Reply to Eirik Eiglad

For background please see the brief post “Making public a proposal for public debate” including the comments made on that post.

Greetings to Eirik and my thanks for his reply.

First, to clarify for accuracy, at no time have I posted on the New Compass website (http://new-compass.net — there is a typo in Eirik’s reply). I believe what he is referring to is my adding a comment with a link to the post (“Making public a proposal for public debate”) to several social network postings announcing the launch of the New Compass website. In doing so, I intended no disrespect; my intention was to provoke some kind of response to a request for dialogue that, to that point, had gone almost entirely ignored by those associated with Communalism/New Compass. I apologize if my actions were perceived as disrespectful.

Second, the comments made by Chuck Morse were removed at his request. I am glad that Chuck reconsidered them–I do not support them nor do I think they advance dialogue nor demonstrate respectful discourse.

Third, at no time have I directed the proposal to any single person and I have not done so intentionally. My aim is encourage broad, inclusive discussion of the reconstruction of Bookchin’s social ecology. My firm belief is that this is best served through *many* persons engaging in respectful discussion and debate. Meaning, I see no reason why any “debate” (and I’ll remind everyone that the public suggestion of “debate” did not originate with me but with Marcus Melder) need only be between two persons.

Fourth, I find it quite curious that Eirik (and others, who have expressed similar sentiments in other fora) choose to evade the opportunity for robust public discussion with the excuse that I somehow have not articulated a “clear” political position and, therefore, discussion and/or debate should be avoided for reasons of time.

In the brief article “Social ecology needs development, dissent, dynamism” I attempted not to articulate my own political and philosophical framework but to call for “robust and respectful public discussion” in posing two primary questions:

1) Can there be social ecologies—that is, varying interpretations, philosophies, and modes of praxis that differ in some ways but remain in solidarity with one another and identified with the social ecology tradition?

To which I answered “I believe this answer definitive “yes” not as a cynical strategy for over-extending the relevance of the social ecology tradition, nor as a means for avoiding critical, direct disagreement, but as means of renewing an important community of activists and thinkers who can do the crucial work of developing social-ecological theory and putting it into practice. Dissent is not only inevitable, it is healthy and necessary and we who draw support and energy from the social ecology tradition should not shrink from disagreeing anymore than we ought be quick to alienate those with dissenting opinions.”

2) Which aspects of Bookchin’s social ecology are essential and what elements might, at least for some self-identifying social ecologists, deserve critique and revision?

To which I answered “I believe this question demands robust and respectful public discussion.”

Now, with the basis for a public discussion or debate, the New Compass website FAQ includes the following:

How do you define social ecology?
— Pretty much like Murray Bookchin did; social ecology is the body of ideas that Bookchin developed through his works. In a general sense, social ecologists recognize the relationship between society and nature, and insist that we must create a rational, ecological society to re-harmonize our relationship to the natural world. We consider ourselves social ecologists and therefore remain committed to the integrity of social ecology as a body of ideas.

In case it is not is not abundantly clear, there is a stated disagreement between the New Compass FAQ and the position that I took in the article “Social ecology needs development, dissent, dynamism” with regard to the possibilities for development, dissent, and dynamism. The editors of New Compass have clearly aligned themselves with the ideology of Murray Bookchin and have limited the possibilities of “development” to that which is determined (apparently) by those at New Compass who would speak for the “integrity” of Bookchin’s social ecology. Further, the lack of responsiveness of those associated with Communalism/New Compass to my original “Social ecology needs development, dissent, dynamism” article as well as the repeated public and private attempts to initiate dialogue or debate, in my view, reflects quite poorly on their willingness to support the capacity for “dissent” among those who would identify with social ecology.

Finally, there is considerable irony in New Compass’ stated desire for “new ideas” and “new politics” whilst remaining apparently wedded to the orthodoxy of an ideology articulated by a profound and great thinker (Murray Bookchin) who is nevertheless no longer with us and cannot create “new ideas” or “new politics.” The space for “dynamism” within the orthodoxy of Bookchin’s social ecology as adopted by New Compass is, thus, inherently limited insofar as there has been no demonstrated willingness for anyone associated with Communalism/New Compass to articulate any qualitative differences with the ideology of Murray Bookchin–an ideology which is now fixed as a result of his passing in 2006.

