Monday, August 27, 2007

Murray Bookchin and Communalism

Read a sympathetic critique of Murray Bookchin here and a more critical review of Bookchin here .

Bookchin was an exponent of what he called libertarian municipalism . Consequently , he would criticise Anarchism as being too individualistic . Here he describes his differences with many anarchists

"Democracy is something that anarchism often seems to have problems with. This is one area in which I differ with authentic anarchists, who emphasize an individual ego and the fulfillment of its desires as the overriding consideration. Many anarchists reject democracy as the "tyranny" of the majority over the minority. They think that when a community makes decisions by majority vote, it violates the "autonomy" of the egos of the individuals who voted in the minority. They seem to think that somehow those who voted against a decision, because they are "autonomous," shouldn't have to follow it.

I think that that idea is naive at best and a prescription for chaos at worst. Decisions, once made, have to be binding. Of course minorities should always have the right to object to majority decisions and to freely voice their own views. Majorities have no right to try to prevent a minority from voicing its views and trying to win majority support for them.

The question is, what is the fairest way to make communitywide decisions? I think majority voting is not only the fairest but the only viable way for a face-to-face democratic society to function, and that decisions made by majority vote should be binding on all the members of the community, whether they voted in favor of a measure or against it.

And unlike many anarchists, I don't think a particular individual or municipality should be able to do whatever it wants to do at all times. Lack of structure and institutions leads to chaos and even arbitrary tyranny. I believe in law, and the future society I envision would also have a constitution. Of course, the constitution would have to be the product of careful consideration, by the empowered people. It would be democratically discussed and voted upon. But once the people have ratified it, it would be binding on everyone. It is not accidental that historically, oppressed people who were victims of the arbitrary behavior of the ruling classes — "barons," as Hesiod called them in seventh-century B.C. Greece — demanded constitutions and just laws as a remedy...

...I don't want to go back to the past. I am not a primitivist...I think that the main causes of our problems lie in social relations — in capitalism, the nation-state — and in the commodification of all things and relations. If we organized social life along cooperative and humanistic lines, technology could be one of the major solutions to our problems. Primitivists believe we have too much civilization. I believe we're not civilized enough. Some primitivists are even against "society," but I think that without society you are not a human being. They believe in personal autonomy, I believe in social freedom. They seem to believe that there is a "natural man," an "uncorrupted ego," which civilization has poisoned. I believe that competition and other class and hierarchical relations have corrupted society, and that we need instead a cooperative civilization...

In the same intervew , Bookchin describes his ideas :-

"...The overriding problem is to change the structure of society so that people gain power. The best arena to do that is the municipality — the city, town, and village — where we have an opportunity to create a face-to-face democracy. We can transform local government into popular assemblies where people can discuss and make decisions about the economy and society in which they live. When we get power at the neighborhood level in a town or city, we can confederate all the assemblies and then confederate those towns and cities into a popular government — not a state (which is an instrument of class rule and exploitation), but a government, where the people have the power. This is what I call communalism in a practical sense. It should not be confused with communitarianism, which refers to small initiatory projects like a "people's" food cooperative, garage, printing press — projects that often become capitalistic when they don't fall apart or succumb to competition by other enterprises.

People will never achieve this kind of face-to-face democratic society spontaneously. A serious, committed movement is necessary to fight for it. And to build that movement, radical leftists need to develop an organization — one that is controlled from the base, so that we don't produce another Bolshevik Party. It has to be formed slowly on a local basis, it has to be confederally organized, and together with popular assemblies, it will build up an opposition to the existing power, the state and class rule. I call this approach libertarian municipalism...

... We live in a very confusing time. Sometimes people look for easy answers to complex questions. If a machine or item functions poorly, it is easy to blame technology rather than the competitive corporations that try to make money, or to blame people's attitudes rather than the mass media that shapes people's thinking, or to say we should go back to old ideologies — Christian fundamentalism, Islamic fundamentalism, orthodox Marxism, orthodox anarchism, even orthodox capitalism — for solutions.

People need new ideas based on reason, not superstition; on freedom, not personal autonomy; on creativity, not adaptation; on coherence, not chaos; and on a vision of a free society, based on popular assemblies and confederalism, not on rulers and a state. If we do not organize a real movement — a structured movement — that tries to guide people toward a rational society based on reason and freedom, we face eventual disaster. We cannot withdraw into our "autonomous" egos or retreat to a primitive, indeed unknown past. We must change this insane world, or else society will dissolve into an irrational barbarism — as it is already beginning to do these days."

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