Social Ecology: International Reports
After a year and a half hiatus, we are pleased to submit to our readers the reemergence of Green Perspectives. Over the past year, we have been deeply involved with writing projects for journals and books that did not fit the Green Perspectives format, as well as lectures, teaching, studying, and the like. For these reasons we found ourselves unable to maintain our commitment to our readers to appear, even on the “occasional” basis that we promise in our publication notice. We hope that you will understand our problem of limited time and energy, and we will try to bring future Green Perspectives out on a reasonably timely basis.
Making its reappearance possible are the new members of our editorial collective: Mark Ettlin, Cindy Milstein, and Mariko Todo, all Burlington area social ecologists. John Vidoli joins us as production manager and editorial contributor as well. (Former co-editors Chuck Morse and Gary Sisco have both recently left Burlington for personal reasons but remain friends of Green Perspectives and, we hope, contributors to future issues.) Murray Bookchin and Janet Biehl remain as longtime co-editors, hoping, as we promised in our first issue, “to stimulate the serious thinking necessary to understand the grave social and ecological dislocations of our time and the potentialities that now exist for reconstructive alternatives.”
If Green Perspectives has been quiescent in the past year, however, our friends and colleagues in many parts of the world have not. To pick up the threads of social ecology where Green Perspectives left them a year and a half ago, we summarize in this issue some of the reports on concrete activities that we have received from social ecologists and people sympathetic to social ecology. (Many other individuals around the world who are in communication with us could not be included here for reasons of space, but future reports will be forthcoming from time to time.) On the horizon is the formation of an international Social Ecology Network to foster communication among social ecologists worldwide; discussions are also under way for an international social ecology conference, possibly to be held somewhere in Europe next year. In the meantime, in these difficult days for leftist ecologists generally, social ecology is alive, both in theory and practice.
Not every movement or institution that calls itself social-ecological today consistently intends by that phrase social ecology as we have articulated it in these pages. In various parts of the world there are even Institutes for Social Ecology whose programmatic content widely diverges from our own sense of the term. Given the ideological confusion that abounds on the left today generally and in the ecology movement in particular, it should not be surprising that social ecology too has taken on various, often contradictory meanings. Not all of the groups we report on here, in fact, agree with social ecology in the Green Perspectives sense. They represent self-identified social ecologists whose theory and practice in varying degrees intersect with and coincide with ours.
We present these reports in bulletin format, without analysis on our part, for what they are, as a basis for potential discussion. Future issues will explore the meaning of the issues they raise and explore possible contradictions in both theory and practice. We hope that a vibrant exchange of experiences and ideas can lead to an educational process for those dedicated to acting upon and elaborating the ideas of social ecology. We welcome reports and theoretical articles from individuals and groups in other parts of the world, particularly those who have not been in touch with us before. In our next issue we will return to our normal format of theoretical articles in social ecology and developments in present-day society.
Society and Nature
According to Takis Fotopoulos, editor-in-chief of the journal Society and Nature, from whom this report is drawn, there is a great deal of interest in Greece in social ecology. While not formally calling themselves social ecologists, a number of ecological groups hold principles similar to those of social ecology as articulated in the journal. Started in the spring of 1992, with both Greek and English editions, the goal of Society and Nature is to “provide a forum for the interchange of ideas between social ecologists, eco-socialists and other left greens, together with feminists and activists in the land-based and indigenous movements in an attempt to reach a synthesis of the autonomous-democratic, libertarian socialist and radical green traditions.” It has featured essays by American social ecologists Janet Biehl, Murray Bookchin, Dan Chodorkoff, and Howard Hawkins, among others.
With a circulation of 1,500 to 2,000 Society and Nature is reportedly the most widely read and influential Greek left/green publication. Study groups devoted to discussion of the journal’s essays have been forming in Greece on university campuses. A newsletter appended to the Greek edition was started with the fourth volume, which came out in May 1993. This newsletter is now being used as a means of contacting and coordinating left/green groups in Greece. Several groups are collaborating with Fotopoulos to organize an international forum on social ecology, which they hope to hold in Greece next year. Major themes will be social ecology, direct democracy, and international networking.
Contact: Society and Nature / Kolokotroni 31 / Athens 105 62 / Greece
In England: Society and Nature / 20 Woodberry Way / London N12 / U.K.
Burlington, Vermont, U.S.A.
Social Ecology Work and Study Group
The Burlington Social Ecology Work and Study Group was formed in August 1993 for the purpose of writing, translating, and publishing articles, essays, and monographs on a variety of subjects relating to social ecology. The group is presently composed of ten people from Burlington who have expressed a strong commitment to the development of the theoretical foundations and practical activities of social ecology. Meeting weekly to discuss politics, social theory, history, and other subjects, the group hopes to constitute a nexus for the exchange of social ecology ideas, maintaining contact with groups from around the world, engaging in experimental debates, and reproducing materials relevant to social ecology but ordinarily unavailable.
