Resenha de "Ecologia Social e Comunalismo"

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(Original em inglês)


Essa coleção de quatro ensaios contém os útlimos trabalhos de Murray Bookchin. Como tal, é de interesse de todos os verdes e radicais. Eiriki Eiglad, o editor do jornal “Communalism”, faz uma introdução e um posfácio ao livro. Dos quatro ensaios, os três primeiros foram escritos quando Bookchin ainda se considerava um anarquista.

O primeiro, “What is Social Ecology?” (O que é Ecologia Social?) é uma boa introdução às ideias de Bookchin e é útil para aqueles que não estão cientes de suas importantes contribuições para as ideias libertárias e política ecológica. O segundo e terceiro ensaios são okay, embora o terceiro apresente (eu acho) uma pista psicológica do porquê ele rompeu com o anarquismo.

O segundo ensaio ("Radical Politics in an Era of Advanced Capitalism" – Política Radical em uma Era de Capitalismo Avançado) pouco notável, embora Bookchin levante o importante ponto de que as cidades podem ser “politicamente decentralizadas institucionalmente... apesar de sua grande dimensão estrutural e sua interdependência interna. De fato, o quão bem elas podem funcionar se não se decentralizarem politicamente é uma questão ecológica de suprema importância, assim como sugerem os problemas de poluição do ar, suprimento de água adequado, crime, qualidade de vida, e de transporte.” O terceiro, entitulado “The Role of Social Ecology in a Period of Reaction” (O Papel da Ecologia Social em um Período de Reação) termina com a conclusão apocalíptica de que “deva a escuridão da barbárie capitalista engrossar ao ponto em que esta empresa [ecologia social] não seja mais possível, então a história . . . chegará realmente ao seu fim definitivo."[1] Dado que poucos anarquistas foram remotamente convencidos pelo “municipalismo libertário” de Bookchin, não leva mais que um salto para ele concluir que o próprio anarquismo está contribuindo para essa “escuridão”. Como tal, o anarquismo mesmo deve ser denunciado, de outro modo o pior acontecerá. Entretanto, discordar da necessidade de Bookchin em não contribuir com essa escuridão é o mínimo...

É o último (e mais longo) ensaio, “The Communalist Project” (O Projeto Comunalista), o de maior interesse aos anarquistas. O último artigo que ele escreveu, explica porque rejeitou o anarquismo e explica sua alternativa (o que ele chama de “comunalismo”). Como nota introdutória, Bookchin rompe publicamente com o anarquismo em 1999, e trabalhos subsequentes foram cada vez mais marcados por ataques insignificantes e imprecisos ao anarquismo e enjoadas tentativas de reescrever sua própria história. Ambos refletidos no seu trabalho fial. Assim encontramos ele observando que “Eu mesmo uma vez usei esse rótulo político, mas pensamentos ulteriores me obrigaram a concluir que, seus sempre-novos aforismas e contudo insights, simplesmente não é uma teoria social.” Dado que ele foi um anarquista por mais de cinco décadas, tomou-lhe um tempo estranhamente[2] longo para ter “pensamentos ulteriores” sobre tal aspecto chave de sua política!

Agora o “eco-anarquimso”, um termo uma vez usado por Bookchin para descrever suas ideias, se tornou uma “ideologia simplista” igualada “ao primitivismo, austeridade, e negação.” É suficiente dizer, comparando as críticas ao anarquismo ao que o anarquismo realmente representa, que a posição anterior de Bookchin era a mais precisa e seu pós-anarquismo de 1999 é facilmente refutado olhando para os primeiros trabalhos de Bookchin. Que não é uma posição agradável para nenhum pensador.

Ele chama sua nova posição de “comunalismo”, defendendo que “[nenh]uma das ideologias professadamente anticapitalistas do passado – marxismo, anarquismo, sindicalismo, e outras formas mais genéricas de socialismo – retém a mesma relevância que ele tinham num estágio inicial do desenvolvimento capitalista. Nem podem nenhuam delas esperar abranger a multiplicidades de novas questões, oportunidades, problemas, e interesses que o capitalismo criou repetidamente ao longo do tempo.” Embora apluda o desejo em tornar a política radical relevante aos dias de hoje, dificilmente pode ser dito que Bookchin o faz. Ao rejeitar o anarquismo, a impraticabilidade e reformismo inerentes de seus meios favoritos de mudança social se tornam notoriamente óbvios.

