The Rudder of the Commons

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Within libertarian communist circles, there is agreement on the necessity of a commons of some form. However, actual decision making rules and rudders of the commons are not thoroughly discussed. This leaves our commons without a rudder. Directly Democratic assemblies are not just a rudder for a commons, but that which has the ability to bring the commons into existence.

Common owned property allows for communities to directly manage their own affairs. Worker control over means of production is often over emphasized within the left. Worker ownership of the means of production can be compared and contrasted to community ownership over the means of production. The proletariat should have self management rather than rule over the economy. In fact, people should be liberated from toil through automation. Non-authoritarian collective property should exist, but not at the expense of common property. To do nothing more than put workers in charge of workforces is to leave us with an economy but not a polity. Anarchists who are critiqued as “economic reductionists” are often critiqued as such due to their analysis of what is, but a critique of economic reductionists should also encompass what economic reductionists think ought to be. We do not want the community controlled by workers but by commoners.

If we are going to have a commons we need a decision-making process and body. This should not be in the hands of private/state and even worker control. All of which would centralize decision-making power to various degrees. Worker control over the community is far less centralized than state and private ownership, but centralized nonetheless when compared to the alternative of municipalized economies. Constitutional Direct Democracy would prohibit rulership, find out what people’s preferences are, dialogue about various preferences, find compatibilities and incompatibilities between preferences, and resolve incompatibilities by a majority decision that leaves people free to disagree/stay in the association yet not partake in that decision/move uninhibited by hierarchical relations, protest, debate the issue, and re-appeal.

We are not all going to agree on every decision everyone makes anytime anyone makes any decision about anything on a sub-municipal/municipal/confederal level. The question then becomes how we resolve such disagreements. A non hierarchical constitution will ensure that the disagreements that happen are not based on questions of rulership, but questions of different options for managing common pool resources and cities.

The process of creating and maintaining a commons will require a policy making body of some form that is capable of existing with disagreements, while remaining non hierarchical. The face to face relations will create a community setting where we can be accountable for our decisions, collaborative, and potentially foster communion within the community that allows for a reduction in authoritarian relations of any kind. The idea that we will have a commons before we have community institutions is rather foolish, and if we leave the community institutions as a project for after the commons already exists, the commons will not be claimed in the first place.
There are a few regressive tends that remain dominant within anarchism. There is the anti organizational tendency, which often is not merely against organization when it comes to means, but can also be against organization when it comes to ends. There is economic reductionist and non-political variety of organization, which is for organization, but in the economic sphere. There is also activism that is based on procedural unanimity at the expense of the principles of direct democracy.

One of the contradictions that I have seen within people is a “pro-commons” yet anti organizational tendency. These people advocate a lawless commons. In rebellion against hierarchical institutions, they have rebelled against institutions full stop. According to these anarchists, hierarchy arises from organization, making organization closer to the root problem than hierarchy itself in their eyes. In this sense they are anti organization more so than they are against hierarchy. Other people are for some kind of organization just “after the revolution”. In this sense, they are against the very institutional forms that could create the revolution until after the revolution. Revolutions will not come through mere periodic and informal actions and organizations.

If people are going to be in favor of common-pool-resources, then they ought to be for some kind of rudder. Or they can drift off into anarchism without a commons, an amorphous blob without the conditions and relationships required for freedom. Or people can drift off into a procedural unanimity, where the solution to disagreements is to make sure disagreements do not happen. Or we can drift off into the workerism and economic reductionism that many anarchists have rightfully tried so hard to escape from. Unfortunately, the way many have tried to escape from economic reductionism is through various degrees of anti rational solutions.

Let me stress that the commons cannot be static nor brief and periodic; It must be maintained, it must develop in a liberatory direction, it must be steered. To give up on institutions is to give up on the commons and by extension the dream of a libertarian communist society. The commons does not develop rationally without decision making bodies and without decision making processes. Purely informal organizational and non organizational means for formal organizational ends are insufficient. The idea that a commons will exist in anything but a primordial form before community assemblies exist puts the “cart before the horse” as we strive towards a better society.

Periodic community based activism and community technology projects can serve as “gateway drugs” to a community assembly and a commons. However, a “primordial commons” and a “primordial community assembly” created through such means will not become a vessel for societal change until these practices are institutionalized. Periodic direct action should not be confused with institutionalized direct action despite important relations between the two and similarities.

Common property ought to be based on use. Rather than a form of ownership of that which a community does not use, common property ought to be bounded by usufruct. If we overcome private property and state property only to have a common/collective/personal property system divorced from use, we have not actually solved the problem of ownership at the expense of usufruct, merely minimized it. Ownership at the expense of usufruct can lead to ecological disaster.

The process of maintaining a commons becomes a means towards post-scarcity. Knowledge shares, skill shares, tool shares, community programs to create a guaranteed minimum, and municipalized production and distribution allow communities to become more resilient in the present as people aim towards a larger project. We do not need to wait until after the revolution to begin the very process that is capable of leading to a revolution.