Burlington has had a long tradition of study group activity, which continues up to the present and is perhaps now more robust than ever. Some members of the Burlington Social Ecology Work and Study Group also participate in a group studying the history of Western philosophy, and in another making a critical exploration of postmodernist theory.
Contact: c/o Green Perspectives / P.O. Box 111 / Burlington, Vermont 05402 / U.S.A.
The Ecological Left organization (Ökologische Linke), based in Frankfurt, was founded by former leftist members of the German Greens, including Jutta Ditfurth, the leading spokesperson for the “fundi” tendency before her departure from the party (see “Farewell to the German Greens,” Green Perspectives 23). Although not explicitly committed to social ecology as such in its ideas or practice, the group’s leadership has long shared with social ecology a basic and abiding anticapitalist commitment to eliminating the root social causes of environmental destruction. While the Ecological Left has been organizing in various places throughout Germany, the Frankfurt group waged an electoral campaign in the city last March. At present, their most important effort may be the publication of the magazine ÖkoLinx. Recent issues featured Peter Bierl on “Ecofascism and the New Age” (a survey of the present-day convergence between the two and its historical roots), Rainer Trampert on the current racist consensus in the Federal Republic, and Zurich’s Antifascism Working Group Radio LoRa on “green imperialism,” as well as reports on activities of the Ecological Left.
Contact: Ökologische Linke / Neuhofstrasse 42 / 60318 Frankfurt / Germany
Movement for Social Cooperation
At least since 1989, a group around the libertarian Institute for Local Autonomies and for Minorities (Istituto delle Autonomie Locali e delle Minoranze) in Mantua, whose thinking has been heavily influenced by social ecology, has been “trying to connect solidarity and self-government in a social movement.” Through their magazine Radici (Roots), the group have sought ways to “give voice and tools to self-governance as communitarian government” and debated possible forms of libertarian and communitarian self-organization–associations, committees, civic assemblies, and the like (see “Communes and Federalism,” Green Perspectives 25), as well as a “federalism of the grassroots.” They have worked with citizens’ electoral initiatives in the “Civic List” and explored with a variety of like-minded groups working together on various municipalist, social, economic, and ecological/Green initiatives.
Initially, the Mantuans experienced a great deal of frustration in spreading and organizing around their ideas and creating a network. They tried to develop a debate on confederalism within the Greens but found that the Green Party was becoming “more and more centralized,” while a Green Congress they attended in May 1992 left them highly disappointed. For its part, the libertarian movement was not receptive to their efforts, they claimed, since they involved participation in elections. Capping these disappointments, their first nationwide meeting of municipalist-oriented groups, held near Bologna in September 1992, was unsuccessful. Apart from finding like-minded spirits in the Network of Small Cities of Central Italy (Rete delle piccole città dell’Italia centrale), which had been developing libertarian-communalist theoretical ideas (but without emphasizing current political organizing), their disappointments left them isolated.
In 1993, the political climate was changed due to the massive government corruption scandal, the rapidly spreading dissatisfaction with the national government as such among Italians, and the rise of right-wing “decentralist” parties like the Northern League. The Mantuans now “perceive here a continual and growing interest in perspectives for this kind of work.” On May 30, under the name Social Cooperation and Communitarian Self-Government (Cooperazione sociale e autogoverno comunitario), these groups held a major meeting to develop a structure to foster and coordinate groups working on social cooperation and communitarian self-government. They also once again explored the possibilities of working with the libertarian, anarchist movement.
On August 10, groups part of Social Cooperation and Communitarian Self-Government met again at Pancole, including the Network of Small Cities, the Radici/Instituto group from Mantua, and the Group for the Self-Government of Montagnana (a commune near Padua), which is working on developing a Network of Communes of Northeastern Italy. They agreed on a structure for collaboration, ways to help other groups develop basic ideas and principles of communitarian activity in their various areas, and joint initiatives. It was also decided that the Small Cities Network’s magazine, Eupolis, would become the journal for their common theoretical debates, and Radici their mutual organizing bulletin.
In September their efforts were supported when the anarchist publisher Eleutherà (in Milan) published an Italian translation of Murray Bookchin’s major articles on libertarian municipalism (many of which first appeared in Green Perspectives) called Direct Democracy: Ideas Toward a Libertarian Municipalism (La Democrazia Diretta: Idee per un Municipalismo Libertario). Meetings have been held around the book’s publication “as occasions to debate its themes of self-government, social cooperation, autogestion (self-management), and libertarian confederalism.” In addition, the bimonthly anarchist magazine A: Rivista Anarchica (also based in Milan) devoted most of an autumn 1993 issue to the group’s writing and organizing efforts, including excerpts from the Direct Democracy collection.