Por exemplo, Bookchin afirma que “o objetivo mais importante [de sua ideologia] é decifrado claramente numa definição convencional de dicionário.” O comunalismo (“communalism”), de acordo com o The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language é uma teoria ou sistema de governo em que comunidades locais virtualmente autônomas são livremente ligadas a uma federação.” Bookchin então joga com as palavras dessa definição em uma nota de rodapé, afirmando que o que é “tão surpreendente sobre essa definição minimalista do dicionário é sua total precisão” antes, ironicamente, “tendo problema” com sua “virtual autonomia” e “ligação livre” porque elas “sugerem uma relação paroquial e particularista, e até mesmo irresponsável, dos componentes de uma federação como um todo.” Contudo se livrando dessas palavras não sobre muito: “uma teoria ou sistema de governo em que comunidades locais estão em uma federação.” O que não diz nada – alguém poderia dizer, inclusive, que isso descreve os Estados Unidos da América.

Não que essa noção seja particularmente nova. Kropotkin discute o “comunalismo” em “Words of a Rebel”, afirmando que a próxima revolução seria “comunalista”, mas também “comunista”. Ele contrasta comunismo-anarquismo a isso afirmando que enquanto o “comunalista” se apoderaria das prefeituras antes de deixas as massas expropriarem a propriedades, os anarquistas aboliriam ambos ao mesmo tempo. De fato, sua crítica à Comuna da Paris contida nessa antologia seria escrita com a política pós-anarquista de Bookchin em mente – particularmente dado o uso de Bookchin da Comuna com um exemplo de sua abordagem. Como se verá de nossa discussão, as tentativas de Bookchin de distanciar o “comunalismo” do anarquismo não apenas falham como demonstram as limitações de sua própria política comparado ao último.

Rejeitando e revisando o passado

O que é particularmente irritante é a re-escrita da própria história de Bookchin. Assim ele pronuncia que “O anarquismo tem sido frequentemente confundido com o sindicalismo revolucionário” sem mencionar que ele mesmo apontou para as similaridades entre o sindicalismo e as ideias de Bakunin. Ele observou que “amargos antagonismos entre anarquistas e sindicalista tem uma longa história” sem aborrecer o leitor com o estranho fato de que, anteriormente, ele tomou partido dos anarquistas e sua oposição à limitação implícita da visão libertária e luta sindicalista. Similarmente, a CNT-FAI se torna “uma organização verdadeiramente confusa” ao invés de o ponto alto da organização libertária proletária como era antes. Ele parece seriamente ter concluído que foram apenas “anarquistas um tanto confusos” que coexistiram com os sindicalistas revolucionários na CNT, um produto da “mais da confusão verbal do que da claridade ideológica”!

Um tanto ironicamente, ele repete a crítica anarco-comunista ao sindicalismo (melhor expressa por Malatesta), defendendo que “tão inválida quanto a greve geral pode ser como um prelúdio à confrontação direta com o Estado” suas “limitações são notáveis evidências de que, como formas episódicas de ação direta, greves gerais não são equiparáveis à revolução”. Um posição, deve ser observado, que a maior parte dos sindicalistas menteram por algum tempo. Sua nova apreciação do sindicalismo encontrada também induziu-o a minimizar o papel dos anarquistas na criação do sindicalismo revolucionário, afirmando que “Georges Sorel e muitos outros sindicalistas revolucionários declarados no início do século vinte claramente consideravam-se marxistas e ainda mais expressamente rejeitaram o anarquismo.” Ainda que Sorel não tenha desempenhado papel algum na criação do sindicalismo, simplesmente comentando sobre um movimento existente (e ele observou o papel chave dos anarquistas na criação do sindicalismo, uma tática que, como Malatesta coloca em 1907, “os sindicalistas, esquecendo do passado, chamam de nova, apesar de ter sido deslumbrada e seguida, na Internacional, pelos primeiros anarquistas.”). Apenas na Inglaterra, Estados Unidos e Itália, o sindicalismo foi ilustre pela presença de marxistas (o produto do reformismo da social-democracia). Na Itália, foram esses sindicalistas-marxistas que se tornaram fascistas enquanto os anarquistas aumentaram sua influência na USI (Unione Sindacale Italiana – União Sindical Italiana) antes de serem reprimidos pelos primeiros colegas. Na Inglaterra e Estados Unidos, esses sindicalistas-marxistas em geral se tornaram comunistas.

