hawkins, speak for me as though h
is words were my own despite the fact that I expressed strong public differences
with Hawkins years before the English translation of her book appeared. What sh
e cannot impute to me directly, she imputes to me through someone whose views, u
nknown to her readers, I have been obliged to criticize. In fact, it is Hawkins
who has changed his views by supporting participation in state and national elec
tions
but it is I whom Heider considers politically fickle.
Method 7: Caricature the person you are attacking, and then mock him for being t
he caricature you have created. Example: Heider was taken to visit the annual to
wn meeting in rural Charlotte, Vermont, which is composed of ordinary working pe
ople, farmers, and a scattering of professionals, all neatly dressed for a speci
al occasion. Heider, with incredible arrogance, apparently cast her Olympian eye
s over the lily-white meeting and with unerring instinct knew to be the most conser
vative ... I have ever attended in the US. No one there, she assures her readers,
would have responded positively to a proposal to end capitalism or to fight for eq
ual rights for African-Americans (p. 67).

After the meeting, when Heider returned to my home and asked me why no people of
color had been there, I informed her of the simple statistical fact that Vermon
t is the whitest state in the United States (over 99 percent)
a simple bit of fact
ual information that Heider wilfully decided I approve of, making my remark inco
ntrovertibly racist (pp. 67, 68). Responding to such an allegation is beneath co
ntempt. In fact, Vermont is not only one of the whitest states in the United State
s, it is also one of the poorest. Nor are Vermonters in the habit of raising bla
ck and red flags, generating insurrections against capitalism, or any more than
most young leftists I encounter today, singing the Internationale. But its town me
etings have done a good deal more than meetings in many places in the world to b
elie Heider s comparison (in the German edition of her book) of Charlotte citizens
with supporters of the Christian Democratic Union.
For example: in 1982, the Charlotte town meeting, together with scores of other
Vermont town meetings, voted for a freeze on the production of nuclear weapons i
n the United States. This step led directly to the American nuclear freeze movem
ent. Like other Vermont town meetings, Charlotte s has vigorously supported the ri
ghts of gays, women, and people of color. It voted overwhelmingly for a Jewish w
oman of Swiss birth to be governor of Vermont, and for the self-styled socialist S
anders to be the state s lone congressman. It generally supports the most decent a
nd humanitarian measures that are raised in Vermont town meetings. Nor is Charlo
tte plagued by skinheads who beat up immigrants and celebrate the birthday of Hi
tler in its taverns. Christian Democrats? Please, madam, learn the facts or else
desist from commenting.
Yes, I celebrate the remaining revolutionary traditions of Vermont, fragmentary
as they may be, and I do not hesitate to tell residents of the United States tha
t they are worth retaining and developing. Nor do I take it amiss that Bakunin a
nd Kropotkin celebrated what they took to be Russia s democratic town traditions,
nor that the Spanish anarchists took great pride in the radical traditions of th
e Iberian peninsula. May I add that I also celebrate Greek rationalism, philosop
hy, art, mathematics, and certain political achievements, which hardly makes me
a Greek nationalist, and many aspects of the German philosophical and cultural t
radition, which hardly makes me a German nationalist.
Method 8: When your subject uses words that might contradict the image you are t
rying to create of him, a bit of creative editing of his words can be helpful. E
xample: Two illustrations from the original German edition of Heider s book are st
riking cases in point here. First: In Die Narren der Freiheit, during her discus
sion of my essay Listen, Marxist! Heider remarks, From his critique of neo-Bolshevi
k caricatures of the worker and from his lament for the reformist integration of
the class struggle, Bookchin made a confusing leap of thought to a critique of
workers and class struggle as such. [2] This leap would be confusing only to those w
ho demagogically insert such a leap into my work. Let me emphasize that the leap app
ears only in Heider s mind, not in that or any other essay I ever wrote.
Yet Heider goes on to quote from Listen, Marxist! a passage in which I called it r
eactionary to reinforce the traditional class struggle by imputing a revolutionary
content to it [3]
but she coolly removes the words I have italicized here and leav
es the reader to believe that I am opposed to class struggle as such. In the pre
sent English translation of her book, Heider has corrected these quotations. (Pr
obably not coincidentally
these were points that I specifically objected to in a
criticism I wrote of her German book in 1992, published in the German anarchist
periodical Schwarzer Faden.) Nevertheless, even in the present English version,
she asserts to the English reader that I think class struggle is the root of all e
vil (p. 73).
Second: In the German edition Heider quotes a passage from my book Urbanization
Without Cities in which I included trade unions as among the types of organizati
ons that anarchists believe to constitute the social. Apparently leaving the word

union in the quoted sentence would have contradicted her image of me as bearing
a deep enmity toward the working class. To rectify this situation, she tells her
German readers that Bookchin describes the concept of the social as encompassing
the family, workplace, fraternal and sororal groups, religious congregations ...
and professional societies . [4] Although her ellipsis points may have ecologically
saved a millimeter or two of space on the page, it must have required a sturdy
willfulness on her part to use them to replace only one word
union! Again, on pa
ge 85 of the English edition she restores the word union to this quotation, but
it is likely not coincidental that this was another point to which I specificall
y objected in my criticism of the German edition.
Moreover, I have long argued that capitalism has greatly developed, perhaps over
developed, the vast technological bases for abundance or a post-scarcity society
a
nd I have also clearly emphasized that capitalism itself stands in the way of us
ing its technology for human good. Heider confuses the necessary conditions for
a post-scarcity society with its sufficient conditions. In her own inimitable wo
rds: Bookchin says that economic need is no longer a problem (p. 73). But that thi
s were so! That we could have a sufficiency in the means of life if capitalism w
ere removed is cynically transformed into the notion that we do presently have a
sufficiency in the means of life even under capitalism. Need I emphasize that c
apitalism is based precisely on enforced scarcity, without which a profit system
would be impossible? That Heider does not seem to understand this fact unfortun
ately reveals her ignorance not only of radical theory but of the very historical
materialism that she invokes against me, as we shall see.
So who is it, in Heider s view, that I hold really to blame for capitalism (p. 73, e
mphasis added)? It is the working class, says Heider, since I wrote in Listen, Marx
ist! that a precondition for the existence of the bourgeoisie is the development o
f the proletariat. Capitalism as a social system presupposes the existence of bo
th classes (p. 73).[5] The truism that wage-labor cannot exist without capital an
y more than capital can exist without wage labor is transformed, in Heider s everpuzzled mind, into a potentially reactionary assertion: Is [Bookchin] saying that
it may have been a mistake to try to unseat the bourgeoisie?
That the interrelationship between wage labor and capital is a concept that was
developed in the socialist and anarchist movements of the last century seems to
totally elude her. But (Heider tells her readers) for Bookchin, class struggle be
comes the root of all [!] evil
which is Heider s unique interpretation of the basic
radical concept that class society as such is one-sided and the class struggle
that it generates is symptomatic of its diseased condition. This is a view that
is traditional to all radical theories that wish to abolish class society and th
ereby the class struggle itself. One might think that Heider would have understo
od this basic idea before she undertook to write about social theory
or would th
at be asking too much?
Apparently it would, since my reminder to Marxists that the history of the class
struggle is the history of a disease, of the wounds opened by the famous social q
uestion, becomes in Heider s contorted mind a condemnation of the struggle by oppres
sed classes as such. Precisely because I regard class society as a disease, inde
ed, as evidence of humanity s one-sided development, Heider, who reads with her fi
st rather than her brain, suggests that I want to retain the bourgeoisie (again:
Is he saying it might have been a mistake to unseat the bourgeoisie? ) and suggest
s that I think the proletariat [should] have been booted out first. Let the reader
not think that I have made up a word of this! These coarse formulations appear
in all their splendor on page 73 of Heider s warped and sick book.
Method 9: Try throwing everything up for grabs and run wild in whatever directio
n you can. If you pile up enough distortions, some of them are bound to be accep
ted. Examples: Like many Marxists and anarchist alike, I admire much of work of
Charles Fourier. If you are Ulrike Heider, however, you will trot out only the a