Contact: Istituto delle Autonomie Locali e delle Minoranze / Casella Postale 52 / 46100 Mantua ) / Italy
Eleutherà / via Rovetta 27 / Milan (Milano) / ITALY
Red de Ecología Social (REDES) and
Amigos de la Tierra, at Comunidad del Sur
REDES, or the Social Ecology Network, was founded in mid-1988 as a nonprofit educational and political organization “centered on the themes of social ecology and the environment.” As an educational association, it seeks to “research and critique environmental problems and disasters–both natural and sociocultural–in terms of their causation by political and economic systems and by the predominant developing models of development, based on the exploitation of the natural world by the wealthy sectors of the population,” as its principles state.
Reconstructively, it seeks to “advance the study and dissemination of human-scale models of development that address the needs of all people and the whole person, based on the principles of social ecology.” Accordingly, it explores appropriate technologies, health alternatives, and renewable sources of energy. REDES also organizes political actions, including campaigns organized against the effects of acid rain, the greenhouse effect, the thinning of the ozone layer, desertification, the spread of toxic and radioactive wastes, and species extinction.
Doubling as the Uruguay section of the Amigos de la Tierra (Friends of the Earth), REDES publishes a monthly magazine called Tierra Amiga. A typical recent issue (June 1992) includes articles (in Spanish) called “Toward a History of Latin America from the Standpoint of Social Ecology” (by Horacio González) and “The Ecology of the Oppressed” (by Ruben G. Prieto), as well as “The Concept of Social Ecology” by Murray Bookchin.
The core REDES members are part of a long-standing alternative-communitarian, anarchist experiment in Montevideo called Comunidad del Sur. Founded in 1955, about fifty people (including quite a few children) now live in the community, on a farm located within the city itself. Comunidad, as its literature states, ultimately seeks to create a society that will “rest on cooperation between people and also between people and nature.”
The members of Comunidad believe that neither a military dictatorship nor the current “pseudo-democracy” can address current changes under way on the continent, such as the very rapid migration of people from rural villages into the cities. Seeking a new way of life, these new arrivals are hungry for new possibilities. Comunidad seeks to offer them possibilities by providing a forum where ideas like those espoused by REDES can be discussed, as well as a laboratory where self-management and alternative projects can be researched, explored, and demonstrated.
Casa Encuentro (the Meeting House), the house where all Comunidad members in Montevideo live, serves as a site for this “dialogue between city and country.” It provides facilities for meetings and interchanges between urban and rural groups and individuals, as well as the alternative movement in South America. Comunidad members use its space for seminars, courses, workshops, public lectures, and debates, to discuss and spread ideas, particularly around principles of self-management and “nonhierarchical forms of human association based on cooperation and direct democracy, on interdependency and complementarity, instead of on competition and rivalry.” They do community organizing in the neighborhoods where their farm is located.
The community subsists by its own farming and by its cooperative publishing endeavors: a publishing house, which puts out publications for REDES, and a printshop, which serves the typesetting needs of the general public, other publishers in Latin America like Nordan and Altamira, and parts of its own community. (It will produce the Spanish translation of Bookchin’s The Ecology of Freedom for Altamira this fall.)
The REDES/Comunidad group are currently discussing the development of an Institute for Social Ecology in Montevideo. Two community members–Alberto Villareal and Karin Nansen–who in recent years have attended the Institute for Social Ecology in the United States are putting together the proposal. As a result of their visits to the ISE in Vermont, REDES activities are taking on a more explicitly political nature, along the lines of libertarian municipalism, in addition to the alternative “civil-society” kinds of projects they have done in the past. A conference REDES will hold in November, for example, called “The Basis for an Ecological Society,” will discuss topics like “politics as the public sphere of society, as opposed to politics appropriated by professionalized minorities”; “the neighborhood and municipality as the basic sphere for political action”; “politics on a human scale”; “international networking and confederalism”; “a market society versus an ecological society”; “dethroning the economy as the center of social activity”; “critique of the ‘free market'”; and “community control of the economy.” Their community organizing in Montevideo, too, is moving toward libertarian municipalism, says Villareal.
REDES is a member of the Pacto de Acción Ecológica Sudamericano (Pact of Ecological Action in South America, founded in Chile in 1989), a loose federation of radical political ecology groups in Chile, Peru, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Bolivia, and Uruguay. The REDES group are very interested in exchanging both ideas and concrete experiences with groups and people who share their commitment to social ecology in other parts of Latin America and around the world, north and south.
Contact: REDES, c/o Comunidad / Avenida Millán 4113 / Montevideo, Uruguay
In its 1993 program, Ecology Montreal, the municipal ecology party of Montreal, seeks “the decentralization of all political, economic, social and cultural powers from the provincial and federal governments that are required to allow this city to become a complete democracy. . . . In turn, there must be a decentralization of similar powers to the neighbourhoods of Montreal from City Hall in order to create a democracy at the base of city and community life.” Maintaining that “citizens should hold a direct and permanent power,” Ecology Montreal’s program calls for “elected neighbourhood councils” that they feel would be “an authentic local power and not merely localised provisions of services.”