Em outra confusa reescrição de sua própriam história, Bookchin afirma que no “final dos anos 1950, quando o anarquismo nos Estados Unidos era presença mal discernível, parecia um campo suficientemente claro em que eu poderia desenvolver a ecologia social... eu sabia bem que essas visões não eram consistentes com as ideias anarquistas tradicionais.” O que explica seus repetidos escritos em que ele defende suas ideias anarquistas contra aqueles que clamaram de outro modo! Essas, significativamente, bem expandidas dos anos 90 adiante, que declaram que “hoje descobri que o anarquismo permanece a muito simplista psicologia, individualista e antiracionalista, que sempre foi” são o revisionismo do pior tipo.

Ele dá as costas até mesmo ao seu próprio passado esquerdista, argumentando que a “Esquerda revolucionária… francamente cometeu um erro profundo quando tomou uma posição assim-chamada 'internacionalista' e recusou-se apoiar os Aliados (e não obstante suas patologias imperialistas) contra a vanguarda do fascismo mundial, o Terceiro Reich.” Que a Segunda Guerra Mundial foi uma guerra imperialista era óbvio, com os Aliados tolerando alegremente o fascismo enquanto este não entrasse na sua esfera de influência – um fato confirmado quando fascistas foram colocados em posições de poder pelos vitoriosos Aliados em ligar de organizações sociais alternativas criadas pelos camponeses. Deveria ser observado também que, naquele momento, Bookchin era um trotskyista e então, presumivelmente, apoiou a Rússia estalinista contra a agressão fascista (e assim os trotkyistas, como notaram os anarquistas naquele momento, violaram a posição “internacionalista”).

Anarquismo autêntico?


Echoing countless Marxists, Bookchin now believed that anarchism "represents in its authentic form a highly individualistic outlook that fosters a radically unfettered lifestyle, often as a substitute for mass action." He noted "the peasant-craft ‘associationism’ that lies at the core of anarchism," arguing that it "is far better suited to articulate a Proudhonian single-family peasant and craft world than a modern urban and industrial environment." Yet as he himself noted in volume 2 of "The Third Revolution," anarchism, like socialism in general, evolved as society itself changed as the capitalist economy developed. This was reflected in Proudhon, for example, who increasingly brought to the fore the need for workers’ associations for non-artisan workplaces. Bakunin and Kropotkin built on these changes in both the "Proudhonian" politics and the wider economy and by the 1870s mainstream anarchism was communist-anarchism.

Part of the problem is that anarchists do not actually know what anarchism really is. "Regrettably," he wrote, "the use of socialistic terms has often prevented anarchists from telling us or even understanding clearly what they are." Given that he considered himself an anarchist for over four decades, he seems to be generalising from his own experience. Luckily, we now have Bookchin (or at least his ghost) to inform us that we are "individualists whose concepts of autonomy originate in a strong commitment to personal liberty rather than to social freedom, or socialists committed to a structured, institutionalized, and responsible form of social organization." In fact, "anarchism represents the most extreme formulation of liberalism’s ideology of unfettered autonomy." He could have saved himself a lot of wasted energy if only he had read Hal Draper’s (or any other clueless Leninist) nonsense on anarchism, which asserts the same.

Sadly for Bookchin this is simply not true. Anarchists like Bakunin and Kropotkin were dismissive of the claims of bourgeois individualism, or classical liberalism (as he was once aware, writing in "Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism" that "Bakunin often expressed his opposition to the individualistic trend in liberalism . . . with considerable polemical emphasis"). Indeed, the "most extreme formulation of liberalism" is right-wing "libertarianism" whose adherents are most definitely not anarchists (even if some of them try and appropriate that label) as they are staunch supporters of hierarchical organisations (most obviously, wage labour). They dismiss the anarchist critique of private property and the social hierarchies it produces and, in general, support both state (either in minimal or privatised form) to protect the "unfettered autonomy" of the boss against his wage slaves and the land lord against his tenants. Unsurprisingly, in the past, Bookchin called these the "so-called libertarian (more accurately, proprietarian) right."