To conclude, I would like to highlight, again, my confusion as to why a movement ostensibly dedicated to democratic principles and “rationality” appears unwilling to engage in public discussion or debate. Curiously, those associated with Communalism/New Compass appear more concerned with avoiding debate and consolidating an orthodox ideology than engaging with, speaking only for myself, someone quite interested in contributing the development of the tradition of social ecology.

34 Replies to “Reply to Eirik Eiglad”

  1. I’d personally be interested in seeing discussion of the 2 questions Karl raises, even if it’s not in the framework of a formal debate. These days I honestly don’t know whether I should/could be considered a social ecologist, but I still feel a strong connection to SE and would want to see it develop and grow as a key libertarian left tendency.

    At the very least it would be nice to know whether I am outside the fold because I haven’t renounced anarchism and am not convinced that LM should be a one size fits all strategy.

    If there is to be discussion the heat needs to be turned down a bit first though.

  2. I can certainly appreciate your frustration, Karl. It is pretty clear to me that the real purpose of Eirik’s post here was to demoralize and attack you. He could have just said that he is too busy for a debate and left it at that but, instead, he attacked your article (“banalities”) and insinuated that you’re confused.

    In my experience, this is typical of Eirik and others associated with the Communalist/New Compas website. They seem more interested in revering Bookchin than in actually discussing his ideas. Eirik’s response to my sympathetic account of my time with Bookchin is a good example. My article was extremely sympathetic but for Eirik it was an outrage that render him apoplectic. (My article is here: http://www.negations.net/being-a-bookchinite/ and Eirik’s piece: http://www.communalism.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=195:measures-of-failure-and-success-part-1-reflections-on-chuck-morses-qbeing-a-bookchiniteq&catid=84:movement&Itemid=2).

    It is ironic that Bookchin, a thinker who was so committed to the enlightenment, should have a group of erstwhile disciples dedicated to turning him into a mystical, reverential figure. It is ironic, but not totally surprising, given Murray’s proclivity toward sectarianism. In any case, whatever the origin, it is a total intellectual and political dead end.

  3. There is an underlying question implicit in these debates: how should all of us influenced by Murray respond to his legacy? Should we revere it and sing its praises or should we look at it critically, taking what is useful and discarding the rest?

    If you choose the former, then you will be very angry with those try to analyze and unpack Murray’s ideas. If you choose the later, you will welcome and encourage discussion.

    Obviously you can praise Murray’s achievements AND look at them critically but, still, we have to make a choice about our ultimate goals. Are we critics or disciples?

  4. Karl Hardy,

    I am not sure what to make of this.

    You have now written a reply to me as a separate article on this blog. And I still haven’t got a clue about what you are actually replying to or what kind of debate you want us to be engaged in.

    I will try to recapitulate. A suggestion has recently been tossed out to have a public “debate” between social ecologists (I have no idea why the quotation marks around “debate” was put in the first place, but I will keep them for now). This, of course, is not at all controversial: Indeed, the suggestion is so vague that no one can possibly disagree with it. Fine, good, go ahead.

    So far it seems all-ok, but still, what this debate is supposed to be about remains unclear, at least to me. It is not obvious from the proposal, neither is it clear from the earlier debate on these pages, nor is it at all clear from Karl Hardy’s reply to me here. Is it about strategies and ways to implement a radical ecological politics? Or is it perhaps about libertarian municipalism as such? Is it about social ecology as a body of ideas? Is it about theoretical or ideological integrity as such? Is it about the relationship to anarchism, or to reformism—or to reforms as such? Is it about movement building, or perhaps about our legacy to Murray Bookchin? I really do not understand what is at issue here.

    I though this call for a “debate” could well be a good idea, but it seemed essentially formless and not worth responding to. I have been preoccupied with other matters lately, and so have my friends at the New Compass as you may guess. Not any us was directly asked so we abstained, not thinking that would make much difference what we did or said here, whether for good or bad.

    Still, recently Karl insisted that we were the main antagonists according to this “proposal.” But then can we at the very least be told what we are against? Who are we debating and why? What political views do these persons hold? If it is you, Karl, then I would like you to present your views. Even though this all remains unclear, it is obvious that we (I and New Compass) were framed as the antagonists even though we have always remained close comrades with our colleagues the ISE. The other social ecologists at the ISE I know personally and politically well enough to know that we all share the basic libertarian aspirations and I admire them for their commitment, ideas, and work.