This decentralization, the program continues, will “revitalize [our neighborhoods] and the city as a whole so that people can deal effectively with the problems that affect their daily lives.” Moreover, Ecology Montreal seeks to “build a sense of community in the various neighbourhoods of the city” and to “improve the quality of life of its citizens as well as meet their needs,” to “transform society” to create a “green or ecological city.” Social ecology, “which makes the firm link between an ecological society and a more just and more egalitarian society,” is a principle of their program, as are participatory democracy, social and economic justice, feminism and sexual freedom, nonviolence, ecological humanism, and community-based economics.
As an educational organization, Ecology Montreal researches “all aspects of how our city is governed as well as how the urban economy functions.” The group finds the city to be “ecological disaster area,” with intolerable levels of pollution, homelessness, and unemployment. Members have made presentations at public hearings on urban sprawl, municipal waste management, and proportional representation, and the group advances alternatives for economics, housing, energy, transportation, and planning, as well as green spaces.
In the 1990 municipal election, Ecology Montreal fielded twenty-one candidates, including Dimitri Roussopoulos, on what was a more restricted platform, calling for “environmental protection,” “tree-planting,” and a “complete recycling program,” and “neighborhood watch programs.” Nor did Ecology Montreal call for democratizing the city at that time; rather, it sought only to “form a critical opposition at city hall.” The twenty-one candidates averaged 7 percent of the popular vote, while two of them, including Roussopoulos, who ran in relatively cosmopolitan districts, gained over 20 percent.
Municipal elections are upcoming again in November 1994. Meanwhile, the once-progressive Montreal Citizens Movement (MCM), which has held power in the city for eighteen years, “can no longer be considered an instrument for progressive change equal to dealing with the enormous problems facing Montreal,” Ecology Montreal believes. Indeed, so unpopular is the MCM that the 1994 election promises to reflect enormous political ferment. Numerous opposition groupings have recently emerged, including six on the right wing alone. Ecology Montreal, whose program is more radical than it was in 1990, plans to field 25 candidates. Its coordinating committee is currently discussing an agreement with other leftist opposition groups not to run candidates against each other.
Contact: Ecology Montreal / P.O. Box 1258 / Station Place du Parc / Montreal H2W 2R3 Quebec / Canada
The Third Way
Green Perspectives 25 contained an interview with Sergey Fomichov, a founding member of the Green Party in the former USSR. In that interview Fomichov gave us some idea of the history of green and anarchist movements in his country, and cited the Movement to Found the Green Party, the Samara Union of the Greens, and the Green Party of Nizhny-Novgorod as examples of groups oriented along eco-anarchist principles. He also mentioned the magazine Trety Put (The Third Way), of which he is editor-in-chief. Trety Put 8 published the “Eco-socialist Manifesto” by Vadim Damier, which Fomichov described as “the first important document issued by eco-anarchists in our country.”
The Institute for Social and Global Ecology was founded on May 1, 1992, in Nizhny-Novgorod. The Institute is dedicated to developing social and “global” ecology as a theoretical and practical force. It organizes conferences and lectures, holds workshops, engages in sociological studies of the environmental movement, does basic research, and translates and publishes work of “foreign and Russian authors in the field of social and global ecology.” It also intends to initiate and foster “alternative ecological settlements.”
We have received the first two English-language editions of The Third Way, which contain much information on other groups and actions in Russia. The direct action group Rainbow Keepers has been active against chemical and nuclear plants as well as chemical weapons disposal plants. Their manifesto appeared in the first English edition of The Third Way. January 1992 saw the first conference of the Federation of Revolutionary Anarchists (FRAN) in Dnepropetrovsk, receiving support from anarchist groups as far away as Siberia. The FRAN conference affirmed the goal of dissolving all centralized states and supporting a confederation of self-governing communes. The Third Way also included interesting articles dealing with challenges facing the left/green movement in Russia, by Fomichov and by the sociologist Oleg Yanitsky, as well as the announcement of a new green newspaper for the Volga Basin.
This news is now somewhat dated. Yeltsin is known to have banned the Russian Confederation of Anarcho-syndicalists in October 1993. We do not know if FRAN is an active organization at this time.
Contact: The Third Way / P.O. Box 14 / Nizhny-Novgorod / 603082 Russia
Plainfield, Vermont, U.S.A.
Institute for Social Ecology
The Institute for Social Ecology was established in 1974 at Goddard College “for the purposes of research, education, and outreach in the field of social ecology.” It aims, according to its mission statement, to “create educational experiences that enhance people’s understanding of their relationship to the natural world and each other and the possibilities of establishing new ecological communities.”
Each summer the Institute offers an Ecology and Community program, a four-week series of workshops, colloquia, and lectures on social ecology and related themes. In the summer of 1994 this program attracted participants not only from the United States and Canada but from Ethiopia, Japan, Uruguay, Puerto Rico, Greece, and Australia. The Institute also offers a Design and Sustainable Communities program, and another in Women and Community Development. In addition, it offers a M.A. Program in Social Ecology through Goddard College.