bsurdities that this remarkable but wildly imaginative utopian presented and imp
ute them to me (p. 69). Do I advance the principle of unity in diversity in my eco
logical writings? Splendid! Heider simply denigrates diversity and variety as an ol
d liberal [pluralistic] postulate (p. 70). Do I cite prey and predators as means of
stabilizing animal populations? Dangerous ground, this, Heider exclaims, that cou
ld lead to social-Darwinist conclusions about population control (p. 70) as though
I were not a militant opponent of attempts to deal with population as a mere nu
mbers game. Indeed, living as I apparently do in a fog of utopian promise for my a
dvocacy of decentralized communities and ecologically sound practices, I am guil
ty of advancing a daring blueprint for techno-utopia in my 1965 essay Towards a Lib
eratory Technology, when only a few months earlier [I] had been so opposed to tech
nology
a contradiction for which she adduces not a single line of support from my
writings (p. 71). Because I draw on aspects of the past to offer alternatives f
or the future, my vacillation between past and future is more extreme than Kropot
kin s
whose vacillation, presumably, is pretty bad (p. 72).
Method 10: If all else fails lie. Example: In the introduction to my book, The S
panish Anarchists (written in 1972 or thereabouts and published in 1977), roughl
y three paragraphs allude to certain cultural similarities between the Spanish m
ovement and the 1960s counterculture. On page 59 I described the efforts of the
Spanish movement to combat alcoholism and sexual promiscuity among its members i
n order to prevent the degradation that had historically occurred among working
people in all periods of industrialization as traditional social relations were
eroded and as was occurring in Spain itself. This is a fairly standard observati
on that appears in all accounts of Spanish syndicalism in the last century. But
Heider smells countercultural heresy here, and all her alarm bells go off. I am, i
t appears, most [!] impressed by the Spanish anarchists who took up vegetarianism
, anti-alcoholism, nudism, and ecological gardening, she declaims. My heart warms
to the communalist-localist village anarchists and their clan-consciousness and t
o the Iberian Anarchist Federation s (FAI) grupos afinidad [sic], rather than to tho
se who were organized in unions or workers councils [sic] (p. 90).
That most of the 325 pages of The Spanish Anarchists are devoted to detailed des
criptions of various peasant and working-class sindicatos, their organizational
forms, their strikes, their insurrections, and their daily struggles totally eva
porates from Heider s description of the book. Indeed, her readers learn that Book
chin sees the entire FAI (Federaci n Anarchista [sic!] Iberia [sic!] as a consolida
tion of affinity groups, all of which was structured around affinity groups, and
that I see the climax [!] of the Spanish Revolution [!] as the CNT congress in Zara
gossa, at which the utopian faction [!] of the anarcho-syndicalists won the day,
as Heider writes with a minimal knowledge of Spanish spelling or of the Spanish
movement. In fact, the Zaragoza Congress of the National Confederation of Labor
(CNT), of early May 1936, occurred some two months before the outbreak of the ci
vil war, and its work is hardly exhausted by the word utopian. The congress, in
fact, readmitted the reformist Treintistas, many of whom were to reinforce the c
onciliatory policies of the CNT leadership toward the State and the bourgeoisie
as the war went on.
Worse still: Here Bookchin is in agreement with the utopian Malatesta, for whom t
he unionist version of anarcho-syndicalism is a defection from pure anarchism. Fol
lowing the argument of the historian Vernon Richards, which was bitterly challen
ged by Sam Dolgoff, Bookchin interprets the CNT s wavering between revolution and
compromise with historical reality [!] as reformist Realpolitik (p. 90). As it tu
rned out, in the years following the civil war, the majority of the CNT itself f
inally decided that its greatest blunder had been exactly this reformist Realpol
itik. Put bluntly, Heider has literally described anarchism as a utopian fantasy i
f it is not rooted in a crude economistic syndicalism, and gallingly dismisses a
ny anarchist theorist or vision of a libertarian society that is not oriented ov
erwhelmingly toward factories and trade unions!

I have cited these methods and examples primarily to show the ethical level on which
Heider functions. There are more, and still more, and more after that. There is
her claim that I have discarded social revolution for cultural revolution, as t
hough the two were radically incompatible with each other (pp. 73 74). There is he
r accusation that I think that the capitalist bourgeoisie [sic] has the ability t
o deal with crises and class struggle and that classes within capitalist society
will disappear
a nonsequitur if there ever was one (p. 74, emphasis added). Ther
e is her complete failure to comprehend the difference between the potentiality
for an ethics in natural evolution and the absurd notion that nature itself is e
thical, a view that she tries to attribute to me (pp. 76 77). There is her imputat
ion that I regard human beings as passive in relation nature, which is precisely the
view of many deep ecologists, who I have been challenging for more than a decad
e on precisely this point (p. 77). There is her caricature of my view that mater
nal love gives a child a rational sense of otherness. In Heider s tunnel vision th
is is evidence that I consider the mother-child symbiosis to be an ideal and a perm
anent condition of inequality, helplessness, and power, marked by the passive-exploi
tative greed of the infant and the omnipotence of the mother over her helpless o
ffspring as an eternal, unalterable condition! (p. 77). Heider s exclamation mark d
oes not help me understand who is dominating whom here whether the omnipotent moth
er or the exploitive infant. In any case, both are pitted in eternal mutual combat
.
Dare I invoke the simple anthropological datum that the kinship tie and what Hei
der calls Stone Age women played a pivotal role in prehistory, and Heider, chilled t
o the bone, declares that such formulations in their German translation have a fr
ighteningly familiar [read: Nazi M.B] ring (p. 79). Dare I suggest that band or t
ribal elders formed the earliest type of hierarchy, ages ago, because of their p
hysical vulnerability, and Heider worries that this
yes, you guessed it
could lea
d the naive reader to believe that euthanasia might be useful (p. 80)! Be warned
that Heider is deeply concerned that my emphasis on usufruct in organic society
a word whose meaning she appears not to understand deplorably suggests that I rej
ect Engel s [sic!] version of original communism because it allegedly [!] includes
the ideas [sic!] of collective property
not only a dazzling nonsequitur but a gr
otesque miscomprehension of my views (emphasis added, p. 81).
Apparently, our anarchosyndicalist has quite a vulgar, economistic Marxist dimensi
on. As though we were all sitting adoringly at the feet of Ernest Mandel, Heider
cries that I distort Marx when I suggest that (in her paraphrase) he proposed to
subject nature to man in the manner of a patriarch, thus despiritualizing not o
nly labor, but also the product of labor, the commodity (p. 81). The word patriar
ch here, I may add, was spun out of Heider s head, not out of mine, as is the crud
e formulation she imputes to Marx. Dare I suggest that work or labor would be pla
yful in a free society
that is, an aesthetic activity and I am immediately charac
terized as steeped in a utopian imagination
a notion that seems to cause Heider to
retch. We are even treated to a largely incoherent defense of Marx that reveals
a bumbling level of economic understanding. Thus, Heider declares that I ontolog
ize the commodity and its essence, that is, its utility [read: use] value (p. 82),
which, of course, would turn it from a commodity into a functionally useful obje
ct! Put in simple English, this means that I want to fight for a society that pr
oduces goods to meet human needs ( utility value ), not commodities that yield profi
ts. Exactly what the rest of the verbiage in Heider s critique is supposed to mean,
I am obliged to leave to her and to Sam Dolgoff, her mentor on anarchism, who is
now, alas, beyond our mortal reach.
Having suggested that I believe that elderly people (presumably including myself
) should commit suicide, I am also a strong advocate of inequality because I wri
te that the notion of justice is based on the false equality of unequals. This is an
inequality that is physically and socially created, let me emphasize, and that
either unavoidably exists from person to person because of physical infirmities
from one stage of life to another and/or is imposed by hierarchical and class ru