    As regards you, Karl. I do not know what your political views and ideas are: it remains to see whether you will eventually present a consistently formulated idea of some substance. So, we may or may not agree, I have no way of telling. What are your ideas, Karl? What is your program? How are you suggesting we go about changing the world?

    Still, this supposed antagonism does not explain the reception of New Compass. In fact it is particularly hard for me to grasp and to accept why our launching of a new international English-language web journal was greeted this way by the ISE: I would have thought this was an event to be celebrated, at least mentioned soberly, not consistently greeted with petty Facebook-spam insinuating that we evade debate. (Yes, I was wrong here: We have installed a Facebook comments function to our website, and I frankly cannot see whether this actually was posted via the social media plugins on the website or whether you consistently went around to the posts made by comrades announcing this web journal. So, I apologize for my imprecise language here.). Still, you have not only ignored the launch of the journal, but as far as I can judge you have effectively tried to undermine it.

    In my book this is not a decent way to greet a new comradely political initiative. Instead this “debate” was insistently pushed forward, and now this blog posts this reply to me as if something big has happened. Actually, as of writing this—three days after our launch—our journal has not yet been greeted properly by the ISE, nor brought to its readers’ attention.

    Be that as it may. This is not the important point here. I do, however, still suppose a debate is between two or more parties to find out what their points of contention and mutual understanding are—hopefully, then to reach an elevated sense of insight and understanding. If this is so, I see no reason why not to debate Karl Hardy. Besides, When did ever any of the Scandinavian social ecologists ever shirk a debate?

    Still, if I should take on the challenge as it is formulated now I’m incapable to do anything than boxing with shadows.

    Yes I am sorry to break this to you, Karl, but a political concept is not merely a label, a tag, a name—it embodies also a tradition, and it is a praxis; it is historically rooted in specific ideological trajectories, and our use of these concepts should be expected to follow a modicum of consistency and transparency. This, unfortunately, you do not convey. As far as I can judge, the only things you have championed are “debate” and “dissent,” and you adhere to “dynamism” and “development.” Well, I’ll tell you one thing: I do too. Not that it matters much, of course, but that is exactly my point. Unless explained and contextualized, these concepts simply melt into air, and their contours and specificity disappears for us.

    This is not an option that is satisfactory to me: I would therefore like to see Karl Hardy come out in the open with his political standpoints and then we can have a real debate on even ground, without anyone hiding behind vagaries, banalities, and conceptual veils.

    So, well, now I have written this blog post and I still haven’t got any idea of whether I am now engaging in a “debate” or not—neither have I after writing this got even the faintest idea about what this presumed “debate” is supposed to be about. With all due respect, can’t we at least try to do a little better than that?

    I am still not interested in boxing shadows.

    With respect to my comrades at the ISE,
    Eirik Eiglad

    Ps. Readers are encouraged to check our new web journal for themselves, and make up their minds about our political and intellectual efforts. If you like what you see we encourage you to help us build an international social ecology movement.

    Check us out — http://new-compass.net
    Follow us — http://new-compass.net/feed

  5. Eirik,
    it’s just simple. The above comments of Karl, Mark and Chuck just makes clear that they don’t understand enough what Social Ecology is about, and even less understand what Communalism is about. A public debate about the politics of Social Ecology isn’t going to help them much to understand it in a better way. They will just have to study it better and be less afraid to become conscious of the fact that they have made some mistakes. Now, making mistakes is quite human so let’s all calm down please and not make flippant comments.

  6. This exchange is sad.

    The suggestion that Chuck Morse doesn’t understand enough what (sic) Social Ecology is about” and just needs to “study it better” is too silly for comment.

    His article – full disclosure: I initially asked him to write that for Perspectives on Anarchist Theory – is a thoroughly reasonable, deeply informed, deeply sympathetic critique of Bookchin’s praxis. The response linked above, which I have just now read for the first time reads like classic sectarian Marxism. You start with lip service to debate, make a few completely bizarre points of historical minutiae – it is bad to say that someone presaged many of Murray’s ideas, because the ideas in question were from a particular period…Really? – and then launch into denunciation and personal attack.

    Is there any hope for the libertarian left to engage in reasonable dialogue? Could we all possibly get beyond turf battles, denunciations, and petty fights? (And here I’m not at all just taking sides in this particular squabble. Anyone paying attention knows that there are many many such instances, some involving Murray, others the ISE.) If not, the rest of the political world will continue to think – rightly – that we are marginal and pointless.