Critique of a “Resource Based Economy”, The Venus Project, and The Zeitgeist Movement from the perspective of a Libertarian Municipalist who is for Post Scarcity Economics by Hagbard Celine33

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(A Rough Draft)

Critique of a “Resource Based Economy”, The Venus Project, and The Zeitgeist Movement from a the perspective of a Libertarian Municipalist who is for Post Scarcity Economics

The Venus Project and The Zeitgeist Movement have put together some useful information about economics. However, the movement falls short on its ends and means. This is in part due to a lack of political vision of an RBE, which is reflected in the lack of political practice put forward by TVP/TZM.
Before I begin the critique I would like to mention a few things to ground my critique in a charitable and honest frame: TVP/TZM have some important economic, technological, and behavioral insights that most people into socioeconomic systems can learn from. TVP/TZM is strictly educational. Many people critique TVP/TZM for being purely educational rather than the education they provide. I think both critiques are valid. TVP/TZM doesn’t even have a broad idea of how to create the new society in the shell of the old, however it is clear there is a desire to do this within both organizations. TVP/TZM focus on ends rather than means. It is when means and ends meet in harmony that we are able to actually achieve desired ends. I have been active in TZM for many years up until recently. I have met a lot of good people within TZM, and think it does a lot of good things education wise. But aspects of the vision of an RBE are flawed, and the “educational reductionism” of TVP/TZM is flawed.
I want to critique the “train of thought” (RBE), and the practice of TZM/TVP. These critiques will be separate yet interconnected, for practice and theory are intertwined.
Critique of RBE:
When RBE advocates say they are antipolitical or apolitical you should believe them. They do not advocate for any political structure. In fact they both rely on the economic reductionism that is throughout Marxist analysis. The economic foundationalism (rather than a foundherentism of politics/economics) is throughout the entire analysis. It does not just reject the state, it rejects politics. The decision making process for when there are incompatible preferences has been missing from TZM before and after Peter’s economic calculation lecture. The delegation of power towards engineers and specialists doesnt even have a political assembly that can delegate such a council, which is in part why people often assume engineers/specialists would control such a society. Given the lack of politics in an RBE’s prescriptions, we are left with vague decision making processes. And no Peter’s lecture does not solve this issue at all. It showed multi hours of avoiding the question of political decision making processes. RBEs are economies without polities. There is an inconsistency with the prescription of “no laws” +  outlawing the market and the state. This is a “meta-political law” against political laws except itself. We must separate hierarchical “politics”(statecraft) from non hierarchical politics. They are incompatible and antithetical to one another. TVP/TZM members and anti political anarchists often conflate statecraft with politics, and in doing so conflate the non hierarchical management of the city by the citizens to hierarchical management of the city by some form of rulership.
Jacque Fresco has often advocated for “no laws” and says that laws do not solve social problems. Jacque is on to something in the sense that no law in and of itself ensures the preconditions for that law to be followed. However, this is not why we need no laws, but a plurality of laws that harmonize to create conditions of freedom. Laws such as “no markets, no states, no revenge” are only successful to the degree that the preconditions needed for them are allowed to flourish. This is not a reason to give up on law, but to embrace the concept of laws and find out what laws make sense for a non hierarchical society. We need laws to bind our political decisions so that conditions of freedom are generated, maintained, and made more resilient. The theory of law and political decisions are absent throughout the theory of an RBE. To be fair, A “Resource Based Economy” is just that: An economy. There needs to be a polity, political decision making processes, and political laws that come into unity with a post scarcity economy rather than an economy in a vacuum.
In an RBE, there is an interactive resource calculator that allows people to makes demands within economic limits or laws that are guided by ecological principles. This is rather inconsistent with the “no laws” prescription but it is clear that a RBE advocates economic laws but not political laws. However there are issues with this interactive resource calculator: What if there are incompatible preferences? Certainly the use of liberatory technology and a value system shift away from conspicuous consumption and resource library systems would minimize such incompatible preferences, but they will still come up. Also there are decisions that are not purely economic; There are questions that are political. What will the city look like? How will we maintain the city? What will the relationship be between the polity and the economy? What laws should we have? What institutions will govern the commons? How? The polity should be entirely integrated with the economy. Confederated sub municipal and municipal assemblies that are directly democratic can be used to make and administer non hierarchical laws, determine preferences that are compatible and incompatible, and find out how to solve incompatible preferences.  This polity would then decide how to manage areas of the city held in common as well as the resources that are held in common through a common usership system bounded by ecological principles. This would compliment the post scarcity economy, and allow for non hierarchical power to come into existence as opposed to ignoring the question of political power altogether, or even worse wanting to do away with it. Rather than trying to abolish political processes (processes for management of the city by the citizens) and by extension ignoring the question of power, we should ask “what kind of political processes are consistent with non hierarchical principles?”
Not every decision is purely quantitative. Not every decision is purely economic. Decision making can be assisted by experts in relevant fields and computers rather than taken over by them. Optimum technology and placement of technology for various metrics should be available to people making decisions. Also, there are different desirable metrics, and we are going to need to choose between them sometimes as much as we might desire every single one of them to be made as optimal as possible. Majority preference within free associations allows us to solve disagreements in a way that doesn’t allow everyone to have the equal right to be dictator over every decision being made, and in a way that makes it so power flows from the bottom upwards, rather than from the top downwards.
The qualitative freedom created by non hierarchical constitutional direct democracy is more important than vague concepts of “maximized efficiency” (as important as technical efficiency and “resource efficiency” is) considering such an end is even attainable. Policy decisions should be in the hands of the people, and since many RBE advocates think so as well, these concepts should not be considered incompatible with their desired ends.
Constitutional direct democracy, far from the mere “least bad” way to organize, is a realm of freedom. It allows people to make decisions over their lives and their city bounded by certain rights and obligations without rulers. It is a realm of deliberation, education, consociation, and community. It is also developmental in the sense that it doesnt call for some magical end to political disagreements. It calls for an ongoing political process that doesnt have a final ending.