Communalism ("in contrast to anarchism") is based on "decision-making by majority voting as the only equitable way for a large number of people to make decisions." "Authentic anarchists", apparently, argue that this is "authoritarian and propose instead to make decisions by consensus." Yet who are these "authentic" anarchists who propose "consensus" decision making? It is not to be found in Proudhon, Bakunin, Berkman or Goldman. Kropotkin mentions it once, when discussing the Russian peasant community. Are these not "authentic" anarchists?

If Bakunin or Goldman are not "authentic" anarchists, who is? Perhaps in those "extreme" adherents of liberalism, the right-wing "libertarians"? Yet there consensus is not to be found. Murray Rothbard happily supported the autocratic power of the property owner over their wage slaves and tenants, seeing "hierarchy" as one of the "institutions necessary to the triumph of liberty" (raising the question of what part of "an-archy" was hard to understand?). He was against majority voting, but only because it was egalitarian and did not reflect wealth inequalities. Instead, he favoured majority rule in terms of shares held in a company – with mere workers or tenants having no say if they had none.

So it appears these "authentic" anarchists do not exist in reality. This is unsurprising, as anarchists are generally fluid in their vision of decision making. In some cases, consensus may be best, in others majority decision making is acceptable. On the question of minority rights, again, the context is important – in some situations, majorities are acceptable (for example, deciding to strike) in others there is a right, even a duty, for the minority to ignore the majority. For example, when the majority of German Social Democrats decided to support their state in the First World War it was wrong for the minority to go along in the name of party discipline and majority rights. All this is, surely, simply common sense and requires no need to make a fetish of the dubious notion that the majority is always right?

Bookchin’s position was increasingly problematic, as can be seen when he argued that "the anarcho-communist notion of a very loose ‘federation of autonomous communes’ is replaced with a confederation from which its components, functioning in a democratic manner through citizens’ assemblies, may withdraw only with the approval of the confederation as a whole." Yet the right of secession is fundamental to liberty. The freedom to association implies the freedom to not association. Looking at the most basic level, the commune, does this mean that citizens cannot withdraw without majority approval? How free is a society which requires its members to gain permission to move communes? And if the individual can associate freely, why should this be denied the communes they are part of? And how would this be enforced? Would the confederation take up arms against the rebels in order to, Rousseau-like, "force them to be free"?

It is, therefore, ironic to read Bookchin state that "Communalism as an ideology is not sullied by the individualism and the often explicit antirationalism of anarchism; nor does it carry the historical burden of Marxism’s authoritarianism as embodied in Bolshevism." As he was once aware, a love of individual freedom does not equate to "individualism" (an ambiguous term which hides a multitude of interpretations). Equally, refusing to base your politics on free association does raise the "burden" of the authoritarianism required to hold a confederation together.

Anarchism and Direct Democracy

Bookchin does, of course, try and present evidence to back up his claim. Kropotkin, he writes, "rejected democratic decision-making procedures" and quotes from "Kropotkin’s Revolutionary Pamphlets": "Majority rule is as defective as any other kind of rule" Yet a quick consultation of the page in question shows that Bookchin has ripped that sentence utterly out of context. It was, in fact, a dismissal of representative democracy, the notion "that it is merely stupid to elect a few men and to entrust them with the task of making laws on all possible subjects." Moreover, again on the same page, Kropotkin counterpoises federal organisation based on congresses of mandated delegates to representative democracy.

Somewhat ironically Bookchin asserts that the "sections" of the French revolution were "the authentic motive forces of the Great Revolution and conscious agents for the making of a new body politic." He then states that "they were never given the consideration they deserve in the literature on democracy, particularly democratic Marxist tendencies and revolutionary syndicalists" and this "is dramatic evidence of the flaws that existed in the revolutionary tradition." Here omission plays its part as he was surely aware that Kropotkin discussed these at length in his "The Great French Revolution", concluding that "the Revolution began by creating the Commune . . . and through this institution it gained . . . immense power." It was in these popular assemblies that "the masses, accustoming themselves to act without receiving orders from the national representatives, were practising what was to be described later as Direct Self-Government." And so "the principles of anarchism . . . already dated from 1789, and that they had their origin, not in theoretical speculations, but in the deeds of the Great French Revolution." For Kropotkin, it was a truism that "the libertarians would no doubt do the same to-day."