    Karl’s request seems pretty reasonable to me. Figure out a way to have an open, honest, respectful discussion of different views in the vicinity of social ecology. That’s what grown-ups do.

    btw, if anyone needs to denounce me for this, go right ahead. I’m not going to bother to respond -or probably even read such things. I have many many other things to do, and I’m too old for the aggravation. If this comment is useful, use it. If not, ignore it.

  7. Hello,

    For the record: I do not at all agree with Rafa Grinfeld’s comment that this disagreement stems from a lack of sufficient or correct understanding. I think it stems from very real political differences. I fail to understand now what this means politically, nor do I see what these differences actually mount to. Therefore I have asked Karl Hardy to make clear what his politics is.

    I think there are plenty of room and occasions to have “open, honest, respectful discussion of different views in the vicinity of social ecology.” To imply otherwise, like Karl Hardy does when he says: “I’m unsure as to why a movement ostensibly dedicated to democratic principles and rationality appears unwilling to engage in public discussion or debate,” serves little purpose. Nobody is against it, that is my very point. The question remains what this particular debate is going to be about, and why should I or others at New Compass should be dragged into this? This is not clear to me.

    I, for one, am certainly sympathetic to the aspirations of our friends and colleagues at the Institute for Social Ecology. As far as I understand we remain committed to a common cause. I look forward to many occasions to air political strategies and disagreements in the years ahead.

    Solidarity,
    Eirik Eiglad

    Ps. Can you now please announce the launch of our new web journal to your audience? I believe this is no minor event to be carpeted in a vacuous meta-debate over a non-debate (or something like that). I genuinely think this should be of some interest to your readers; They should be encouraged to check our new web journal for themselves, and make up their minds about our political and intellectual efforts. Thank you.

    Check us out — http://new-compass.net
    Follow us — http://new-compass.net/feed

  8. Thanks for your kind words about my article, Mark.

    I’ve followed this blog for some time and I’ve noticed that people linked to the Communalism/New Compass site have thus far mainly limited their participation to denouncing the discussion here and denigrating those involved. Typically, it goes like this: “Although I’m sooo busy doing my very, very, very important work and defending humanity against barbarism, I have somehow managed to find enough time to call you all stupid and misinformed.” There are Eirik and Rafa’s comments above and also Michael Speitel’s post here: http://social-ecology.org/wp/2011/01/social-ecology-needs-development-dissent-dynamism/ It’s the same thing over and over again.

    Like Mark, I also thought Karl’s proposal was very reasonable. I’m not sure why it is so difficult for Eirik to understand (it certainly made sense to me immediately).

    It bothers me that Eirik, Rafa, and Michael treat Karl so derisively. Karl, a relative newcomer to these circles, is working hard to encourage discussion of Murray’s ideas and the experiences associated with the ISE. I think he should be praised and encouraged for this, not put down.

    I’m glad Mark pointed to the history of this sort of pettiness at the ISE. I think that’s helpful. In fact, if you look at Murray’s work, you can see a strong pull in two major but contradictory directions. On the one hand, he was very creative, insightful, and generous (think of the Ecology of Freedom) but, on the other, ridiculously polemical and self-important. He was a complicated person (like all of us) and I cared about him a lot, but I think it’s clear that his sectarianism was destructive and that we need to find ways to respectfully talk through our differences. (This, as far as I can tell, is exactly what Karl had in mind).

  9. Chuck,
    have you ever been in Europe? If so, have you met social ecologists there? If so, who did you meet and what did you do together with them? What did you read from social ecologists in Europe? How much did you read? I know you have read much of Murray Bookchin but what about social ecologists in Europe? What do you know about them from experiences with them outside of the internet?

  10. Rafa, I find your personal questions to be out of context and (frankly) a little creepy. I suppose that you hope to find a way to prove your assertion (above) that I am uninformed about “social ecology,” but my travel schedule, personal connections, and reading habits are none of your business.

    Do you actually disagree with something I’ve said? If so, what is it? You have not yet challenged anything I’ve said or advanced a different interpretation of an issue under discussion.

    Do you disagree with me or are you just interested in me personally?

  11. Rafa, “social ecology” in Europe has nothing to do with the discussion here. Do you actually have a point that you want to make? Do you disagree with something? Do you want to assert something? If you have something to contribute to this discussion–anything at all–please do so.

  12. Chuck, why do you write about Bookchin and social ecology all of the time while you don’t know much about social ecology in Europe? That’s strange. You accuse Bookchin of sectarianism. You’ve attacked him before. What is your politics about? Or do you dislike politics?