Critique of TVP/TZM:

 

Due to a lack of directly democratic political theory, TVP/TZM lacked a directly democratic structure. It had a structure of volunteer work, and the equivalent of a confederal council of admins. The confederal councils were not appropriately delegated from the bottom up. To this day there is no directly democratic body to delegate such power. Policy decisions are not made at the lowest levels within a platform(or agreed upon principles), instead there is nothing but a platform, volunteer work, DIY projects, and a confederal council.
TZM/TVP focus on educational tactics. Many people will critique education in and of itself as a tactic rather than the content of TVP/TZM’s education (critique of the actual theory rather than the theory of spreading theory). Many people in “radical” communities will be against education. I have had many post rational anarchists tell me how “theory is not radical” regardless of the content of the theory. I find this to be an error in their thinking through creating a false dichotomy between theory and practice. However, if there is nothing but educational projects without any political process for both means and ends, then there are no material changes directly part of the organization. The only material changes will be indirect through inspiration.
TVP/TZM rely on an educational reductionism. The content they put out, outside of the lack of political systems, is useful. Information on human cognition/behavior, flaws of markets/states, the alternative of a post scarcity economy are all sound ideas.
A post-scarcity group should be a dual power (or strive to create a dual power) created to decenter power while meeting needs, and building the very institutions that can exist during and after a transition from hierarchical to non hierarchical systems. This process would be demonstrative and educational for those involved and those not involved. Even if TVP/TZM would have failed at creating a directly democratic structure within communities, they could have at least created a microcosm of what a directly democratic structure would look like within the movement (and they could have helped be educational platforms for spreading such constitutional directly democratic politics).

Theory Laden Practice by Hagbard Celine33

Theory-Practice

Kuhn and Popper have revolutionized our understanding of science. Both of their work shows how our observations are theory laden. Our metrics for what qualifies as evidence are theory laden. And our understanding of our observations being theory laden adds to our theory. This helps us to know both how we gain knowledge, and what the limits of knowledge are.

Observation is not the only thing that is theory laden. Our practice is theory laden. The actions we do or do not do are informed by our theory. This understanding has profound implications for the importance of theory in circles seeking social change.

Sometimes theory and practice are seen as opposed within circles seeking social change. Some people lean heavily towards one or the other, and by extension are missing practice that can help their theory, and theory that can help their practice. Perhaps the reason some tactics are ineffective is because our theory that informs what tactics we should and shouldn’t use is wrong. Theory doesn’t just inform us about what we should do, but where we want to go. Through understanding the limits of knowledge and the fact that we can almost always get closer approximations to the truth (and by extension better tactics for achieving desired ends, and better desired ends), we should realize that theory plays an important role.

Frameworks for viewing human cognition, behavior, relationships, systems, and development are extremely important for anyone concerned about changing human cognition, behavior, relationships and systems. The relationship is symbiotic, our practice (and observation of our practice) is informed by our theory and our theory is informed by our practice (and our observation of our practice).  To ignore the dialogue between theory and practice, is to lessen our understanding of both.

Listen, Mutualist! by HagbardCeline33

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This is a response essay to Kevin Carson’s essay in response to libertarian municipalism. Here is a link to Kevin Carson’s essay so you can see what I am responding to. I wrote this essay within a day and will probably continue to revise it as I usually do with my writings. Hope this creates dialogue.