Significantly Kropotkin noted that these communes were not created by standing for elections, but were "made from below upward, by the federation of the district organisations; it spring up in a revolutionary way, from popular initiative." Which is the crux of the issue, as few anarchists are opposed to popular assemblies. The critique of Bookchin’s "libertarian Municipalism" was precisely that it was tied to standing in elections to create these bodies, i.e., it was hopelessly reformist in orientation. This flawed perspective explains his most obvious contradiction. He asserted that communalists "do not contend that a Communalist society can be legislated into existence" before, on the very same page, admitting that they "do not hesitate to run candidates in municipal elections who, if elected, would use what real power their offices confer to legislate popular assemblies into existence. These assemblies, in turn, would have the power ultimately to create effective forms of town-meeting government." So, apparently, a communalist society can be "legislated into existence" after all. And what is the difference between the "popular assemblies" and a "town-meeting government"? How do they differ and why should the "popular assemblies" hand over their power to them?

Then there is the top-down approach, with "adherents of Communalism mobiliz[ing] themselves to electorally engage in a potentially important center of power – the municipal council – and try to compel it to create legislatively potent neighborhood assemblies." Surely we do not need permission to create popular assemblies than did the French sections or the popular clubs of 1848 and 1871? Strangely, given that it was written in 2002, this essay makes no mention of the popular assemblies created in Argentina. These fit into the anarchist vision of social change, but not Bookchin’s.

Given the reformist nature of their creation, it seems doubtful that Bookchin would be proved right when he argued that "the new popular-assemblyist municipal confederations will embody a dual power against the state that becomes a source of growing political tension is obvious. Either a Communalist movement will be radicalized by this tension and will resolutely face all its consequences, or it will surely sink into a morass of compromises that absorb it back into the social order that it once sought to change." In reality, the municipal council is part of the state and cannot become an effective "dual power" to it and any radicals using elections will, like so many others before them, "sink into a morass of compromises" that this tactic produces. The fate of the German Greens and Social-Democrats applied to local elections just as much national ones.

The tyranny of structurelessness

Without naming her, Bookchin repeats some of feminist Jo Freeman’s arguments in classic essay "The tyranny of structurelessness." We find him writing that a "serious libertarian approach to leadership would indeed acknowledge the reality and crucial importance of leaders – all the more to establish the greatly needed formal structures and regulations that can effectively control and modify the activities of leaders and recall them when the membership decides their respect is being misused or when leadership becomes an exercise in the abusive exercise of power." He presents the usual stereotype of anarchists being against structured organisations, arguing that "[f]reedom from authoritarianism can best be assured only by the clear, concise, and detailed allocation of power, not by pretensions that power and leadership are forms of ‘rule’ or by libertarian metaphors that conceal their reality. It has been precisely when an organization fails to articulate these regulatory details that the conditions emerge for its degeneration and decay."

It would be churlish to point out that Bakunin raised the issue of union assemblies combined with the use of mandates and recall as a means of restricting the power of union leaders over their members and that he placed these at the heart of his vision of social revolution! As such, an awareness of the need to organise in order to "control" delegates has existed within "inauthentic" anarchism for some time. Equally churlish would be to point out the logical contradiction in his position. After all, for Bookchin these "leaders" are meant to be mandated delegates, not representatives. If the "leaders" are allocated "power" then they can decide on behalf of their electorate and, as such, they are not delegates. He cannot have it both ways, arguing that these "leaders" should have "power" while maintaining that they are mere delegates. The problem every organisation faces is that the "leaders" start to act on behalf of the membership, i.e., thaat they exert power over them rather than implementing their mandates. Anarchists have aimed to reduce that tendency, with varying degrees of success, so to suggest we are ignorant of this need is staggering.