  13. Rafa, when you say that I’ve attacked Bookchin, I suspect that you’re referring to my “Being a Bookchinite” article. That essay was a sympathetic but critical account of my experience with Bookchin, not an attack (there is a big difference). Some people seem to see any criticism of Bookchin, no matter how sympathetic, as an attack, but I think that’s juvenile.

    For my sake, I think Bookchin’s ideas and political practice were flawed in sorts of significant ways, but I really hope that people will read and discuss his work. I think that he still has important things to offer.

    I have accused Bookchin of sectarianism because he *was* a sectarian. He was deeply sectarian, both in his political practice and in the way that he related to people that he differed with. Of course, he was other things as well—he wasn’t ONLY a sectarian—but there is no doubt that he was a sectarian.

  14. Sorry: “Bookchin’s ideas and political practice were flawed in sorts of significant ways” should read “Bookchin’s ideas and political practice were flawed in ALL sorts of significant ways”

  15. It is clear to me that those interested in defending libertarian municipalism, the dual power strategy, Communalism, and every word of Bookchin are not willing to participate in a dialogue unless on their terms. Unfortunately, their terms appear to be as follows: everyone must agree that Communalist politics are moral, rational, and coherent, and everyone must also agree that any criticism is irrational and incoherent. Only under such conditions will they be interested in participating in a “dialogue.”

  16. It would be absurd to defend every word of Bookchin, certainly because he regularly changed his opinions about things in his long life. I am often very interested in dialogues with people who aren’t into anti-dialogue (to use a term of Paulo Freire).
    And yes, Communalist politics are moral, rational and coherent, and I have the right to defend that opinion. And no, it is not true that “any criticism” while talking about Bookchin and communalist politics is irrational and incoherent.
    Although Bookchin developed much of the ideas about communalist politics, it did not fully start or stop with his writings or ideas.

  17. With much respect to everyone here (for being here), and setting aside any past grievances which language or indiscretion may have inadvertently provoked (an attitude which I hope we could each continue to maintain towards one another, individually and among our incidental or ideological factions and alliances), I have presented a fairly systematic and concise intepretation of LM in my article “The Municipal Economy” for which I have thusfar received no direct argumentation or refutation (other than to question the potential clarity of the written nature of my ideas).

    Beyond this, the New Compass Journal has purported and maintained several articles from various perspectives which represent a similar and long-standing ideological commitment. Within this website itself, we could (and perhaps should) likewise dredge up and recirculate those articles which are of most critical relevance to this discussion, and to the contemporary involvement and reality of Social Ecology in general – the point being that these ideas, their modification, extension, and alternative must embody a concrete form that we can all collectively access and address in order more accurately to determine and assess our individual and collective position along the spectrum of their development and assertion.

    The key here, I contend, is quantitative and qualitative juxtaposition, for which, it appears, the format of presentation is of vital, while not paramount, importance, while providing and involving each of several authors, both orginative and contemporary, with equal and ample opportunity for expression alone would establish a sufficiency of content for us to corroborate and progress the genuine nature of our actual understanding and intentions.

  18. Rafa, as far as I can tell, we share the same basic orientation toward Bookchin: he has a lot to offer, but can be criticized in various ways.

    As I understand it, you see yourself as a “communalist.” How do you act in the world as a “communalist”? Are you involved in any activities or campaigns as a “communalist”? To my knowledge, there are no “Communalist” groups or activities anywhere in the United States.

  19. Jesse, I can see why you want people to respond to your comments, but I think you’ll have more luck if you improve your writing a little. You have a habit of making very simple, straight-forward points in unbelievably tortured prose. This makes things unnecessarily difficult for someone who wants to understand your views.

    For instance, as far as I can tell, in your comment above, you’re simply arguing that it would be good to circulate some old articles. If that’s so, then just say: “I think it would be good to circulate some old articles.”

    That’s just eleven words and yet conveys the same content that you articulated above.

    If nothing else, please try to break your paragraphs into more than one sentence and reduce your use of subordinate clauses.

    I don’t want to make you feel bad, and we all have our own unique styles, but I think you’ll get a lot more feedback on your ideas if you work on improving the clarity of your presentation.