A link to Kevin Carson’s essay: http://c4ss.org/content/36761

In regards to anarchism and technology:

It is always interesting to see someone praise Bookchin’s essay “Towards a Liberatory Technology” and then continue to advocate for markets. It is one thing to be ignorant of our technical context that makes markets obsolete, it is another thing to claim this technical context is a fantasy, and it is another thing altogether to know about the technical context that makes markets obsolete exists but still think that we should have markets. If things people need are for sale, then by extension people are for sale. We have the technical ability to have free food/water/shelter/energy for all. Supplying people with such resources for free would be bad for maximizing money. A great way to maximize money is by selling that which people need, and living in a society where the very basics of what people need are for sale. Aeroponic skyscrapers, agroecology, geothermal/wind/solar/wave/tidal energy/hemp energy, water purification systems, hempcrete houses, hemp based plastics/paper, the ability to produce ad distribute everything simpler than an automobile, maglevs, and various other forms of liberatory technology can free us from artificial scarcity. This context makes markets obsolete. To make this liberatory technology for sale as opposed to something accessed by communities, collectives, and individuals, is to turn liberatory technology into less liberatory technology(at best), and ensure scarcity that is needed and generated by market systems.

Markets ration resources through money, putting cost efficiency before ecological usage of resources, liberatory technology, and human needs whenever doing so makes sense in the realm of market competition. Market economies are based on an all out economic war, where a game of economic musical chairs(artificial scarcity) is created. Carson advocates for a “thou shalt not privately own the means of production” rule on top of a market economy. The best way to maximize money in a market system is to privately own the means of production other people use and then extract surplus value from them. There is a contradiction in the incentive system within a market economy to make money, and a law prohibiting the most effective way to maximize money.

One of the most interesting lines written by Carson in his essay on Bookchin, is Carson claiming that the line between individualist/market anarchism and social anarchism is permeable. Statements like these express an ignorance of the differences of advocating for freedom of markets and freedom from markets. To act as if those two broad strains of economic thought have a permeable line that separates them is to miss the point of social anarchism entirely and degenerate anarchism into a vague “anarchism without adjectives”. There is a reason various adjectives have emerged within anarchist thought; Anarchism(genuine strains of it) are unified by “freedom from capitalism/statecraft, and tactics used outside of capitalism/statecraft”. Mutualists, Labor Voucherists, and Communists disagree in regards to what kind of economy we should have. And underneath each of those broad labels there are disagreements within each camp in regards to what kind of society we ought to have and what kind of decision making processes should exist(or not exist) and what kind of tactics we ought to use to get towards freedom. These differences are not trivial and superficial, in fact there are tons of opposing views(to the degree that putting all these strains under the term anarchism causes lots of confusion within and outside the anarchist movement). Anarchism without adjectives is extremely broad, and seems to be what Carson is proposing. It reminds me of “Anarcho” Capitalists when they advocate for forms of communism within the boundaries of privately owned means of existence and their system. Carson is saying is that what libertarian municipalists want ought to happen, within the limits and rules of market systems. However, the limits and rules of market systems prohibit mutualist moral impositions of “thou shalt not privately own the means of production”, as well as libertarian municipalist ideals of community assemblies and a society that has evolved beyond markets and artificial scarcity.

Carson claims that, “The large monopoly capitalist enterprise grows at the expense of society, in cooperation with its “rivals.””. This statement is true to a degree. A great strategy within capitalism is to cooperate as a mechanism to maximize profit and compete with others. However, sometimes competition with rivals and others can be a great mechanism for maximizing profit. Mutualism advocates for cooperation being used to maximize money and compete with others within a market economy.

A critique of Carson’s critique of Bookchin’s strategy:

Critiquing the idea of building a mass movement of municipal assemblies to achieve liberatory ideals, Carson advocates a gradual transition out of capitalism and the state through rationing resources within the market context seeing technological fixes and markets as capable in and of themselves of transitioning us to a better society. Bookchin critiqued worker co-ops within the context of a market system, noting that they either had to adapt to the market and become money seeking, or implode because of market pressures. The community assemblies advocated by libertarian municipalism 1. meet people’s needs in the present 2. decentralize power 3. create institutions that can exist during and after a transition to a stateless/marketless society. This is able to create a mass movement, of the people, by the people, and for the people, and with the help of people educated in participatory democracy.

Carson claims the approach based on mass movements based on municipal assemblies is not needed. I can only assume that what Carson is doing here is advocating for small movements using less liberatory methods/forms than community assemblies.  Carson then advocates for the “techno fix” the idea that technology alone will allow us to transition, as well as claiming the coordination of community assemblies is obsolete given this new technology. How does the advancement of technology make communal decision making processes and institutions obsolete? That is a question left unanswered. Liberatory technology can assist us with decision making, but should not replace decision making which ultimately needs to be held by the people. What does Carson want in the place of community assemblies? Market Mechanisms? This is left unclear, we are left with an assertion that a mass movement of community assemblies is obsolete with no evidence backing it.

Carson critiques the idea of a big movement, not realizing that a big movement can have a platform that provides it structure while allowing for diversity to thrive within that platform. The preferences of different people can vary greatly while keeping the basic forms of freedom of municipal assemblies.

Carson displays 6 reasons that supposedly make a mass movement of community assemblies obsolete, none of which do so individually, or when grouped together holistically.