Bookchin argued that"[i]ronically, no stratum has been more insistent in demanding its freedom to exercise its will against regulation than chiefs, monarchs, nobles, and the bourgeoisie." Unmentioned is their equally "insistent" demands that those subject to their "will" follow the "regulation" that implies! After all, the bourgeoisie have always been keen on asserting "the managers right to manage" and resisting any attempt by workers to resist the kind of "freedom" which translates into the many following the orders of the few. Equally, the "stratum" of trade union and party "leaders" has always been keen to accumulate power within their organisations, modifying the regulations to secure that power and limit rank-and-file participation as much as possible. Formal structures can, and have been, used to secure that aim, a fact which Bookchin overlooks.

Ultimately, contra-Bookchin, "power and leadership" be easily be forms of "rule", especially if there is an "allocation of power" which helps turn delegates into representatives. As such as Bookchin is right on the need for clear organisational structures, this need is precisely to reduce the "allocation of power" to a minimum and ensure that power rests in the hands of those affected by decisions rather than a few (democratically elected) "leaders" who are a government in the usual sense of the word.

Municipalize the economy?

Bookchin turns his fire on industrial self-management, repeating his long standing (and basically correct) critique that we "must also avoid the parochialism and ultimately the desires for proprietorship that have afflicted so many self-managed enterprises, such as the ‘collectives’ in the Russian and Spanish revolutions." This involved a "drift among many ‘socialistic’ self-managed enterprises . . . toward forms of collective capitalism that ultimately led many of these concerns to compete with one another for raw materials and markets." Yet it is not clear that his proposed solution would automatically eliminate this problem:

"its aim is not to nationalize the economy or retain private ownership of the means of production but to municipalize the economy. It seeks to integrate the means of production into the existential life of the municipality, such that every productive enterprise falls under the purview of the local assembly, which decides how it will function to meet the interests of the community as a whole."

It would be churlish to note that the Spanish anarchists organised rural communes precisely as Bookchin recommends and, moreover, these could and did express "collective" selfishness just as much as the self-managed workplaces. As with the urban collectives, the anarchists involved had to combat these tendencies. The CNT was aware of this and consistently fought it, arguing for socialisation rather than the compromise of "collectivisation" which the revolution had produced. So it should be stressed that these developments came as no surprise, then as now, as anarchists have long argued that creating a libertarian communist society cannot be achieved quickly or simply.

Any attempt to transform society, therefore, will be marked by mistakes and narrow, and ultimately, self-defeating interests expressing themselves. Attempts to get around these with institutional fixes are to be avoided, though. In "revolutionary Russia" it was precisely these tendencies which were used by the Bolsheviks to concentrate economic power into the hands of the state, effectively ending workplace freedom and its replacement with state appointed managers implementing (or, more correctly, trying to implement) the decrees of bureaucrats made in ignorance of local conditions within the centralised state machine. Yes, the "desires for proprietorship" of individual collectives was apparently ended but it was replaced by the far worse "desires for proprietorship" of a bureaucracy.

Given that the problems Bookchin rightly points out about individual workplaces can be expressed by individual communes we simply cannot glibly assume that his solution will work as easily as he suggested.

Communalist confusions

Channelling Engels’s infamous diatribe "On Authority," Bookchin asserts that "anarchists have long regarded every government as a state and condemned it accordingly – a view that is a recipe for the elimination of any organized social life whatever." For Engels, any organisation implied "authority", for Bookchin it came to imply "government" and so collectively making your own decisions is confused with letting a few rulers make them for you. It does feel like he was playing with words when he tried to explain his new position:

"While the state is the instrument by which an oppressive and exploitative class regulates and coercively controls the behaviour of an exploited class by a ruling class, a government – or better still, a polity – is an ensemble of institutions designed to deal with the problems of consociational life in an orderly and hopefully fair manner. Every institutionalized association that constitutes a system for handling public affairs – with or without the presence of a state – is necessarily a government. By contrast, every state, although necessarily a form of government, is a force for class repression and control."