  20. Allow me to add that I see no particular reason to argue against my article (I nearly wrote “myself”, illustrating our personal attachment and identification with these formulations) specifically, whether from tacit agreement or tolerance of inconsequential differences, this being true of all other articles in existence, but that if we are to have a debate or critical discussion there needs to be some sort of finite and determined rational starting point rather than mere references to a tradition with far-reaching inconsistencies and undeveloped aspects of itself.


  21. Eirik wrote:
    I think it stems from very real political differences. I fail to understand now what this means politically, nor do I see what these differences actually mount to. Therefore I have asked Karl Hardy to make clear what his politics is.

    Although I’m not clear why there’s a need to articulate differences before a debate, Eirik and several other people have asked that I “make clear” what my politics are. So, I’ll do that. You’ll have to give me a few days, though. I’m being asked for the summary of a manifesto if not a manifesto outright. (Published within a week from now at the latest, hold me to it.)

    I’d like to make my own request, please. How about everyone, anyone who identifies with social ecology, specifically the tradition of social ecology that has animated the ISE, please consider articulating your differences with any aspects of Bookchin’s ideology. And by that I mean the ideology that he held near the end of his life, having had the opportunity to revise several decades worth of thought and written work.

    Please consider demonstrating how irrelevant, insignificant, trivial, and unnecessary the “Social ecology needs development, dissent, dynamism” article

    http://social-ecology.org/wp/2011/01/social-ecology-needs-development-dissent-dynamism

    is by showing how much development, dissent, and dynamism exists amongst the ideas held by those identified with social ecology.

  22. Chuck, it’s true that communalism has been a more visible tendency in the European libertarian left than in the American one. I’s also quite new that so much ideology has been built on a communalist practice, people like Murray Bookchin and Janet Biehl have been much responsible for this.
    I have my own background and thinking but I don’t see many differences between my ideology and that of Murray at the end of his life. I guess this has much to do with the fact that we both disliked the lack of (good) ideology, the nihilist influences in contemporary anarchism. Murray helped me much to understand better what my differences with other eco-anarchists were about at a time when I labeled myself as an eco-anarchist.
    My communalist practice has been mostly about discussing with people, writing and being active with alternative media. More about my ideas should appear soon on this blog. I am just waiting for Karl to do more with the text that I have sent to him for a social ecology profile here.

  23. Rafa, much of my work also revolves around media and publishing.

    Your comment points to a paradox that I’ve long observed. Among the two dozen or so people around the world who identify as “communalists,” there is often a strong emphasis on the importance of running candidates in local elections. For instance, Eirik’s “Social Ecologists in Local Elections” argues for this and is a featured article on the New Compass website. Indeed, participation in local elections seems to be the main strategic recommendation that distinguishes “communalism” from anarchism.

    However, as far as I am aware, no communalists are actually participating in elections. Evidently, you are not participating in local elections, apparently none of the Norwegian “communalists” are participating in local elections, and (to my knowledge) Janet Biehl hasn’t done so since the early 1990s.

    Maybe there are campaigns that I’m unaware of, but this makes me wonder: why do “Communalists” think OTHER PEOPLE should participate in elections if its not relevant for them?

    What do you think, Rafa?

  24. Communalists actually have participated in the latest local elections of Oslo. It has been five years now since the latest local elections here in Antwerp, Belgium. There will be municipal elections again next year in Antwerp and if I can get a good group together that supports a good program I will certainly participate in these elections. But let me emphasize the fact that Communalism is not about the classic party concept and classic electoralism, and it’s about much more than just participating in local elections.
    I have seen many radicals in Europe willing to participate in local elections, more and more of them actually do, but only a small minority of them are much interested in Communalism. I do not think of participating in local elections as always that much crucial for Communalists, the reasons for it and the program that is used in the electoral campaign are more important. If you would compare Communalists with the anarchists of Provo (who participated in the municipal elections of Amsterdam, in the sixties) you would see many differences.

  25. Rafa, do you know the results of communalists participation in the recent Oslo elections? How many candidates ran? For what offices? What percentage(s) of the vote did they receive? etc etc

  26. Chuck, I would modify your distillation of my idea above as : “We are the responsiveness and identification among the articles we circulate” – nuance is important here. This simple statement would, however, mean very little without the “tortured” prose which preceded it, none of which would have existed or arisen had I attempted to limit or conform myself to your arbitrary and self-restrictive criteria of expository composition.