1. “Technological advances are making small-scale, high-tech craft production with computerized machine tools far more efficient than high-overhead factory production.” – Carson

Just because technology is advancing does not make communal directly democratic systems of governance obsolete, if anything it just makes them more liberatory if managed in an educated way.

2. “The radical cheapening of such tools is bringing them within the price range of skilled laborers.” – Carson

This process is also making it so people compete with their tools to survive unnecessarily. Technological unemployment under the influence of the market is able to take technology that could emancipate us from labor, and put it in competition with laborers. Ephemeralization under the influence of the market an the state is the ephemeralization of turning life into non life in order to maximize gains.

3. “Self-provisioning and subsistence production within the household, informal and social economies is becoming increasingly necessary to meet a growing share of consumption needs, because of increasing levels of unemployment and underemployment.” – Carson

His third point is unintelligible to me. He claims there is the need for new “social economies”, which is an extremely vague way to advocate whatever he is advocating for. Part of the point of community assemblies is to meet people’s needs in the present. How this “social economy” Carson advocates makes a mass movement of community assemblies obsolete is a mystery to me.

4. “Networked communications technology is destroying most of the transaction costs of coordinating human activity horizontally, and enabling peer networks to run circles around the old bureaucratic hierarchies of corporation and state.” – Carson

It is also enabling new more cost efficient/profit efficient bureaucracies to take the place of less cost efficient/profit efficient bureaucracies. This is just the market maximizing profit, and does not make community assemblies as a transition or as an end goal obsolete.

5. “Peak Oil and other resource crises, and the fiscal crisis of the state, are making it impossible for the state to provide the massive and growing levels of subsidized inputs that capitalism depends on.” -Carson

Resource crises are destroying the foundation that human and non human life depend upon as well. How this makes a mass movement of community assemblies obsolete is a mystery to me.

6. “The plummeting capital requirements for production eliminate the technical basis for the factory and the large corporation, so that the only way they can maintain their relevance is to rely on entry barriers and monopolies (like “intellectual property”) to suppress small-scale production or coopt it within their institutional control; but the hollowing out of the state, and the proliferation of liberatory technologies like file-sharing and encryption, make it increasingly impossible to enforce them.” – Carson

This techno fix in and of itself, outside of radical systemic change, leaves capitalism/the state in place. The idea that we do not need a mass movement of community assemblies because of file sharing and encryption is truly an enigma. It is a claim without evidence.

Carson ends his 6 components of why mass movements of community assemblies aren’t necessary with a smug “no vanguard movement required” line. This is probably to create associations with authoritarian vanguardism as practiced by state socialists. Bookchin advocates for intelligent people to help foster education about libertarian municipalism, but does not advocate for an authoritarian vanguard. I think the goal of that line is to create an association in the mind of Carson’s readers between Bookchin’s views and state socialism. This is either ignorant or dishonest.

Critique of Carson’s critque of Bookchin in regards to the restoration of the polis:

Carson claims that directly democratic political institutions with anti authoritarian rules and enforcement thereof as “an example of authority and domination”. Yet when it comes to decision making, Carson sees the market as some quasi religious principle that can take the place of the democratic polis advocated by libertarian municipalism.

Carson starts talking about how he believes in the non aggression principle, a principle that sounds pleasant on the surface, but is merely a rationalization of private property rights. Does Carson believe that the definition of “legitimate property rights” should be changed to not include private property? Or does Carson believe that it is up to the private owners of the means of production to voluntarily hand over the means of production? If Carson advocates the latter, then Carson is advocating for capitalist property relations as a framework through which socialist property relations can flourish. If this is the case, than this is tied for the most absurd transition strategy to socialism that I have ever heard (perhaps tied with state socialist transition strategies). As far as I know the non aggression principle was first advocated by Ayn Rand, and then adapted to an “anarcho” capitalist perspective by Murray Rothbard. Randian Mutualism is even less liberatory than mutualism.

Libertarian municipalism advocates municipalities linking up into confederations, giving each person a position in creating policy, especially within their own municipality. Libertarian municipalism also advocates for constraining democracy to a set of rules/a constitution/”social compact” that protects free association and prohibits authoritarian relationships. Under libertarian municipalism, people can leave their municipality and go to other municipalities, uninhibited by economic coercion from the market. The confederations are free associations of free associations(bounded together by rights and responsibilities). Direct democracy can be used to see if there is an organic consensus, if different preferences are compatible, and how to resolve different preferences that are incompatible. Liberatory technology and a culture that is not based on conspicuous consumption (amongst various other “checks and balances”) would change the degree of incompatible preferences.