Which is what Marxists habitually assert against anarchists, namely that any form of social organisation created in a revolution is a "state" regardless of its name. It seems as pointless to note that collective decision making is no more a "government" than a "state" unless you wish to term any form of association a "government" regardless of how it is organised. Thus, by Bookchin’s logic, even Stirner’s "Union of Egoists" would be a "government." The key factors, surely, are whether it is freely joined and self-managed within it. If so, it is an abuse of the language to describe an organisation as a "government" if it is not hierarchically structured ("the word 'State' . . . should be reserved for those societies with the hierarchical system and centralisation" correctly argued Kropotkin). Otherwise the term becomes so widely applicable as to become meaningless.

Then there is the issue of social change. Bookchin distorts Colin Ward’s arguments (without mentioning who he mocks, of course) that "the good society . . . exists beneath the oppressive burdens of civilization like fertile soil beneath the snow." That Ward is simply noting that anarchistic trends exist in every society is hardly controversial nor does it imply, as Bookchin asserted, that we do not need to "proactively create" an anarchist society, that "we would simply let the snow above it melt away." That he felt the need to do this is hatchet job is sad. After all, few anarchists would disagree with the notion that we should "try to build lasting organizations and institutions that can play a socially transformative role in the real world." That has been the standard libertarian position from the start. To paraphrase Bookchin from early days, the question is how we organise, not whether we do or not.

Equally bizarrely, Bookchin asserted that "a case can made that many of the ideas of social and economic reconstruction that in the past have been advanced in the name of ‘anarchy’ were often drawn from Marxism." Which would have come as a surprise to Bakunin, but perhaps he was not an "authentic" anarchist. Given that Proudhon had raised the ideas of workplace self-management, federalism, communes, mandated delegates long before Marx praised their application in the Paris Commune, we can more truly state that a far stronger case can be made that many of the ideas of social and economic reconstruction that in the past have been advanced in the name of "Marxism" were often drawn from anarchism. This becomes extremely clear when Lenin’ "State and Revolution" is compared to the ideas Bakunin was arguing for the mid-1860s to his death. As pointed out by Bookchin in "Listen, Marxist!" in Post-Scarcity Anarchism nearly 40 years previously!

The Spanish Revolution

The crux of the matter is expressed in his account of the Spanish revolution, where "the Spanish syndicalists (and anarchists) revealed only a minimal capacity to understand the situation in which they found themselves after their victory over Franco’s forces in the summer of 1936 and no capacity to take ‘the next step’ to institutionalize a workers’ and peasants’ form of government." This flows from his new found distinction between "government" and "state", not to mention a complete confusion between power over oneself and power over others (which suggests that Bookchin’s statement that "[a]bove all, Communalism is engaged with the problem of power" is less than accurate).

What is also apparent is the utter lack of context in Bookchin’s account. Like the Leninists, he presents the decision to collaborate to flow purely from the claimed limitations in anarchist theory rather than the situation they faced. This may have been discussed in the original appendix to this essay which is not included in this book but here we are left with glib idealism which roots the decisions made in the heads of the anarchists, mislead by their own ideology. That said theory urged the destruction of the state and its replacement by a system of workers’ councils is left as unmentioned as the reasons why this was not done undiscussed.

The limitations in Bookchin’s analysis can be seen when he writes of the "anarchists’ disdain for power" while, at the same time quoting Bakunin on how the new social order could be created "only through the development and organization of the nonpolitical or antipolitical social power of the working class in city and country." The Russian, Bookchin states, "expressed the typical view of [anarchism’s] adherents"! So much for Bookchin’s prized "coherence"! Equally, it should be noted that Bakunin was not "rejecting with characteristic inconsistency the very municipal politics which he sanctioned in Italy around the same year." In fact, Bakunin urged his friends to stand for Parliament, not municipal office.

However, this inconsistency should not cloud his real contribution to revolutionary theory, namely this vision of social change:

"the Alliance of all labour associations . . . will constitute the Commune . . . there will be a standing federation of the barricades and a Revolutionary Communal Council . . . [made up of] delegates . . . invested with binding mandates and accountable and revocable at all times . . . all provinces, communes and associations . . . [will] delegate deputies to an agreed place of assembly (all . . . invested with binding mandated and accountable and subject to recall), in order to found the federation of insurgent associations, communes and provinces . . . and to organise a revolutionary force with the capacity of defeating the reaction . . . it is through the very act of extrapolation and organisation of the Revolution with an eye to the mutual defences of insurgent areas that the universality of the Revolution . . . will emerge triumphant."