    Please, in the future, try to remain focussed on the content rather than the phraseology of expression, as you seem to have no problem doing with everyone else besides me in these discussions. Had you not thrown this wrench into the mesh I would have written directly about professional politics, egalitarian involvement, and administrative reform, which I leave you to piece together, or not, however you see fit.

  27. Here is the program they used :

    Election program for Oslo 2007

    Another Oslo is possible!
    – Democratic Alternative want the city’s inhabitants to hold power

    We need a new Oslo! Democratic Alternative in Oslo assert that the politics today is run in an extremely top-down manner and as a consequence the market forces get more and more power and influence. The result is disheartening. The development of today’s Oslo is marked by increasing inequalities between the city’s richest residents and the rest, unbearable and inhumane housing costs, a commercialization of the public space and of the accelerating ecological problems.

    Are you one of them who is tired of the present right wing government, but think that the other parties doesn’t represent any real alternative? We in Democratic Alternative share your perception. But we also think that it is possible to change the situation. We assert that the solution to the lack of power we all experience is found in democratizing the municipality and in taking back the control from the market forces.

    We are standing in the elections to create another Oslo where it is the inhabitants who shape politics and the popularly elected who execute it – instead of politicians and market forces making decisions while the people have to passively bear the consequences. We believe that an Oslo that has participatory democracy, solidarity, inclusiveness, independence and sound ecology is possible. In this program we present concrete demands that can move Oslo in this direction.

    Democracy means peoples rule

    The word democracy means peoples rule, but Democratic Alternative consider that the politics in Oslo does not look much like popular rule. It is not the great majority – but rather a small handful of semi-professional politicians, bureaucrats and lobbyists – that govern the municipality. Election campaigns have become a circus. People don’t believe anymore that politicians will keep their promises when they get onto the municipal council. More and more power in the municipality has been centralized away from the people and into to the hands of the municipal council. Which in turn has abdicated responsibility for their actions by giving it to the boroughs.

    Democratic Alternative doesn’t believe in the claims of the political elite that everyone can participate through local “participation” or “user councils”. At best these forms of participation mean that we have the right to merely express ourselves about things we have interest in and, at worst, they give advice that the politicians and the bureaucracy easily ignore. We have had enough of being reduced to voters, consumers and taxpayers. We believe that another Oslo has to start with a new form of government in the Oslo municipality, where we as citizens have direct influence over the decisions that affect our own lives.

    Democratic Alternative demands:

    • That city plans, borough plans and the budget (including the “Groruddalen-funds”) are decided upon in open popular assemblies in the boroughs. These people’s assemblies must have their own secretariats and able to choose their own delegates to the borough- and municipal levels.

    • That binding referendums are carried out in important matters as for example the “Bjorvika-expansion”.

    • That what today is called “user participation” is replaced by real user rule whenever it is possible.

    • That big investments are made in building “borough town halls” and similar meeting places in the boroughs that can support a political culture there.

    Democratic Alternative’s goal is that the most important political, economical and social decisions in the municipality are made in popular assemblies in the neighbourhoods and in the boroughs, and that the elected representatives should administer and execute these decisions. These demands represent the first steps towards a polity of participatory democracy in Oslo. Democratic Alternative support all other demands and measures which move the municipality towards this goal.

    Strengthen the local self-government

    In Norway we have a long tradition that decisions should be taken close to those affected by them. But local self-government is fading away. Today, Norway is one of the most centralized countries in Europe. The municipalities have minimal influence over how budget resources should be used, taxes collected, or how welfare, education and other municipal services should be organized. Even a city as big as Oslo has its hands tied by the state, and its laws made in Brussels or elsewhere.

    In Oslo, the right-wing majority has for a long period sold enormously valuable public property and services to private investors. This extensive privatization and exposure to competition has, in reality, transferred control of central welfare services to market forces. Many healthcare services for the city’s inhabitants are today managed by the rules of profit and not primarily ethical demands and human respect. On top of this, private developers have been given the power to determine much of the city’s development – their economic power and contacts in City Hall has resulted in a situation where they build nearly as they wish, anywhere and anytime.

    Real popular rule is impossible as long as the municipality doesn’t have the power over its own circumstances and instead is forced to implement the central government’s decisions. The steadily sinking turnout in elections and the lack of interest in local politics bear witness that more and more people realise this. Another Oslo is only possible if the municipality strengthens its position in relation to the state and takes back control from market forces.

    Democratic Alternative demands:

    • That Oslo municipality demand a bigger part of the state’s revenues. The municipality must find out what resources are necessary to have a respectable welfare service, and reserve necessary tax revenues to sustain this.