Carson thinks that the state and capitalism will “hollow out and retreat from social life”. This is a child’s fantasy at best, and a viewpoint that will allow capitalism and the state to continue unchallenged at worst. It is a viewpoint that sees no reason for a mass movement of liberatory municipal institutions during a transition to a better society. Carson’s adjectiveless form of Randian Mutualism being put forward doesn’t prescribe institutions for after the revolution. This vagueness is part of the reason why Bookchin stopped identifying with anarchism. The pure negative liberty of freedom from the state and freedom from capitalism are necessary conditions for freedom and wellbeing of all, but not sufficient conditions. We ought to expand negative liberty to include freedom from markets. We also ought to have positive liberty that we advocate for, such as people being free to participate in decision making on an equal footing when they are involved in associations with others, the freedom to use liberatory technology, the freedom to perform scientific, philosophical, and artistic work, the freedom to participate in one’s municipality, etc etc etc. The idea that community institutions/rules/enforcement thereof are just optional components of anarchism, reduces anarchism into structurelessness.

Libertarian Municipalism: An Overview

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Perhaps the greatest single failing of movements for social reconstruction — I refer particularly to the Left, to radical ecology groups, and to organizations that 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 office, that offer vacuous programs for “social justice” to attract a nondescript “electorate.” Once in office, their programs usually turn into a bouquet of “compromises.” In this respect, many Green parties in Europe have been only marginally different from conventional parliamentary parties. Nor have socialist parties, with all their various labels, exhibited any basic differences from their capitalist counter parts. To be sure, the indifference of the Euro-American public — its “apoliticism” — is understandably depressing. Given their low expectations, when people do vote, they normally turn to established parties if only because, as centers of power, they cart produce results of sorts in practical matters. If one bothers to vote, 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 corrupted if it succeeds? Witness the German Greens, whose internal and public life increasingly approximates that of other parties in the new Reich.

That this “political process” has lingered on with almost no basic alteration for decades 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 is 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 changes that have occurred in radical politics are largely changes in rhetoric rather than structure. The German Greens are only the most recent of a succession of “nonparty parties” (to use their original way of describing their organization) that have turned from an attempt to practice grassroots politics — ironically, in the Bundestag, of all places! — into a typical parliamentary party. The Social Democratic Party in Germany, the Labor Party in Britain, the New Democratic Party in Canada, the Socialist Party in France, and others, despite their original emancipatory 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 social ideals these parties may have had generations ago have been eclipsed by the pragmatics of gaining, holding, and extending their power in their respective parliamentary and ministerial bodies.

It is precisely such parliamentary and ministerial objectives that we call “politics” today. To the modern political imagination, “politics” is precisely a body of techniques for holding power in representative bodies — notably the legislative and executive 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 merely rhetorically different. It seeks to reclaim the public sphere for the exercise of authentic citizenship while breaking away from the bleak cycle of parliamentarism and its mystification of the “party” mechanism as a means for public representation. In these respects, libertarian municipalism is not merely a “political strategy.” It is an effort to work from latent or incipient democratic possibilities 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 consistently 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 management of the community or polis by means of direct face-to-face assemblies of the people in the formulation of public policy and based on an ethics of complementarily and solidarity.

In this respect, libertarian municipalism is not one of many pluralistic techniques 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, not merely one of an assortment of political tools or strategies that can be adopted 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 advances 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 direct popular control of society by its citizens through achieving and sustaining a true democracy in municipal assemblies — this, as distinguished from republican systems of representation that preempt the right of the citizen to formulate community and regional policies. Such politics is radically distinct from statecraft and the state a professional body composed of bureaucrats, police, military, legislators, and the like, that exists as a coercive apparatus, clearly distinct from and above the people. The libertarian municipalist approach distinguishes statecraft — which we usually characterize as “politics” today — and politics as it once existed in precapitalist democratic communities.

Moreover, libertarian municipalism also involves a clear delineation of the social 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 the statist realms. Enormous mischief has been caused by the interchangeable use of these terms — social, political, and the state. Indeed, the tendency has been to 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 human 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 witness the rise of Asian empires, ancient imperial Rome, and the totalitarian state of modern times. More than this, it has steadily invaded the political domain, which, for all its past shortcomings, had empowered communities, social groupings, and individuals.

Such invasions have not gone unchallenged. Indeed, the conflict between the state on the one hand and the political and social realms on the other has been an ongoing subterranean civil war for centuries. It has often broken out into the open — in modern times in the conflict of the Castilian cities (comuneros) against the Spanish monarchy in the 1520s, in the struggle of the Parisian sections against 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 nation-state, a “new politics” — one that is genuinely new — must be structured institutionally around the restoration of power by municipalities. This is not only necessary but possible even in such gigantic urban areas as New York City, Montreal, London, 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 become mystified by problems of size and logistics. Even before we confront the ecological imperative of physical decentralization (a necessity anticipated by Frederick Engels and Peter Kropotkin alike), we need feel no problems about decentralizing them institutionally. When Francois Mitterand tried to decentralize Paris 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 because the majority of the affluent Parisians supported the mayor.