le. This condition, I go on to emphasize, must be remedied by the realm of Freed


om, creating a substantive equality of unequals. Alas, Heider never cites this con
trast: It is enough for her that I dared acknowledge the existence of inequality
of any kind, irrespective of the need to rectify it in a rational society. Any t
heory [!] of inequality,
she declaims, whether in the name of liberation or feminism
, whether justified by notions of diversity or complementarity, is intrinsically und
emocratic and beats a path straight to the political right (p. 91).
I am not at all sure I know what Heider is talking about. Does she really think
we are all really equally strong, healthy, wealthy, and powerful, as legal fiction
would have it, in this presumably just but eminently unfree society? Are we to im
pose upon ill, elderly, and weak persons the same social responsibilities that w
e impose on healthy, young, and strong persons? Anyone today who defended such a
notion of justice
whether they called themselves socialist, anarchist or liberal
reformist
would indeed be on the political right. In a society based on the ideo
logy of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, with their indifference to human su
ffering precisely in the name of juridical equality, no attempt would be made to e
qualize the differences that burden the very young, the very old, the disabled,
the ill, and so on.
Still further: In my book, The Ecology of Freedom, Heider writes, capitalism is n
either mentioned nor criticized and anarchism is discussed only as a negative exam
ple of what we don t want
a pair of blatant fabrications whose inclusion in Heider s
book must surely rest on her hope that her readers will never examine my book. I
ndeed, from an espouser of utopias, I turn into a committed advocate of negative
liberty. Heider, it would seem, is totally indifferent to the fact that I discu
ss the nature of a future society in considerable detail in the last two chapter
s of the book.
As to my writings on the city, the farrago of distortions, misstatements, and wh
ole fabrications that mark her discussion are too dizzying to examine in detail.
Heider says I banish ... the city from the history of ideas (p. 85)
even though I
have written several books on cities, including Urbanization Without Cities, a
massively historical as well as interpretive defense of the city against urbaniz
ation. Thus it would appear that I am a ruralist pure and simple. That I examine
in detail in Urbanization Without Cities the historical development of various
liberatory traditions in cities gives her occasion to mockingly paraphrase its m
essage as Long live the past! (p. 83). The reader learns that my view of history i
s idealistic largely because I challenge Marx s historical materialism (p. 84). Moreov
er, I make little more than a half-hearted attempt to criticize Athenian misogyny,
xenophobia, and slavery (p. 85); and I allude to the noble ancestry of Greek democr
ats an allusion that Heider turns into a stress and that obviously means that I fa
vor aristocracy (p. 85). I seem ... to identify [!] with Aristotle s horror of the r
ule of the many over the few or even of the poor over the wealthy
(p. 85) simply bec
ause I mention those notions hence I am against democracy and favor oligarchy, t
he rich, and presumably patriarchy. Indeed, I need only mention a thinker and di
scuss his or her ideas and Heider feels free to attribute them to me.
The quagmire of Heider s dishonesty seems almost too limitless to plumb. Having un
burdened herself of these totally contrived falsehoods; having suggested that I
think the elderly should be put to death; that I consider the working class to b
e the real source of present-day social problems; that I abandon Marx s historical
materialism (God forgive me!); that I favor the rich over the poor
Heider then go
es on to apprise her readers that my urban ideal is the village (p. 87); that I des
pise industry more than industrial exploitation (p. 87); and that my model is the
tribe, village, handicrafts, small trade [!], small capitalism [!] (p. 87). Once
again we hear Heider repeat the refrain whenever she comes across views of mine
that diverge from Marx s: One cannot help but be reminded of the caste particularis
m of the fascists, their differentiation between working capital and greedy capi
tal, their glorification of the past, and their moralistic vision. (Emphasis added

, p. 88)
Let us, then, reverse Heider s distortions and opine in Heiderian fashion: One cann
ot help but be reminded that Heider is an economic determinist, that she regards
the loving relationship between mother and child as exploitative, that she beli
eves in the domination of nature, that she wants to ignore the lessons of the past
, and that she has no moral vision at all. I will leave it to the reader to tally
up the vulgarity and viciousness of her criticism
and her unspeakable demagoguery
.
In fact, Ulrike Heider s political ideas, as I have already suggested, seem to be
guided by a vulgar Marxism, which she tries to defend in the name of anarchosynd
icalism. Indeed: I am influenced by the method of critique of ideologies as it wa
s first developed Marx s The German Ideology, she writes in her English introductio
n, in which he revealed the false consciousness of his contemporaries and explain
ed it out of the objective historical situation
which situation, for Marx and Engel
s (who also had a big hand in the book) was largely economistic. To drag in virt
ually all the leading figures of the Frankfurt School as further influences on h
erself, plus Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, and Karl Korsch is to make a mocke
ry of a brilliant albeit disparate body of thinkers. Considering the low level o
f Heider s criticism, I would regard her invocation of their names as a pure prete
ntion.
Heider essentially disposes of Noam Chomsky in some nine perfunctory pages, larg
ely filled with biographical and, more warily, with a few theoretical synopses.
Poor chap: he is, in Heider s eyes, a fellow traveler of anarcho-syndicalism. (p. 37
) Which disposes of Chomsky. Her enormously overwritten account of the proprieta
rians or anarcho-capitalists, on the other hand, seems like nothing more than fill
er material. Her tract would seem like little more than a diatribe against me if
she did not add on nearly sixty pages to give it book length. Having known Murr
ay Rothbard, the centerpiece of her account, for a time, I find that I agree wit
h Sam Dolgoff, who Heider quotes, that he and his ideas are repulsive. Although Ro
thbard eschews any anarchist orientation whatever (he even attacked me as an ana
rchist with vigor because, as he put it, I am opposed to private property), Heid
er tells us that he is viewed in anarcho-capitalist circles [which?] as the lates
t addition to their hall of fame
which includes, I suppose, such anarchists as the
Austrian School of laissez-faire economics and that avowed paragon of selfishness
, Ayn Rand. Thereafter, Heider fills page after page with clumsy disquisitions on
Max Stirner, Benjamin Tucker, Carl Menger, F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and g
reater and lesser heirs of Adam Smith. Thus the book, having filled enough pages t
o qualify as more than a mere pamphlet, can now be unleashed on the public with
a fetching and basically misleading title.
One may reasonably wonder which tried, fast, and unswerving anarchists Heider ac
tually does admire. After all, she disposes of Malatesta as a utopian (p. 90); of
Fourier as a quack, often comically naive (p. 91); and of Kropotkin as a queasy vac
illator. Let it not be said, however, that Heider is without heroes. The looming
figure in Heider s book is really Sam Dolgoff, a man I knew well from 1965 to 1976
. I helped him prepare his book on Bakunin after he despaired that he would neve
r be able to publish it, and I personally presented it with a strong recommendat
ion to my editor, Angus Cameron, of Alfred A. Knopf, which did publish it.[6] I
should add that it was I who suggested that Dolgoff edit a book on the Spanish c
ollectives (he initially wanted to write an account of Bakunin s relationship with
Nechayev), and I wrote the preface for it, which he then censored because I exp
ressed my disagreement with the CNT s entry into the Madrid government.[7]
In Heider s book, many of Dolgoff s more ungracious attitudes resurface in her treat
ment of the Spanish anarchists, as well as Malatesta, and Vernon Richards (whom
Dolgoff detested for his criticism of the Bakunin book and of the CNT-FAI s entry
into the Madrid and Catalan governments in 1936). Inasmuch as Dolgoff is no long