The question is, surely, why the CNT-FAI did not pursue this "next step", this vision of social organisation at the heart of anarchism. To blame a theory when that theory was not implemented seems, on the face of it, unconvincing and so best left to Marxists.

Class Analysis

Finally, there is Bookchin’s class analysis he inherited from Leninism. Thus he repeated his identification of "working class" with industrial workers rather than all wage slaves. "Contrary to Marx’s expectations," Bookchin argued, "the industrial working class is now dwindling in numbers and is steadily losing its traditional identity as a class." Yet wage slavery is just, if not more, predominant today as in the era of "proletarian socialism" which Bookchin argued ended in the 1930s. And like Leninists, class becomes transformed into a perspective rather than an objective position within society: "the traditional proletariat, upon which syndicalists and Marxists were overwhelmingly, indeed almost mystically focused, into a largely petty-bourgeois stratum whose mentality is marked by its own bourgeois utopianism of ‘consumption for the sake of consumption’." While their "mentality" may be "petty-bourgeois", their "stratum" is still working class. Durruti, for example, no more became "petty-bourgeois" when he became an anarchist than Marx became a "proletarian" when he wrote "The Communist Manifesto."

That class consciousness seems to be at a historical low is an issue which needs to be addressed and fixed, along with the other negative impacts of capitalist society on individual development. As such, Bookchin was right to state this "by no means excludes it [the traditional proletariat] from a potentially broader and perhaps more extensive conflict of society as a whole against capitalist social relations." Yet it seems to be, as with anarchism, he threw the baby out with the bath water. Still, his confusions and limitations on class analysis and struggle do not impact his focus on oppression as well as exploitation: "Hierarchy, today, is becoming as pronounced an issue as class – as witness the extent to which many social analyses have singled out managers, bureaucrats, scientists, and the like as emerging, ostensibly dominant groups."

Not that anarchists before Bookchin did not notice social hierarchies, far from it. for anarchists oppression is as important as exploitation As he is forced to admit ("From anarchism, it draws its commitment to antistatism and confederalism, as well as its recognition that hierarchy is a basic problem that can be overcome only by a libertarian socialist society.") So it is not only social ecology which presents "a coherent vision of social development that intertwines the mutual impact of hierarchy and class on the civilizing of humanity." One of Bookchin’s many contributions to anarchism was to link this to ecological issues, that "we must reorder social relations so that humanity can live in a protective balance with the natural world."

Conclusions

Sadly Bookchin is not around to reply to these points. I doubt he would have agreed with this analysis, particularly as they draw upon his own works. He did not seem to take criticism easily, which undoubtedly helped make the debates in the 1990s worse than they had to be (although the responses to Bookchin’s "Social Anarchism and Lifestyle anarchism" did not seem designed to provoke comradely debate).

Suffice to say, his account of anarchism and its flaws is inaccurate and petty and does his memory no favours. The valid core of his argument, the need for communal organisations, is lost in his anti-anarchist diatribes nor is it helped that this need has long been recognised in anarchism and placed in a revolutionary context missing from his version.

Ultimately, though, I take no pleasure in showing up Bookchin’s contradictions and personal revisionism. It is a shame that he ended such a fruitful political life by writing such rubbish. Hopefully, his post-anarchist work will be ignored in favour of his real, important and still relevant contributions to libertarian theory – along, of course, with his silly "libertarian municipalism" fetish which became his undoing.

Still, during the time he considered himself an anarchist he contributed immensely to our movement and its ideas. Even at his worse (and his post-1999 work was, at times, terrible) he is worth reading. AK Press should be praised for publishing this book for it allows anarchists to question their politics by looking at Bookchin’s critique, flawed as it is. If we can learn from and clarify our own ideas by doing so, then even this last work by Bookchin will be of some value although not as much as reading "Post-Scarcity Anarchism" or "Toward an Ecological Society."


Textos

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

  1. "should the darkness of capitalist barbarism thicken to the point where this enterprise [social ecology] is no longer possible, history . . . will indeed reach its definitive end.
  2. No inglês, uncharacteristically