Clearly, institutional changes do not occur in a social vacuum. Nor do they guarantee that a decentralized municipality, even if it is structurally democratic. will necessarily be humane, rational, and ecological in dealing with public affairs. Libertarian municipalism is premised on the struggle to achieve a rational and ecological society, a struggle that depends on education and organization. From the beginning, it presupposes a genuinely democratic desire by people to arrest 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 movement — 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 commitment to a centralized state and planned economy would inevitably yield bureaucratic totalitarianism could have been better made than the case that decentralized libertarian municipalities will inevitably be authoritarian and have exclusionary and parochial traits Economic interdependence is a fact of life today, and capitalism itself has made parochial autarchies a chimera. While municipalities 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 prejudices are possible.

Confederalism

Equally important is the need for confederation — the interlinking of communities with one another through recallable deputies mandated by municipal citizens’ assemblies and whose sole functions are coordinative and administrative. Confederation has a long history of its own that dates back to antiquity and that surfaced as a major alternative to the nation state. From the American Revolution through the French Revolution and the Spanish Revolution of 1936, confederalism constituted a major challenge to state centralism. Nor has it disappeared in our own time, when the breakup of existing twentieth-century empires raises the issue of enforced state centralism or the relatively autonomous nation. Libertarian municipalism adds a radically democratic dimension to the contemporary discussions of confederation (as, for example, in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia) by calling for confederations not of nation-states but of municipalities and of the neighborhoods 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 of municipal minorities to defer to the majority wishes of participating communities. Do these interdependencies and majority decisions guarantee us that a majority 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 hundreds of representatives in city councils around Germany but who carry on a local 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-making and administration. This distinction is fundamental to libertarian municipalism and must always be kept in mind. Policy is made by a community or neighborhood assembly of free citizens; administration is performed by confederal councils composed of mandated, recallable deputies of wards, towns, and villages. If particular communities or neighborhoods — or a minority grouping of them choose to go their own way to a point where human rights are violated or where ecological mayhem is permitted, the majority in a local or regional confederation has every right to prevent such malfeasances through its confederal council. This is not a denial of democracy but the assertion of a shared agreement by all to recognize civil 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 through 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 ecological 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 time — hopefully, one that will yet come when people feel disempowered and actively seek empowerment. Existing in growing tension with the nation-state, it is a process as well as a destiny, a struggle to be fulfilled, not a bequest granted by the 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 sporadically, in communities here and there that initially may demand only the moral authority to alter the structuring of society before enough interlinked confederations exist to demand the outright institutional power to replace the state. The growing tension created by the emergence of municipal confederations represents a confrontation between the state and the political realms. This confrontation 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 to educate them and the struggles that give libertarian municipalist principles reality will turn them into active citizens, rather than passive “constituents.” No one who participates in a struggle for social restructuring emerges from that struggle with the prejudices, habits, and sensibilities with which he or she entered it. Hopefully, then, such prejudices — like parochialism — will increasingly be replaced 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 politics 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 economy, not its centralization into state-owned “nationalized” enterprises on the one hand 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 bureaucracies 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 competition among worker-controlled enterprises for raw materials, markets, and profits. Even more recently, many Israeli kibbutzim have been failures as examples of nonexploitative, need-oriented enterprises, despite the high ideals with which 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 should be used, how goods should be distributed are questions that can only be resolved 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 rational society, provided to be sure that goods are of the highest durability and quality, that needs are guided by rational and ecological standards, and that the ancient notions of limit and balance replace the bourgeois marketplace imperative of “grow or die.”

In such a municipal economy — confederal, interdependent, and rational by ecological, not simply technological, standards — we would expect that the special interests that divide people today into workers, professionals, managers, and the like would be melded into a general interest in which people see themselves as citizens guided strictly by the needs of their community and region rather than by personal proclivities and vocational concerns. Here, citizenship would come into its own, and rational as well as ecological interpretations of the public good would supplant class and hierarchical interests.

This is the moral basis of a moral economy for moral communities. But of overarching importance is the general social interest that potentially underpins all moral communities, an interest that must ultimately cut across class, gender, ethnic, and status lines if humanity is to continue to exist as a viable species. This interest is the one created in our times by ecological catastrophe. Capitalism’s “grow or die” imperative stands radically at odds with ecology’s imperative of interdependence and limit The two imperatives can no longer coexist with each other — nor can any society founded on the myth that they can be reconciled hope to survive. 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 “spaceship” Or will it be democratic? If history is any guide, the development of a democratic ecological society, as distinguished from a commend ecological society, must follow its own logic. One cannot resolve this historical dilemma without getting to its roots. Without a searching analysis of our ecological problems and their social sources, the pernicious institutions that we now have will lead to increased centralization and further ecological catastrophe. In a democratic ecological society, those roots are literally the grass roots that libertarian municipalism seeks to foster.