er with us, it would be unfair to criticize him for views that he cannot persona
lly defend. In fact, despite her admiration for him, Heider essentially reduces
Dolgoff to a crusty schoolteacher who grades anarchists from Bakunin to Isaac Puen
te (a man largely unknown outside of Spain) on the degree to which they were real
istic syndicalists rather than utopian anarchists. In Heider s eyes, Dolgoff suffered
from only one major failing: he shared the counterculture s romance with Native Am
erican tribalism (p. 36), which she coolly extrapolates from the fact that Dolgof
f hoped that Third World peoples would not abandon the more cooperative features o
f tribal life. In all fairness to Dolgoff, I believe this to be either a typical
Heider distortion or else an example of her fatuousness.
More disquieting is the favorable account she gives to Dolgoff s political pragmat
ism which, if accurate, would be very disturbing. She glows as she observes that
Dolgoff prefers [!] antifascism to principled adherence to dogma (p. 29)
that is,
to revolution as though conducting a revolution in Spain in 1936 39 were in contr
adiction to the struggle against the Francoists, as the Stalinists were to claim
. He regarded it as a malicious defamation, she observes approvingly, to accuse th
e CNT leadership of discarding its anarchosyndicalist principles when it entered
the Madrid and Catalan governments and the FAI of turning into an expressly ele
ctoral party machine (p. 29). She invokes the old canard, which she imputes to h
im, that the takeover of Barcelona and much of Catalonia by the CNT s rank-and-fil
e militants could be equated to establishing an anarchist dictatorship (p. 29), pr
esumably comparable to the top-down party dictatorship established by the Bolshe
viks as if the CNT-FAI had not relinquished power won by its rank-and-file in Ca
talonia to the thoroughly discredited State, increasingly infiltrated by the Sta
linist minority in the country (p. 29). Dolgoff, Heider proudly tells us, suppor
ted American participation in the Second World War as a necessary evil for destro
ying Nazi rule and was puzzled how liberal academics like George Woodcock or anarc
hists purists like Marcus Graham ... could be so relentless in their opposition
to the war (p. 28). If all of these compromises with the State are necessary, the
n why bother to be an anarchist at all? Throughout the twentieth century, nearly
all the lesser evils that Heider says Dolgoff adopted were palmed off by Social D
emocrats as excuses for reformist practices.
In fact, Dolgoff, we learn from Heider, was the last anarchist. She finds him to b
e a man who never wavers as he sails between the Scylla of anarchist nostalgia an
d the Charybdis of anarcho-futuristic daydreams, always arriving back into safe
harbor (p. 37). Perhaps but I doubt if Dolgoff would have chosen to be shipwrecke
d on the rocks of Heider s extremely crude pragmatism, which is no different from
the most opportunistic practices of the German Greens
all her professions of ana
rchosyndicalism to the contrary notwithstanding.
But now that the last anarchist is no longer alive, one wonders (to use a Heider lit
erary stylism) how anarchism can possibly survive. Indeed, how qualified is Heid
er to judge who is an anarchist past, present, or future? An overall view of Hei
der s book indicates clearly that it combines a crude economistic Marxism with an
extremely narrow-minded syndicalism, in which a future, presumably rational soci
ety would be structured around mere trade unions and factory operations. There i
s every reason to believe that the word anarchism, with its historic commitment
to the confederation of municipalities
the famous Commune of communes
is in her ey
es completely utopian and that she merely hijacks the word to add color and pedigr
ee to her simplistic trade-unionism
a world that, by her own admission to me, sh
e personally knows little about.
Finally, and by no means unimportantly, one wonders as well what happened to ethic
s along the way especially among radicals who profess to be antiauthoritarian, e
thical socialists. Herein lies a question that is worth meditating upon today, e
specially when so many self-styled anarchists lie, distort, and edit ideas with
moral standards comparable to those of junk bond dealers and corporate raiders.

September 27, 1994


[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all page numbers cited at the end of quotations
herein refer to the English translation of Heider s book.
[2] Von der Kritik an der neobolschewistischen Karrikatur des Arbeiters und der K
lage ueber die reformistische Integration des Klassenkampfes macht Bookchin eine
n verwirrenden Gedankensprung hin zur Kritik des Arbeiters und des Klassenkampfe
s schlechthin. Ulrike Heider, Die Narren der Freiheit (Berlin: Karin Kramer Verla
g, 1992), p. 90. All references to the German edition are henceforth indicated b
y NDF, followed by the page number.
[3] For the original passage in Listen, Marxist! , see Murray Bookchin, Post-Scarci
ty Anarchism (Berkeley: Ramparts Press, 1971; republished by Montreal: Black Ros
e Books, 1986). It appears on page 186 of this book
and not on page 208, contrar
y to Heider s footnote, one of several erroneous page citations.
[4] Bookchins Beschreibung des Sozialen bezieht sich auf Familie, Arbeitsplatz, br
uederliche und schwesterliche Gruppen, Religionsvereinigung ... und Berufsorgani
sationen , in NDF, p. 105. The passage she quotes is from my The Rise of Urbanizati
on and the Decline of Citizenship, republished in Canada as Urbanization Without
Cities (Montreal: Black Rose Books), p. 32.
[5] Although Heider tells us this quote comes from page 242 of Post-Scarcity Ana
rchism, it is actually found on page 220.
[6] Sam Dolgoff, ed., Bakunin on Anarchy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971).
[7] Sam Dolgoff, ed., The Anarchist Collectives: Workers Self-management in the S
panish Revolution, 1936 39 (New York: Free Life Editions, 1974; republished by Mon
treal: Black Rose Books). I should add that all this publishing activity happene
d after the old Libertarian League, to which we had both belonged in the mid-196
0s, dissolved and Dolgoff found himself in a political limbo, even offering to t
urn over the correspondence of the defunct League to my Anarchos group. Still, w
e had political differences from the very day I joined the Libertarian League (i
n 1965), to its self-dissolution and long afterward. Thus it was not because of
our political disagreements that Dolgoff and I parted company, as I believe he say
s in his memoirs. Quite to the contrary, we retained a very close relationship w
ell into the 1970s. His account of our relationship in his memoirs is simply fal
se.

Murray Bookchin
Society and Ecology
The problems which many people face today in defining themselves, in knowing who th
ey are
problems that feed a vast psychotherapy industry are by no means personal
ones. These problems exist not only for private individuals; they exist for mode
rn society as a whole. Socially, we live in desperate uncertainty about how peop
le relate to each other. We suffer not only as individuals from alienation and c
onfusion over our identities and goals; our entire society, conceived as a singl
e entity, seems unclear about its own nature and sense of direction. If earlier
societies tried to foster a belief in the virtues of cooperation and caring, the
reby giving an ethical meaning to social life, modern society fosters a belief i
n the virtues of competition and egotism, thereby divesting human association of
all meaning except, perhaps, as an instrument for gain and mindless consumption
.

We tend to believe that men and women of earlier times were guided by firm belie
fs and hopes
values that defined them as human beings and gave purpose to their
social lives. We speak of the Middle Ages as an Age of Faith or the Enlightenment
as an Age of Reason. Even the pre-World War II era and the years that followed it
seem like an alluring time of innocence and hope, despite the Great Depression a
nd the terrible conflicts that stained it. As an elderly character in a recent,
rather sophisticated, espionage movie put it what he missed about his younger ye
ars during World War II were their clarity
a sense of purpose and idealism that gu
ided his behaviour.
That clarity, today, is gone. It has been replaced by ambiguity. The certainty tha
t technology and science would improve the human condition is mocked by the prol
iferation of nuclear weapons, by massive hunger in the Third World, and by pover
ty in the First World. The fervent belief that liberty would triumph over tyrann
y is belied by the growing centralization of states everywhere and by the disemp
owerment of people by bureaucracies, police forces, and sophisticated surveillan
ce techniques in our democracies no less than in visibly authoritarian countries.
The hope that we would form one world, a vast community of disparate ethnic groups
that would share their resources to improve life everywhere, has been shattered
by a rising tide of nationalism, racism, and an unfeeling parochialism that fos
ters indifference to the plight of millions.
We believe that our values are worse than those held by people of only two or th
ree generations ago. The present generation seems more self-centred, privatized,
and mean-spirited by comparison with earlier ones. It lacks the support systems
provided by the extended family, community, and a commitment to mutual aid. The
encounter of the individual with society seems to occur through cold bureaucrat
ic agencies rather than warm, caring people.
This lack of social identity and meaning is all the more stark in the face of th
e mounting problems that confront us. War is a chronic condition of our time; ec
onomic uncertainty, an all-pervasive presence; human solidarity, a vaporous myth
. Not least of the problems we encounter are nightmares of an ecological apocaly
pse a catastrophic breakdown of the systems that maintain the stability of the p
lanet. We live under the constant threat that the world of life will be irrevoca
bly undermined by a society gone mad in its need to grow
replacing the organic b
y the inorganic, soil by concrete, forest by barren earth, and the diversity of
life-forms by simplified ecosystems; in short, a turning back of the evolutionar
y clock to an earlier, more inorganic, mineralized world that was incapable of s
upporting complex life-forms of any kind, including the human species.
Ambiguity about our fate, meaning, and purpose thus raises a rather startling qu
estion: is society itself a curse, a blight on life generally? Are we any better
for this new phenomenon called civilization that seems to be on the point of dest
roying the natural world produced over millions of years of organic evolution.
An entire literature has emerged which has gained the attention of millions of r
eaders: a literature that fosters a new pessimism toward civilization as such. T
his literature pits technology against a presumably virginal organic nature; citie
s against countryside; countryside against wilderness ; science against a reverence
or life; reason against the innocence of intuition; and, indeed, humanity against
the entire biosphere.
We show signs of losing faith in all our uniquely human abiliti
our ability to l
ive in peace with each other, our ability to care for our fellow beings and othe
r life-forms. This pessimism is fed daily by sociobiologists who locate our fail
ings in our genes, by antihumanists who deplore our antinatural sensibilities, and
by biocentrists who downgrade our rational qualities with notions that we are no
different in our intrinsic worth than ants. In short, we are witnessing a widespre