In recent years the Institute has been sponsoring a series of conferences in the United States, for scholars and others interested in social ecology. Coming out of these conferences, the Institute is now working to form a Social Ecology Network, whose purpose is “to facilitate communication among activists and scholars; to educate a broader public about these ideas; to foster the development of an association to provide support for scholars and teachers; to make materials (curriculum, publications and other resources) available; to organize an annual conference; to create collegial relations among social ecologists internationally; and to further clarify and amplify the ideas of Social Ecology.” The next international social scology conference will be held in Montreal at the end of May 1994, and the featured topic will be libertarian municipalism. Those interested in attending the conference should contact the Institute for Social Ecology.
Contact: Institute for Social Ecology / P.O. Box 89 / Plainfield, Vermont 05667 / U.S.A.
Quebec City, Quebec
New Anarchist Bulletin
Hors d’Ordre (Out of Order) is a new theoretical bulletin, published in Quebec City, that analyzes contemporary society from an anarchist perspective. It has a social ecology orientation and seeks to advance modern anarchist concepts while distinguishing itself from traditional working-class-oriented perspectives, says collective member Eric Pineault. At the same time it attempt to avoid anarcho-primitivism and other postmodern pathologies.
The bulletin is published irregularly, as material is written, by a collective of six members from various backgrounds. Three issues have been printed to date: The first, a critique of green capitalism, focused on Anita Roddick’s Body Shop; the second, on nationalism and Quebec separatism; the third, on the transition to postmodernity and its impact on the revolutionary project. The collective is preparing a fourth issue on contemporary student movements and the left, which should come out in January 1994.
The material in Hors d’Ordre is used to create debate among activists and inside the left generally. The collective often organizes public meetings on the themes developed in Hors d’Ordre, as they plan to do with issue number four this winter at universities in both Montreal and Quebec City.
Hors d’Ordre hopes to develop a working relationship with Green Perspectives, exchanging translated articles. The collective is cooperating with a new publisher in Montreal, Editions Ecosociété (Ecosociety Editions), which intends to develop a series of books on social ecology–works by francophone authors as well as translations of those by Murray Bookchin. A French translation of Bookchin’s Remaking Society was published in spring 1993 and received good reviews. Two members of the Hors d’Ordre collective are writing a history of Quebec from the perspective of social ecology, and they eventually want to write a book on dialectics, reason, and ecological thought.
Contact: Collectif Hors d’Ordre / 64, rue de Maisonneuve, app. 4 / Québec City G1R 2C3 Quebec / Canada
Syracuse, New York, U.S.A.
Campaigning for Local Democracy
The Greens began to organize in Syracuse–a city of 160,000 people, located in Onandaga County in central New York State–in 1991, and after two years of local organizing, they conducted their first libertarian-municipalist-style electoral campaign in the fall of 1993. Challenging decades of machine-style Democratic Party rule, they ran a slate of two candidates for local office: for Syracuse city councillor-at-large, Howard Hawkins (former field organizer for the Left Green Network and Green Perspectives contributor), and Tom Sullivan (a Mohawk Indian and outspoken critic of environmental racism), for Onondaga County legislator.
The Greens mocked both Democrats and Republicans as “the Gray parties,” “beholden to big business interests,” since their differences are no more than shades of gray, offering few new ideas to people in the dying industrial city. Where the Gray parties had reduced politics to an elite machine-style system that dispensed patronage, the Greens called for “creating new institutions through which every average citizen can participate and look out for their own interests”; where the Gray parties’ rule was marked by a small elite’s ownership of industrial enterprises, the Greens called for a “Green City” with ecological development; and where the Gray parties had provided industries based on toxic technologies, the Greens proposed instead ecological technologies.
Notably, the Greens’ program called for democratizing the city and county political levels. (In some parts of New York State, the local unit of government is the county, not the municipality.) The electoral wards for the Syracuse city council are actually bigger than the districts for the Onondaga county legislature, creating a situation in which “the very structure of the city government systematically underrepresents people of color.” The Greens called for smaller electoral districts that would elect both city councilors and county representatives. In those districts they would establish “neighborhood assemblies for every 5,000 to 10,000 citizens, open to all citizens like New England Town Meetings.” These neighborhood assemblies would have “the power to take up any citywide as well as neighborhood issue” and “the power to give binding instructions to their county representatives and to recall them at will.” This system would not only “give people of color fair representation in close proportion to their population” but would “replace top-down machine politics with bottom-up grassroots democracy.”
The neighborhood assemblies, in turn, would join together to “make Onondaga County a Confederation of Neighborhood Assemblies.” The Greens argued that citizens “should transform the county from a centralized bureaucratic hierarchy into a decentralized Confederation of Neighborhood Assemblies. Power should flow from the bottom up, not the top down. . . . True democracy means ongoing discussions, decisions, and self-government, not a once-in-a-while election of elites to rule over us. ” Since the Syracuse area is where the Iroquois Confederacy was founded, Sullivan and Hawkins emphasized that the Greens’ demands were an adaptation of the traditional Iroquois Confederacy.