For those who rightly call for a new technology, new sources of energy, new means 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,” overcentralized, and overbureaucratized. Much that can be done locally and regionally is now being 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 literature that asks for radically sweeping shifts in energy policies, far-reaching reductions in air and water pollution, and the formulation of worldwide plans to arrest global warming and the destruction of the ozone layer be seen as “utopian.” Is it too much, it is fair to ask, to take such demands one step further and call for institutional and economic changes that are no less drastic and that in fact are 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 worked with minimum and maximum programs for change, in which immediate steps that can be taken now were linked by transitional advances and intermediate areas that would eventually yield ultimate goals. Minimal steps that can be taken now include initiating Left Green municipalist movements that propose popular neighborhood and town assemblies — even if they have only moral functions at first — and electing town and city councilors that advance the cause of these assemblies and other popular institutions. These minimal steps can lead step-by-step to the formation of confederal bodies and the increasing legitimation of truly democratic bodies. Civic banks to fund municipal enterprises and land purchases; the fostering 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 weal — all these can be developed at a pace appropriate to changes that are being made in political life.

That capital will likely “migrate” from communities and confederations that are moving toward libertarian municipalism is a problem that every community, every nation, whose political life has become radicalized has faced. Capital, in fact, normally “migrates” to areas where it can acquire high profits, irrespective of political 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 point are that municipally owned enterprises and farms could provide new ecologically valuable and health-nourishing products to a public that is becoming increasingly aware of the low-quality goods and staples that are being foisted on it now.

Libertarian municipalism is a politics that can excite the public imagination, appropriate for a movement that is direly in need of a sense of direction and purpose. 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 its 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 libertarian municipalism seeks to achieve indeed, misunderstand its very nature.

For some of its instrumental acolytes, libertarian municipalism is becoming a tactical device to gain entry into so called independent movements and new third parties that call for “grassroots politics,” such as those proposed by NOW and certain 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 electoral campaigns for gubernatorial, congressional, and other state offices. These radicals 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” reasons as a means to enter another reformist party or function as its “left wing” have little 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, despite the claims of many radicals that “dialectics” is their “method.” The struggle toward creating new civic institutions out of old ones (or replacing the old ones altogether) and creating civic confederations is a self formative one, a creative dynamic formed from the tension of social conflict. The effort to work along these 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 — with all its difficulties. The very fight for a municipal confederation, for municipal control of “property,” and for the actual achievement of worldwide municipal confederation is directed toward achieving a new ethos of citizenship and community, not simply to gain victories in largely reformist conflicts.

Thus, libertarian municipalism is not merely an effort simply to “take over” city councils to construct a more “environmentally friendly” city government. These adherents or opponents of libertarian municipalism, in effect, look at the civic structures that exist before their eyes now and essentially (all rhetoric to the contrary aside) take them as they exist. Libertarian municipalism, by contrast, is an effort to transform and democratize city governments, to root them in popular assemblies, to knit them together along confederal lines, to appropriate a regional economy along confederal and municipal lines.

In fact, libertarian municipalism gains its life and its integrity precisely from 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 the state must be clear and uncompromising. Since these confederations would exist primarily in opposition to statecraft, they cannot be compromised by state, provincial, or national elections, much less achieved by these means. Libertarian municipalism is formed by its struggle with the state, strengthened by this struggle, 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 free “Commune of communes,” libertarian municipalism becomes little more than “sewer socialism.”

Many heroic comrades who are prepared to do battle (one day) with the cosmic forces 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 particularism. 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 well-meaning radicals who are committed to the “overthrow” of capitalism (no less!) find it too difficult to function politically — and, yes, electorally — in their own neighborhoods for a new politics based on a genuine democracy. If they cannot provide 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 mature left movements of the past, I find it very hard to believe that they will ever do much harm to the present social system. Indeed, by creating cultural centers, parks, and good housing, they may well be improving the system by giving capitalism a human face without diminishing its under lying unfreedom as a hierarchical and class society.

A bouquet of struggles for “identity” has often fractured rising radical movements since SDS in the 1960s, ranging from foreign to domestic nationalisms. Because these 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 revolutionaries to surrender to “public opinion” not even the “public opinion” of the oppressed, whose views can often be very reactionary? Truth has its own life — regardless 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 that 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 radicals 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 common humanity, not on the basis of gender, race, age, and the like.

Critics of libertarian municipalism even dispute the very possibility of a “general interest.” If, for such critics, the face-to-face democracy advocated by libertarian municipalism and the need to extend the premises of democracy beyond mere justice 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 interest” advanced by social ecology. It may be possible to coopt many dissatisfied elements in the present society, but nature is not cooptable. Indeed, the only politics that remains for the Left is one based on the premise that there is a “general interest” in democratizing society and preserving the planet Now that traditional forces such as the workers’ movement have ebbed from the historical scene, it can 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 identity-movements. and a recognition that the workers’ movement is essentially dead all illustrate that if a new politics is going to develop today, it must be unflinchingly public, in contrast to the alternative-cafe “politics” advanced by many radicals 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 past two centuries. Today, it is the “red button” that must be pushed if a radical movement is to open the door to the public sphere. To leave that red button untouched and slip back into the worst habits of the post-1968 New Left, when the notion of “power” was divested of utopian or imaginative qualities, is to reduce radicalism to yet another subculture that will probably live more on heroic memories than on the hopes of a rational future.

April 3, 1991; addendum, October 1, 1991