ad assault against the ability of reason, science, and technology to improve the
world for ourselves and life generally.
The historic theme that civilization must inevitably be pitted against nature, i
ndeed, that it is corruptive of human nature, has surfaced in our midst from the
days that reach back to Rousseau
this, precisely at a time when our need for a
truly human and ecological civilization has never been greater if we are to resc
ue our planet and ourselves. Civilization, with its hallmarks of reason and tech
nics, is viewed increasingly as a new blight. Even more basically, society as a
phenomenon in its own right is being questioned so much so that its role as inte
gral to the formation of humanity is seen as something harmfully unnatural and inh
erently destructive.
Humanity, in effect, is being defamed by human beings themselves, ironically, as
an accursed form of life that all but destroys the world of life and threatens
its integrity. To the confusion that we have about our own muddled time and our
personal identities, we now have the added confusion that the human condition is
seen as a form of chaos produced by our proclivity for wanton destruction and o
ur ability to exercise this proclivity all the more effectively because we posse
ss reason, science, and technology.
Admittedly, few antihumanists, biocentrists, and misanthropes, who theorize about
the human condition, are prepared to follow the logic of their premises to such
an absurd point. What is vitally important about this medley of moods and unfini
shed ideas is that the various forms, institutions, and relationships that make
up what we should call society are largely ignored. Instead, just as we use vague
words like humanity or zoological terms like homo sapiens that conceal vast differ
ences, often bitter antagonisms, that exist between privileged whites and people
of colour, men and women, rich and poor, oppressor and oppressed; so do we, by
the same token, use vague words like society or civilization that conceal vast diffe
rences between free, nonhierarchical, class, and stateless societies on the one
hand, and others that are, in varying degrees, hierarchical, class-ridden, stati
st, and authoritarian. Zoology, in effect, replaces socially oriented ecology. S
weeping natural laws based on population swings among animals replace conflicting
economic and social interests among people.
Simply to pit society against nature,
humanity against the biosphere, and reason,
y, and science against less developed, often primitive forms of human interaction w
ith the natural world, prevents us from examining the highly complex differences
and divisions within society so necessary to define our problems and their solu
tions.
Ancient Egypt, for example, had a significantly different attitude toward nature
than ancient Babylonia. Egypt assumed a reverential attitude toward a host of e
ssentially animistic nature deities, many of which were physically part human an
d part animal, while Babylonians created a pantheon of very human political deit
ies. But Egypt was no less hierarchical than Babylonia in its treatment of peopl
e and was equally, if not more, oppressive in its view of human individuality. C
ertain hunting peoples may have been as destructive of wildlife, despite their s
trong animistic beliefs, as urban cultures which staked out an over-arching clai
m to reason. When these many differences are simply swallowed up together with a
vast variety of social forms by a word called society, we do severe violence to t
hought and even simple intelligence. Society per se becomes something unnatural. Re
ason, technology, and science become things that are destructive without any regard
the social factors that condition their use. Human attempts to alter the environ
ment are seen as threats as though our species can do little or nothing to improve
the planet for life generally.
Of course, we are not any less animals than other mammals, but we are more than
herds that browse on the African plains. The way in which we are more
namely, th

e kinds of societies that we form and how we are divided against each other into
hierarchies and classes
profoundly affects our behaviour and our effects on the
natural world.
Finally, by so radically separating humanity and society from nature or naively
reducing them to mere zoological entities, we can no longer see how human nature
is derived from nonhuman nature and social evolution from natural evolution. Hu
manity becomes estranged or alienated not only from itself in our age of alienati
on, but from the natural world in which it has always been rooted as a complex an
d thinking life-force.
Accordingly, we are fed a steady diet of reproaches by liberal and misanthropic
environmentalists alike about how we as a species are responsible for the breakdow
n of the environment. One does not have to go to enclaves of mystics and gurus i
n San Francisco to find this species-centred, asocial view of ecological problem
s and their sources. New York City will do just as well. I shall not easily forg
et an environmental presentation staged by the New York Museum of Natural History
in the seventies in which the public was exposed to a long series of exhibits, e
ach depicting examples of pollution and ecological disruption . The exhibit whic
h closed the presentation carried a startling sign, The Most Dangerous Animal on
Earth, and it consisted simply of a huge mirror which reflected back the human vi
ewer who stood before it. I clearly recall a black child standing before the mir
ror while a white school teacher tried to explain the message which this arrogan
t exhibit tried to convey. There were no exhibits of corporate boards or directo
rs planning to deforest a mountainside or government officials acting in collusi
on with them. The exhibit primarily conveyed one, basically misanthropic, messag
e: people as such, not a rapacious society and its wealthy beneficiaries, are re
sponsible for environmental dislocations the poor no less than the personally we
althy, people of colour no less than privileged whites, women no less than men,
the oppressed no less than the oppressor. A mythical human species had replaced cl
asses; individuals had replaced hierarchies; personal tastes (many of which are
shaped by a predatory media) had replaced social relationships; and the disempow
ered who live meagre, isolated lives had replaced giant corporations, self-servi
ng bureaucracies, and the violent paraphernalia of the State.
The relationship of society to nature
Leaving aside such outrageous environmental exhibitions that mirror privileged and
underprivileged people in the same frame, it seems appropriate at this point to
raise a highly relevant need: the need to bring society back into the ecologica
l picture. More than ever, strong emphases must be placed on the fact that nearl
y all ecological problems are social problems, not simply or primarily the resul
t of religious, spiritual, or political ideologies. That these ideologies may fo
ster an anti-ecological outlook in people of all strata hardly requires emphasis
. But rather than simply take ideologies at their face value, it is crucial for
us to ask from whence these ideologies developed.
Quite frequently, economic needs may compel people to act against their best imp
ulses, even strongly felt natural values. Lumberjacks who are employed to clearcut a magnificent forest normally have no hatred of trees. They have little or no
choice but to cut trees just as stockyard workers have little or no choice but t
o slaughter domestic animals. Every community or occupation has its fair share o
f destructive and sadistic individuals, to be sure, including misanthropic envir
onmentalists who would like to see humanity exterminated. But among the vast maj
ority of people, this kind of work, including such onerous tasks as mining, are
not freely chosen occupations. They stem from need and, above all, they are the
product of social arrangements over which ordinary people have no control.
To understand present-day problems ecological as well as economic and political
we must examine their social causes and remedy them through social methods. Deep,

piritual, and humanist, and misanthropic ecologies gravely mislead us when they r
efocus our attention on social symptoms rather than social causes. If our obliga
tion is to look at changes in social relationships in order to understand our mo
st significant ecological changes, these ecologies steer us away from society to
spiritual,
cultural, or vaguely defined traditional sources. The Bible did not creat
European antinaturalism; it served to justify an antinaturalism that already ex
isted on the continent from pagan times, despite the animistic traits of pre-Chr
istian religions. Christianity s antinaturalistic influence became especially mark
ed with the emergence of capitalism. Society must not only be brought into the e
cological picture to understand why people tend to choose competing sensibilitie
s some, strongly naturalistic; others, strongly antinaturalistic
but we must pro
be more deeply into society itself. We must search out the relationship of socie
ty to nature, the reasons why it can destroy the natural world, and, alternative
ly, the reasons why it has and still can enhance, foster, and richly contribute
to natural evolution.
Insofar as we can speak of society in any abstract and general sense
and let us re
member that every society is highly unique and different from others in the long
perspective of history
we are obliged to examine what we can best call socializa
tion, not merely society. Society is a given arrangement of relationships which we
often take for granted and view in a very fixed way. To many people today, it wo
uld seem that a market society based on trade and competition has existed forever
, although we may be vaguely mindful that there were pre-market societies based o
n gifts and cooperation. Socialization, on the other hand, is a process, just as
individual living is a process. Historically, the process of socializing people
can be viewed as a sort of social infancy that involves a painful rearing of hu
manity to social maturity.
When we begin to consider socialization from an in-depth viewpoint, what strikes
us is that society itself in its most primal form stems very much from nature.
Every social evolution, in fact, is virtually an extension of natural evolution
into a distinctly human realm. As the Roman orator and philosopher, Cicero, decl
ared some two thousand years ago: ...by the use of our hands, we bring into being
within the realm of Nature, a second nature for ourselves. Cicero s observation, t
o be sure, is very incomplete: the primeval, presumably untouched realm of Nature
or first nature, as it has been called, is reworked in whole or part into second na
ture not only by the use of our hands. Thought, language, and complex, very importa
nt biological changes also play a crucial and, at times, a decisive role in deve
loping a second nature within first nature .
I use the term reworking advisedly to focus on the fact that second nature is not si
mply a phenomenon that develops outside of first nature
hence the special value th
at should be attached to Cicero s use of the expression within the realm of Nature.
.. To emphasize that second nature or, more precisely, society (to use this word in
its broadest possible sense) emerges from within primeval first nature is to re-e
stablish the fact that social life always has a naturalistic dimension, however
much society is pitted against nature in our thinking. Social ecology clearly ex
presses the fact that society is not a sudden eruption in the world. Social life d
oes not necessarily face nature as a combatant in an unrelenting war. The emerge
nce of society is a natural fact that has its origins in the biology of human so
cialization.
The human socialization process from which society emerges
be it in the form of
families, bands, tribes, or more complex types of human intercourse
has its sour
ce in parental relationships, particularly mother and child bonding. The biologi
cal mother, to be sure, can be replaced in this process by many surrogates, incl
uding fathers, relatives, or, for that matter, all members of a community. It is
when social parents and social siblings that is, the human community that surro
unds the young begin to participate in a system of care, that is ordinarily unde
rtaken by biological parents, that society begins to truly come into its own.