The Greens’ program also called for “cooperative economics” and an end to “subsidy abuse,” the use of public subsidies for private profit, particularly in urban enterprise zones by absentee-owned private businesses. “Turn the economic development zone into a cooperative zone,” the Greens proposed, “where worker and consumer co-ops receive the zone’s benefits instead.” Other highlights from their many proposals were calls for progressive taxation and an end to the “malling of Syracuse” (the city is the home of the Pyramid Mall company), “bringing work and shopping back with in walking distance in the neighborhoods.” They opposed local “ecological nightmares” of a solid waste incinerator, the dumping of raw sewage into Onondaga Lake, and the existence of three nuclear power plants near Syracuse. The alternatives they offered favored eco-technologies, such as a recycling industry to replace the incinerator; a biological treatment process to clean up the lake, including anaerobic digestion, a hydroponic greenhouse, and a wetland to treat pollutants through organic processes; the municipalization of the public utility; and the shutdown of the local nuclear power plants.
While city council candidate Hawkins ended up getting 2.5 percent of the vote, county legislature candidate Sullivan got 17 percent. Interestingly, Sullivan’s district included the university, but the students were totally passive during the campaign; the Greens’ vote was the worst in the university area of the district. “We did not get support from the so-called new social movements,” says Hawkins, “who are connected with the university and are more concerned with politically correct language than with activism and talking to people.”
The Greens now plan to take each of the issues on which they campaigned and devote a newspaper issue to it, then distribute it door to door to educate the public. The first issue will be on neighborhood assemblies. For the 1994 county ballot, the Onondaga County charter commission will recommend reducing the number of county legislators and giving more power to the county executive. Next year the Greens plan to wage a major fight over democracy with the charter commission.
Contact: Syracuse Greens / P.O. Box 562 / Syracuse, New York 13205 U.S.A.
Social Ecology Study Group
A Social Ecology study group has been meeting once a week in Skien, a city of about 50,000 in southeastern Norway, for the pas year and a half. In addition to studying, according to recent correspondence from member Atle Hesmyr, the group has translated and published a collection of three articles from Green Perspectives on libertarian municipalism (Radikal Okologisk Politikk) as well as other essays by Murray Bookchin. They plan to translate Bookchin’s “Anarchism: Past and Present” and “The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism” in response to a visit to their group by local comprehensive school students studying anarchism as part of a “history of political ideas” course.
Currently a member of the study group is working on translating a collection of essays by Janet Biehl, including “The Politics of Myth” and “Women and the Democratic Tradition, Parts 1 & 2.” A short version of Biehl’s “Western European Greens: Movement or Parliamentary Party,” translated by Hesmyr last year, was published this summer in the Norwegian alternative magazine Gateavisa, in its antiparliamentary issue during the national elections. (Hesmyr reports that the Norwegian Green Party didn’t run candidates because they calculated tha they couldn’t succeed.)
The study group also attempts to articulate the ideas of social ecology nd libertarian municipalism in practice. They have been working with a neighborhood environmental group in Porsgrunn, a highly industrialized cit in the Grenland region, to battle poor living conditions along with the loss of green space. “We have tried to radicalize the neighborhood struggle,” says Hesmyr, “by advocating a liberation municipalist program.”
Looking ahead two years, the study group hopes to participate in the next local elections from a libertarian municipalist perspective. Meanwhile, the Skien study group would like to get in touch with other groups of social ecologists, anarchists, and radical Greens throughout Europe.
In early September 1993 Hesmyr put the finishing touches on the Norwegian translation of Bookchin’s Remaking Society. The project was started a year ago in response to the difficulty of spreading the ideas of social ecology in Norway with almost no translated materials. Altera, a small Norwegian publishing house, is interested in publishing the 200-page book next year.
Hesmyr plans to begin translating Bookchin’s The Ecology of Freedom this winter and to attend the Institute for Social Ecology next summer.
Contact: Atle Hesmyr / c/o Okotopia-Trykk / Odinsgate 8 / 3700 Skien / Norway
Letter to the Editors
To the Editors:
Personal circumstances have delayed me, but I am anxious to offer a rejoinder to our exchange in Green Perspectives 27 (August 1992). I’m afraid that my argument has been misunderstood. Indeed, I am at a complete loss to comprehend how my letter could be taken in even the most remote way as endorsing, however tacitly, any concept of ethnic cleansing. In the interest of camaraderie and goodwill, I’ll presume that you were momentarily carried away in your rhetoric. Fair enough; perhaps I was too.
There are, though, three points in your critique that I must take issue with: (1) your suggestion that I strategically endorse racism; (2) your confusion of my arguments for particularity with an endorsement of parochialism; and (3) your more or less open accusation of opportunism on my part.