Society thereupon advances beyond a mere reproductive group toward institutional


ized human relationships, and from a relatively formless animal community into a
clearly structured social order. But at the very inception of society, it seems
more than likely that human beings were socialized into second nature by means of
deeply ingrained blood ties, specifically maternal ties. We shall see that in t
ime the structures or institutions that mark the advance of humanity from a mere
animal community into an authentic society began to undergo far-reaching change
s and these changes become issues of paramount importance in social ecology. For
better or worse, societies develop around status groups, hierarchies, classes,
and state formations. But reproduction and family care remain the abiding biolog
ical bases for every form of social life as well as the originating factor in th
e socialization of the young and the formation of a society. As Robert Briffault
observed in the early half of this century, the one known factor which establish
es a profound distinction between the constitution of the most rudimentary human
group and all other animal groups [is the] association of mothers and offspring
which is the sole form of true social solidarity among animals. Throughout the
class of mammals, there is a continuous increase in the duration of that associa
tion, which is the consequence of the prolongation of the period of infantile de
pendence, a prolongation which Briffault correlates with increases in the period
of fetal gestation and advances in intelligence.
The biological dimension that Briffault adds to what we call society and sociali
zation cannot be stressed too strongly. It is a decisive presence, not only in t
he origins of society over ages of animal evolution, but in the daily recreation
of society in our everyday lives. The appearance of a newly born infant and the
highly extended care it receives for many years reminds us that it is not only
a human being that is being reproduced, but society itself. By comparison with t
he young of other species, children develop slowly and over a long period of tim
e. Living in close association with parents, siblings, kin groups, and an ever-w
idening community of people, they retain a plasticity of mind that makes for cre
ative individuals and ever-formative social groups. Although nonhuman animals ma
y approximate human forms of association in many ways, they do not create a secon
d nature that embodies a cultural tradition, nor do they possess a complex langua
ge, elaborate conceptual powers, or an impressive capacity to restructure their
environment purposefully according to their own needs.
A chimpanzee, for example, remains an infant for only three years and a juvenile
for seven. By the age of ten, it is a full-grown adult. Children, by contrast,
are regarded as infants for approximately six years and juveniles for fourteen.
A chimpanzee, in short, grows mentally and physically in about half the time req
uired by a human being, and its capacity to learn or, at least to think, is alre
ady fixed by comparison with a human being, whose mental abilities may expand fo
r decades. By the same token, chimpanzee associations are often idiosyncratic an
d fairly limited. Human associations, on the other hand, are basically stable, h
ighly institutionalized, and they are marked by a degree of solidarity, indeed,
by a degree of creativity, that has no equal in nonhuman species as far as we kn
ow.
This prolonged degree of human mental plasticity, dependency, and social creativ
ity yields two results that are of decisive importance. First, early human assoc
iation must have fostered a strong predisposition for interdependence among memb
ers of a group not the rugged individualism we associate with independence. The ov
erwhelming mass of anthropological evidence suggests that participation, mutual
aid, solidarity, and empathy were the social virtues early human groups emphasiz
ed within their communities. The idea that people are dependent upon each other
for the good life, indeed, for survival, followed from the prolonged dependence
of the young upon adults. Independence, not to mention competition, would have s
eemed utterly alien, if not bizarre, to a creature reared over many years in a l
argely dependent condition. Care for others would have been seen as the perfectl

y natural outcome of a highly acculturated being that was, in turn, clearly in n


eed of extended care. Our modern version of individualism, more precisely, of eg
otism, would have cut across the grain of early solidarity and mutual aid
traits
, I may add without which such a physically fragile animal like a human being co
uld hardly have survived as an adult, much less as a child.
Second, human interdependence must have assumed a highly structured form. There
is no evidence that human beings normally relate to each other through the fairl
y loose systems of bonding we find among our closest primate cousins. That human
social bonds can be dissolved or de-institutionalized in periods of radical cha
nge or cultural breakdown is too obvious to argue here. But during relatively st
able conditions, human society was never the horde that anthropologists of the las
t century presupposed as a basis for rudimentary social life. On the contrary, t
he evidence we have at hand points to the fact that all humans, perhaps even our
distant hominid ancestors, lived in some kind of structured family groups, and,
later, in bands, tribes, villages, and other forms. In short, they bonded toget
her (as they still do), not only emotionally and morally, but also structurally
in contrived, clearly definable, and fairly permanent institutions.
Nonhuman animals may form loose communities and even take collective protective
postures to defend their young from predators. But such communities can hardly b
e called structured, except in a broad, often ephemeral, sense. Humans, by contr
ast, create highly formal communities that tend to become increasingly structure
d over the course of time. In effect, they form not only communities, but a new
phenomenon called societies.
If we fail to distinguish animal communities from human societies, we risk the d
anger of ignoring the unique features that distinguish human social life from an
imal communities notably, the ability of society to change for better or worse a
nd the factors that produce these changes. By reducing a complex society to a me
re community, we can easily ignore how societies differed from each other over t
he course of history. We can also fail to understand how they elaborated simple
differences in status into firmly established hierarchies, or hierarchies into e
conomic classes. Indeed, we risk the possibility of totally misunderstanding the
very meaning of terms like hierarchy as highly organized systems of command and o
bedience these, as distinguished from personal, individual, and often short-live
d differences in status that may, in all too many cases, involve no acts of comp
ulsion. We tend, in effect, to confuse the strictly institutional creations of h
uman will, purpose, conflicting interests, and traditions, with community life i
n its most fixed forms, as though we were dealing with inherent, seemingly unalt
erable, features of society rather than fabricated structures that can be modifi
ed, improved, worsened
or simply abandoned. The trick of every ruling elite from
the beginnings of history to modern times has been to identify its own socially
created hierarchical systems of domination with community life as such, with th
e result being that human-made institutions acquire divine or biological sanctit
y.

A given society and its institutions thus tend to become reified into permanent
and unchangeable entities that acquire a mysterious life of their own apart from
nature
namely, the products of a seemingly fixed human nature that is the result
of genetic programming at the very inception of social life. Alternatively, a gi
ven society and its institutions may be dissolved into nature as merely another
form of animal community with its alpha males, guardians,
leaders, and horde -like f
of existence. When annoying issues like war and social conflict are raised, they
are ascribed to the activity of genes that presumably give rise to war and even gr
eed .
In either case, be it the notion of an abstract society that exists apart from n
ature or an equally abstract natural community that is indistinguishable from na
ture, a dualism appears that sharply separates society from nature, or a crude r

eductionism appears that dissolves society into nature. These apparently contras
ting, but closely related, notions are all the more seductive because they are s
o simplistic. Although they are often presented by their more sophisticated supp
orters in a fairly nuanced form, such notions are easily reduced to bumper-stick
er slogans that are frozen into hard, popular dogmas.
Social Ecology
The approach to society and nature advanced by social ecology may seem more inte
llectually demanding, but it avoids the simplicities of dualism and the cruditie
s of reductionism. Social ecology tries to show how nature slowly phases into so
ciety without ignoring the differences between society and nature on the one han
d, as well as the extent to which they merge with each other on the other.The ev
eryday socialization of the young by the family is no less rooted in biology tha
n the everyday care of the old by the medical establishment is rooted in the har
d facts of society. By the same token, we never cease to be mammals who still ha
ve primal natural urges, but we institutionalize these urges and their satisfact
ion in a wide variety of social forms. Hence, the social and the natural continu
ally permeate each other in the most ordinary activities of daily life without l
osing their identity in a shared process of interaction, indeed, of interactivit
y.
Obvious as this may seem at first in such day-to-day problems as caretaking, soc
ial ecology raises questions that have far-reaching importance for the different
ways society and nature have interacted over time and the problems these intera
ctions have produced. How did a divisive, indeed, seemingly combative, relations
hip between humanity and nature emerge? What were the institutional forms and id
eologies that rendered this conflict possible? Given the growth of human needs a
nd technology, was such a conflict really unavoidable? And can it be overcome in
a future, ecologically oriented society?
How does a rational, ecologically oriented society fit into the processes of nat
ural evolution? Even more broadly, is there any reason to believe that the human
mind
itself a product of natural evolution as well as culture represents a deci
sive highpoint in natural development, notably, in the long development of subje
ctivity from the sensitivity and self-maintenance of the simplest life-forms to
the remarkable intellectuality and self-consciousness of the most complex.
In asking these highly provocative questions, I am not trying to justify a strut
ting arrogance toward nonhuman life-forms. Clearly, we must bring humanity s uniq
ueness as a species, marked by rich conceptual, social, imaginative, and constru
ctive attributes, into synchronicity with nature s fecundity, diversity, and creat
ivity. I have argued that this synchronicity will not be achieved by opposing na
ture to society, nonhuman to human life-forms, natural fecundity to technology,
or a natural subjectivity to the human mind. Indeed, an important result that em
erges from a discussion of the interrelationship of nature to society is the fac
t that human intellectuality, although distinct, also has a far-reaching natural
basis. Our brains and nervous systems did not suddenly spring into existence wi
thout a long antecedent natural history. That which we most prize as integral to
our humanity our extraordinary capacity to think on complex conceptual levels c
an be traced back to the nerve network of primitive invertebrates, the ganglia o
f a mollusk, the spinal cord of a fish, the brain of an amphibian, and the cereb
ral cortex of a primate.
Here, too, in the most intimate of our human attributes, we are no less products
of natural evolution than we are of social evolution. As human beings we incorp
orate within ourselves aeons of organic differentiation and elaboration. Like al
l complex life-forms, we are not only part of natural evolution; we are also its
heirs and the products of natural fecundity.

In trying to show how society slowly grows out of nature, however, social ecolog
y is also obliged to show how society, too, undergoes differentiation and elabor
ation. In doing so, social ecology must examine those junctures in social evolut
ion where splits occurred which slowly brought society into opposition to the na
tural world, and explain how this opposition emerged from its inception in prehi
storic times to our own era. Indeed, if the human species is a life-form that ca
n consciously and richly enhance the natural world, rather than simply damage it
, it is important for social ecology to reveal the factors that have rendered ma
ny human beings into parasites on the world of life rather than active partners
in organic evolution. This project must be undertaken not in a haphazard way, bu
t with a serious attempt to render natural and social development coherent in te
rms of each other, and relevant to our times and the construction of an ecologic
al society.
Perhaps one of social ecology s most important contributions to the current ecolog
ical discussion is the view that the basic problems which pit society against na
ture emerge form within social development itself
not between society and nature
. That is to say, the divisions between society and nature have their deepest ro
ots in divisions within the social realm, namely, deep- seated conflicts between
human and human that are often obscured by our broad use of the word humanity .
This crucial view cuts across the grain of nearly all current ecological thinkin
g and even social theorizing. One of the most fixed notions that present-day eco
logical thinking shares with liberalism, Marxism, and conservatism is the histor
ic belief that the domination of nature requires the domination of human by human.
This is most obvious in social theory. Nearly all of our contemporary social id
eologies have placed the notion of human domination at the centre of their theor
izing. It remains one of the most widely accepted notions, from classical times
to the present, that human freedom from the domination of man by nature entails th
e domination of human by human as the earliest means of production and the use o
f human beings as instruments for harnessing the natural world. Hence, in order
to harness the natural world, it has been argued for ages, it is necessary to ha
rness human beings as well, in the form of slaves, serfs, and workers.
That this instrumental notion pervades the ideology of nearly all ruling elites
and has provided both liberal and conservative movements with a justification fo
r their accommodation to the status quo, requires little, if any, elaboration. T
he myth of a stingy nature has always been used to justify the stinginess of exploit
ers in their harsh treatment of the exploited and it has provided the excuse for
the political opportunism of liberal, as well as conservative, causes. To work w
ithin the system has always implied an acceptance of domination as a way of organi
zing social life and, in the best of cases, a way of freeing humans from their pr
esumed domination by nature.
What is perhaps less known, however, is that Marx, too, justified the emergence
of class society and the State as stepping stones toward the domination of natur
e and, presumably, the liberation of humanity. It was on the strength of this hi
storical vision that Marx formulated his materialist conception of history and h
is belief in the need for class society as a stepping stone in the historic road
to communism.
Ironically, much that now passes for antihumanistic, mystical ecology involves e
xactly the same kind of thinking
but in an inverted form. Like their instrumenta
l opponents, these ecologists, too, assume that humanity is dominated by nature,
be it in the form of natural laws or an ineffable earth wisdom that must guide huma
n behaviour. But while their instrumental opponents argue the need to achieve na
ture s surrender to a conquering active-aggressive humanity, antihumanist and mystical
ecologists argue the case for achieving humanity s passive-receptive surrender to a
n all conquering nature. However much the two views may differ in their verbiage a
nd pieties, domination remains the underlying notion of both: a natural world co

nceived as a taskmaster

either to be controlled or obeyed.

Social ecology springs this trap dramatically by re-examining the entire concept
of domination, be it in nature and society or in the form of natural law and socia
l law. What we normally call domination in nature is a human projection of highly
organized systems of social command and obedience onto highly idiosyncratic, in
dividual, and asymmetrical forms of often mildly coercive behaviour in animal co
mmunities. Put simply, animals do not dominate each other in the same way that a h
uman elite dominates, and often exploits, an oppressed social group. Nor do they
rule through institutional forms of systematic violence as social elites do. Amon
g apes, for example, there is little or no coercion, but only erratic forms of d
ominant behaviour. Gibbons and orangutans are notable for their peaceable behavi
our toward members of their own kind. Gorillas are often equally pacific, althou
gh one can single out high status, mature, and physically strong males among lower
status, younger and physically weaker ones. The alpha males celebrated among chimpa
nzees do not occupy very fixed status positions within what are fairly fluid group
s. Any status that they do achieve may be due to very diverse causes.
One can merrily skip from one animal species to another, to be sure, falling bac
k on very different, asymmetrical reasons for searching out high versus low status i
ndividuals. The procedure becomes rather silly, however, when words like status ar
e used so flexibly that they are allowed to include mere differences in group be
haviour and functions, rather than coercive actions.
The same is true for the word hierarchy. Both in its origins and its strict meanin
g, this term is highly social, not zoological. A Greek term, initially used to d
enote different levels of deities and, later, clergy (characteristically, Hierap
olis was an ancient Phrygian city in Asia Minor that was a centre for mother god
dess worship), the word has been mindlessly expanded to encompass everything fro
m beehive relationships to the erosive effects of running water in which a strea
m is seen to wear down and dominate its bedrock. Caring female elephants are calle
d matriarchs and attentive male apes who exhibit a great deal of courage in defens
e of their community, while acquiring very few privileges, are often designated as
patriarchs. The absence of an organized system of rule
so common in hierarchical
human communities and subject to radical institutional changes, including popula
r revolutions is largely ignored.
Again, the different functions that the presumed animal hierarchies are said to
perform, that is, the asymmetrical causes that place one individual in an alpha s
tatus and others in a lesser one, is understated where it is noted at all. One mi
ght, with much the same aplomb, place all tall sequoias in a superior status over
smaller ones, or, more annoyingly, regard them as an elite in a mixed forest hierar
chy over submissive oaks, which, to complicate matters, are more advanced on the ev
olutionary scale. The tendency to mechanically project social categories onto th
e natural world is as preposterous as an attempt to project biological concepts
onto geology. Minerals do not reproduce the way life-forms do. Stalagmites and sta
lactites in caves certainly do increase in size over time. But in no sense do th
ey grow in a manner that even remotely corresponds to growth in living beings. T
o take superficial resemblances, often achieved in alien ways, and group them in
to shared identities, is like speaking of the metabolism of rocks and the morality o
f genes.
This raises the issue of repeated attempts to read ethical, as well as social, t
raits into a natural world that is only potentially ethical insofar as it forms
a basis for an objective social ethics. Yes, coercion does exist in nature; so d
oes pain and suffering. However, cruelty does not. Animal intention and will are
too limited to produce an ethics of good and evil or kindness and cruelty. Evid
ence of inferential and conceptual thought is very limited among anima]s, except
for primates, cetaceans, elephants, and possibly a few other mammals. Even amon
g the most intelligent animals, the limits to thought are immense in comparison