(1) If you reread my letter, at no point do I endorse racism. On the contrary, I warn about the danger of contributing to racism in our work of necessarily engaging people at the level of their own consciousness. This does not mean accepting uncritically this consciousness at face value. It does mean taking seriously people’s self-understanding about the problems in their own lives and communities. One does not have to accept racism to accept that many living communities are based upon ethnic traditions and identities. If this is the foundation of a community life that helps shelter such people from commodification and bureaucratic rationality, it must be protected. This does not mean that there is not a real danger of ethnicity lapsing into racism, but neither does it mean that we don’t strenuous concern any such knee-jerk expression of ethnicity as racism. This is why I called it dangerous theory. But to theoretically collapse ethnicity into racism, as you do, simply reduces the complexity we need to think through our current problems.
(2) It does not follow from this, though, as you suggest, that I am defending parochialism. As I put it in my letter, “This may not be where we want to end up, but it is a big part of where we must begin.” I never said that a confederal municipalist vision should be satisfied with a confederation of particularistic-ethnic communities. I only said that, if we are to build upon “real flesh and blood people-in-community” and not just abstractions of ideal communities, then such ethnically based communities are an important part of where we begin. After all, those real flesh and blood communities may not be very impressed without ideal abstractions. Indeed, the latter might well become part of the problem.
To get at this from a slightly different direction: I am acutely aware of Murray Bookchin’s lifelong “defense of the best elements of the Enlightenment.” Indeed, very few people in this world have read with relish so may of the words written in that lifelong defense, or been so inspired by them, as have I. However, in practical terms, Murray’s promotion of a universalist ethos raises serious questions of realization. I only see two venues, broadly speaking. either this ethos must come to communities from without, a foreign element by definition, which many communities will regard as a form of colonialism. Obviously, now, you see it as a vast education program, volunteeristically pursued by a vanguard of educators (no Leninist implications intended, though let us not forget uncle Karl’s third thesis). However, confronted with the ubiquitous nature of the culture industry, and the fact that many actual communities are likely to encounter it as a foreign intrusion, I am doubtful about the practicality of this vision. And like any universalist project, it is always in danger of laying the foundation for new forms of bureaucratic domination in the cause of regulative enforcement: i.e., of becoming the very thing that ethnic communities must be supported in defending themselves against.
Or, the second possibility is that such a universalist ethos is to come from within the actual communities. By cultivating a municipal confederation of democratic communities, we can help remake the public space of a new citizenship. Democracy (in the original sense) has always been its own school of citizenship–it cultivates the consciousness and personality structure of democratic and autonomous citizens. By defending this process’s unfolding within specific communities, out of the practical experience of actual self-government, however ethnically-particularistic the original basis of community (remembering that confederal municipalists engage such communities critically, challenging aggressive notions like racism!), we help cultivate the very consciousness and experience that builds a common life among such communities. (This is perfectly compatible with municipalization of the economy, neighborhood assemblies, and all the other elements of confederal municipalist praxis.) By accepting a critically engaged particularly as the initial basis of many communities, we can contribute to the political evolution within such communities of a common citizenship that can provide the basis to begin dialogue about a shared universalist ethics, grounded in democratic citizenship, but abstractable to other spheres of thought and action.
There are, of course, no guarantees that even democratic citizenship will prevent particularistic-ethnic communities–or any other kind–from using their autonomy for unpleasant ends. Even the seminally democratic Athenians did some pretty nasty things. But the only assurance against this is a bureaucratic rationalization that defeats the initial purpose. Our only hope is for more universalistically minded individuals to critically participate in the process of the communities’ self-making. Unless we are to lend legitimacy to new forms of bureaucratic rationality, a less noxious origination of univeralism, rooted in community, autonomy, and democratic citizenship, can only arise through the vicissitudes of each community’s own specific political history.
(3) Finally, to suggest that this position leaves me compromising principle in the interest of a short-term opportunism is your most seriously misguided allegation. By insisting that actually communities only be supported critically–i.e., by refusing to accept their most retrograde and aggressive forms of exclusionary self-definition–I hardly see that I am endearing myself to some popular culture’s lowest common denominator. However, by refuting the smug pseudo-Enlightenment ideology of the commoners’ herd mentality, suggesting that they may have insights into their own problems and those problems’ solutions that escape the learned reflection of the sages, hardly seems to endear me to the intellectuals, either–critical, revolutionary, or otherwise. Indeed, it seems difficult to imagine a more self-marginalizing poition than the one that I have stumbled into here. If, as you suggest, I am conforming principle, to endear myself to the popular, it seems that I am in rather bad need of a new public relations manager.
In truth, my position is no more a pandering to the mindlessly popular than yours is a self-righteous revolutionary purism. Ad hominem argument will get us nowhere and rhetorical excess only makes matters worse. The real issues are those discussed in points 1 and 2 above, and–if I might immodestly suggest–my more basic position of the first letter: the Left/Right vocabulary is self-defeating where it prevents us from seeing how critical engagement with the popular culture may hold solutions to our problems, that might otherwise elude us. Ethnicity as a last refuge of actual community is only one such example.