with the extraordinary capacities of socialized human beings. Admittedly, we are


substantially less than human today in view of our still unknown potential to b
e creative, caring, and rational. Our prevailing society serves to inhibit, rath
er than realize, our human potential. We still lack the imagination to know how
much our finest human traits could expand with an ethical, ecological, and ratio
nal dispensation of human affairs.
By contrast, the known nonhuman world seems to have reached visibly fixed limits
in its capacity to survive environmental changes. If mere adaptation to environ
mental changes is seen as the criterion for evolutionary success (as many biolog
ists believe), then insects would have to be placed on a higher plane of develop
ment than any mammalian life-form. However, they would be no more capable of mak
ing so lofty an intellectual evaluation of themselves than a queen bee would be ev
en remotely aware of her regal status
a status, I may add, that only humans (who h
ave suffered the social domination of stupid, inept, and cruel kings and queens)
would be able to impute to a largely mindless insect.
None of these remarks are meant to metaphysically oppose nature to society or so
ciety to nature. On the contrary, they are meant to argue that what unites socie
ty with nature in a graded evolutionary continuum is the remarkable extent to wh
ich human beings, living in a rational, ecologically oriented society, could emb
ody the creativity of nature this, as distinguished from a purely adaptive crite
rion of evolutionary success. The great achievements of human thought, art, scie
nce, and technology serve not only to monumentalize culture, they serve also to
monumentalize natural evolution itself. They provide heroic evidence that the hu
man species is a warm-blooded, excitingly versatile, and keenly intelligent life
-form
not a cold-blooded, genetically programmed, and mindless insect
that expre
sses nature s greatest powers of creativity.
Life-forms that create and consciously alter their environment, hopefully in way
s that make it more rational and ecological, represent a vast and indefinite ext
ension of nature into fascinating, perhaps unbounded, lines of evolution which n
o branch of insects could ever achieve
notably the evolution of a fully self-con
scious nature. If this be humanism more precisely, ecological humanism, the curr
ent crop of antihumanists and misanthropes are welcome to make the most of it.
Nature, in turn, is not a scenic view we admire through a picture window
a view
that is frozen into a landscape or a static panorama. Such landscape images of n
ature may be spiritually elevating but they are ecologically deceptive. Fixed in
time and place, this imagery makes it easy for us to forget that nature is not
a static vision of the natural world but the long, indeed cumulative, history of
natural development. This history involves the evolution of the inorganic, as w
ell as the organic, realms of phenomena. Wherever we stand in an open field, for
est, or on a mountain top, our feet rest on ages of development, be they geologi
cal strata, fossils of long-extinct life-forms, the decaying remains of the newl
y dead, or the quiet stirring of newly emerging life. Nature is not a person, a car
ing Mother, or, in the crude materialist language of the last century, matter and
motion. Nor is it a mere process that involves repetitive cycles like seasonal chan
ges and the building-up and breaking-down process of metabolic activity
some pro
cess philosophies to the contrary notwithstanding. Rather, natural history is a
cumulative evolution toward ever more varied, differentiated, and complex forms
and relationships.
This evolutionary development of increasingly variegated entities, most notably,
of life-forms, is also an evolutionary development which contains exciting, lat
ent possibilities. With variety, differentiation, and complexity, nature, in the
course of its own unfolding, opens new directions for still further development
along alternative lines of natural evolution. To the degree that animals become
complex, self-aware, and increasingly intelligent, they begin to make those ele
mentary choices that influence their own evolution They are less and less the pa

ssive objects of natural selection


own development.

and more and more the active subjects of their

A brown hare that mutates into a white one and sees a sn covered terrain in whic
h to camouflage itself is acting on behalf of its own survival, not simply adapt
ing in order to survive. It is not merely being selected by its environment; it is
selecting its own environment and making a choice that expresses a small measur
e of subjectivity and judgement.
The greater the variety of habitats that emerge in the evolutionary process, the
more a given life-form. particularly a neurologically complex one, is likely to
play an active and judgemental role in preserving itself. To the extent that na
tural evolution follows this path of neurological development, it gives rise to
life-forms that exercise an ever-wider latitude of choice and a nascent form of
freedom in developing themselves.
Given this conception of nature as the cumulative history of more differentiated
levels of material organization (especially of life-forms) and of increasing su
bjectivity, social ecology establishes a basis for a meaningful understanding of
humanity and society s place in natural evolution. Natural history is not a catc
h-as-catch-can phenomenon. It is marked by tendency, by directions and, as far as
human beings are concerned, by conscious purpose. Human beings and the social w
orlds they create can open a remarkably expansive horizon for development of the
natural wor -a horizon marked by consciousness, reflection, and an unprecedente
d freedom of choice and capacity for conscious creativity. The factors that redu
ce many life-forms to largely adaptive roles in changing environments are replac
ed by a capacity for consciously adapting environments to existing and new lifeforms.
Adaptation, in effect, increasingly gives way to creativity and the seemingly ru
thless action of natural law to greater freedom. What earlier generations called
blind nature to denote nature s lack of any moral direction, turns into free nature
, a nature that slowly finds a voice and the means to relieve the needless tribu
lations of life for all species in a highly conscious humanity and an ecological
society. The Noah Principle of preserving every existing life-form simply for its
own sake
a principle advanced by the antihumanist, David Ehrenfeld
has little m
eaning without the presupposition, at the very least, of the existence of a Noah
t
hat is, a conscious life-form called humanity that might well rescue life- forms
that nature itself would extinguish in ice ages, land desiccation, or cosmic co
llisions with asteroids. Grizzly bears, wolves, pumas, and the like, are not saf
er from extinction because they are exclusively in the caring hands of a putative M
other Nature. If there is any truth to the theory that the great Mesozoic reptile
s were extinguished by climatic changes that presumably followed the collision o
f an asteroid with the earth, the survival of existing mammals might well be jus
t as precarious in the face of an equally meaningless natural catastrophe unless
there is a conscious, ecologically oriented life-form that has the technologica
l means to rescue them.
The issue, then, is not whether social evolution stands opposed to natural evolu
tion. The issue is how social evolution can be situated in natural evolution and
why it has been thrown
needlessly, as I will argue
against natural evolution to
the detriment of life as a whole. The capacity to be rational and free does not
assure us that this capacity will be realized. If social evolution is seen as t
he potentiality for expanding the horizon of natural evolution along unprecedent
ed creative lines, and human beings are seen as the potentiality for nature to b
ecome self-conscious and free, the issue we face is why these potentialities hav
e been warped and how they can be realized.
It is part of social ecology s commitment to natural evolution that these potentia
lities are indeed real and that they can be fulfilled. This commitment stands fl

atly at odds with a scenic image of nature as a static view to awe mountain men or
a romantic view for conjuring up mystical images of a personified deity that is
so much in vogue today. The splits between natural and social evolution, nonhum
an and human life, an intractable stingy nature and a grasping, devouring humanity
, have all been specious and misleading when they are seen as inevitabilities. N
o less specious and misleading have been reductionist attempts to absorb social
into natural evolution, to collapse culture into nature in an orgy of irrational
ism, theism, and mysticism, to equate the human with mere animality, or to impos
e a contrived natural law on an obedient human society.
Whatever has turned human beings into aliens in nature are social changes that hav
e made many human beings aliens in their own social world. the domination of the y
oung by the old, of women by men, and of men by men. Today, as for many centurie
s in the past, there are still 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, technologic
al 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.