We welcome the fact that Mike McConkey now, in his second letter, no longer speaks of his willingness to “make common cause” with “New Rightists” (among others) who “sincerely struggle against commodification, homogenization,” etc., although we would hope that he will explicitly repudiate this statement one day. We also welcome what appear to be some changes in his position.
McConkey’s original argument, readers may recall in Green Perspectives #27, was that we must begin to work with “flesh and blood” people in communities from where they are now. Since many of these communities are “ethnically based,” so McConkey urged, we must not initially advance a “universalistic ethos”–like democracy–on them. Rather, he wrote, we must “be prepared for the possibility that it may be us, not the popular culture, that needs to change our way of thinking in some such instances”–instances having to do with some unnamed “innate wisdom” in the popular culture in these communities, many of which, again, are “ethnically based.” The strong implication in that first letter was that in our community organizing, we should meet people halfway on even their baser views–at least initially. As readers of Green Perspectives 27 may also recall, We strenuously objected to this position, since we did not want to “build upon ‘real flesh and blood people–in community,'” by pandering in any way to ethnic bias at either the beginning, middle, or end of our efforts.
It should be added that, McConkey’s assertion notwithstanding, we never said that McConkey “strategically endorses racism,” let alone ethnic cleansing. “We do not doubt that McConkey believes,” we wrote in our first reply, that “ethnic prejudices are wrong under all circumstances.” Historically, however, appeals to ethnicity do have a way of moving very rapidly toward racism and further barbarities, not toward democracy.
Now, in McConkey’s present letter, there is no more talk of “changing our way of thinking.” Rather, we learn, our engagement with people in communities should be “critical,” and our aim should be to “cultivate” democratic values and practices within these communities. This is a distinct advance over the position he previously argued for, one to which we assent.
But McConkey goes on to suggest that as we work with people in communities, we should not admit to them that these democratic values and practices originate outside their community. This, McConkey warns, would seem to them to be “colonial.” Rather, we should pretend that our democratic practices and values come from within their community and its specific political history. Yet as far as we know, the democratic tradition to which he adheres, no less than ours or indeed anyone else’s, has its roots in the ancient Greek polis–and the historical record his ancient Greek polis, no less than ours or anyone else’s, is saddled with a history of “nasty” features like patriarchy and slavery. He cannot avoid this history anymore than we can, but we can all share the potential for face-to-face democracy by expanding the democratic tradition to an all-inclusive level.
No, McConkey seems to aver, we must not be explicit about this origin–or the “universalistic ethos” that the democratic tradition has acquired. That would make us not only apparently “colonial” but a “vanguard of educators.” Rather, McConkey seems to suggest, we must somehow “foster” the development of democracy within a community, without being explicit about what we are doing. Alas, we cannot help but wonder why we are not permitted to display sufficient respect for the people we are working with to be truthful and straightforward with them concerning our beliefs and the tradition they reflect. Somehow, an awareness of the ancient Greek roots of democracy and its later development historically into a “universalistic ethos” has not been what impeded people from accepting democratic values and practices and building on them. For our part, we would prefer to be straightforward–and educational–with people rather than smuggle democracy into a community on these strangely indirect premises, or spoon-feed it to people as if they were not yet ready (“initially”) to cope with the truth. We do not understand how our straightforwardness makes us a “vanguard of educators,” in contrast McConkey’s patronizing indirectness. Or how our “educating,” as he calls it somewhat disparagingly, is undesirable, unlike his presumably noncolonial “fostering” and “cultivating.”
The word vanguard, we should add, does not throw us into a panic. An avant-garde teacher (or artist) is still a teacher (or artist), and there is no point in pretending otherwise. The more serious anarchists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did not hesitate to apply the word vanguard to themselves, their periodicals, or even their organizations. And we find it rather chilling when we think that former sixties “New Leftists” and present-day “anarchists” decry the use of this term especially those en route to university jobs and cushy professions, or distort its meaning to refer to a “Marxist-Leninist vanguard party.”
We continue to be troubled by the fact that McConkey, who maintained in his last letter that “‘left and right’ labels have exhausted their usefulness,” continues to call such distinctions “self-defeating.” Today there is, alas, a very strong Right–New and otherwise. Unfortunately, no Left seems to exist that is prepared to uphold at least its best internationalist, revolutionary, and grassroots democratic traditions. What we find–at best–are essentially liberal (in the American sense) or social-democratic ideas and causes, attempts to gain nationwide public and parliamentary offices, single-issue campaigns that hardly challenge the present social order, and slow compromises with that order. (As for the issue of opportunism, by the way, it is McConkey who, both in his last letter and this one, expresses concerns about being relegated to “marginality,” concerns we took up in Green Perspectives 27.) One has only to look at the ease with which so many “leftists” have accommodated the Right and collapsed the basic principles that once defined them as leftists by accepting notions of a “free market” and the myth of a “minimal state.” The “crisis” of self-defined former leftists is even more pitiful today than it was when we responded to McConkey’s first letter, more than a year ago.
Janet Biehl and