    • That a property tax should be introduced on large private properties and business income and property.

    • That all privatization and exposure to competition must be stopped and welfare services that are privatized or exposed to competition must be taken back by the municipality and placed under popular control.

    • That an independent commission is established to scrutinize the connection between the planning and building office, the politicians and developers and propose measures to regain public control over the city’s development.

    • That Oslo municipality refuses to follow international treaties which violate the principles of democratic control over the economy and decent welfare services for all.

    Democratic Alternative’s goal is a living and active local popular government – where power is flowing from the bottom-up in society instead of from the top-down, and where welfare and economic decisions are put under popular control. These demands should be the first steps in a process where Oslo joins other democratized municipalities to gradually take over more authority from the state and functions that today are governed by the market.

    No participation without equality

    Oslo has become a harder city to live in. Just as market dynamics and globalisation have moved power even further away from the people, they are also transforming us all into commodities. You have to elbow others out of the way just to keep up. In this climate it is people who already have a hard time that are most badly affected. Many working people have lives that are marked by economic insecurity, cramped and expensive housing and unsocial working hours.

    Economic growth in Oslo is sky-high, at the same time as the disparity between poor and rich is increasing. Women and immigrants with non-European backgrounds, especially, have lower income than others, and both immigrants and people with disabilities systematically get discriminated against in the labour market, the housing market and by public authorities. Under such conditions democracy can’t exist. Democratic Alternative believes in an Oslo of solidarity, where economic recourses are distributed according to need – giving people the time, security and energy to participate in political life, conditions that are necessary to achieve a real popular democracy.

    Democratic Alternative demands:

    • That the housing market is price regulated and that more favourable housing loans are introduced for young people and single parents.

    • That a six hour working day is introduced with no loss of wages and workers in low wage professions in Oslo municipality get a substantial wage increase.

    • That crèches are established which are open in the evenings and free interpretation is available at political meetings.

    • That citizen commissions are established in the boroughs where private as well as public discrimination can be reported.

    • That a binding plan is developed to make Oslo universally accessible for disabled people.

    Democratic Alternative’s long-term goal is a society where everyone is treated as having the same value irrespective of sex, age, ethnicity, sexual identity, and where the economy is based on cooperation and distribution rather than privatization of wealth and competition. These demands are the first steps on the path to a society based on solidarity. Democratic Alternative will support all other proposals which radically reduce inequality between poor and rich, and at the same time guarantee that ordinary citizens get control over economic resources. We will also work for rights that protect individuals against every form of discrimination and for mechanisms that make full participation by everyone possible by compensating for individual disadvantages.

    An ecological future in Oslo

    The ecological crisis is perhaps the biggest problem we are facing in today’s society. As the media have pointed out, many of the main ecological systems, which sustain life on earth, are heavily weakened. The threat of global climate change is the most pressing feature of the general ecological crisis, but we can’t solve this crisis without finding local solutions. Oslo has, with its enormous consumption of electricity, fossil fuels and noxious building materials, become a parasite on the natural resources it is depending on. In addition to this, air pollution is a serious problem, together with the huge amounts of waste, motor traffic and assaults on the city’s green spaces.

    The most important cause of this crisis is the market’s relentless hunt for profits and the effect this has on our city life. The competition oriented society we are living in is breaking down traditions of cooperation and the will to seek common solutions. Even Oslo municipality is managed like a company where the main goal is the largest possible revenues and where efficiency is put above human needs. Today, most people are very troubled about this development, but feel powerless about solving the problem because power has been taken further and further away from them. But the solution to the environmental crisis requires action now and a critical turn-around in the development of society.

    Democratic Alternative demands:

    • That a binding plan is made to reduce the consumption of electricity and fossil fuels in Oslo and for a comprehensive ecological shift in the development of society. The plan must rest upon participatory processes in the neighbourhoods.

    • A differentiated electricity charge. It should be cheaper to use little electricity and expensive to use a lot.

    • That Oslo municipality establishes a fund for reconstructing Oslo’s housing stock in line with ecological standards.

    • Extended and free public transport.

    • That ecological centres are established in the boroughs where expertise is made available for ordinary citizens, associations and municipal institutions.

    Democratic Alternative’s long-term goal is an ecological society which creates a balance between the city and its natural surroundings. For an Oslo that is giving as much to the natural areas, which it is depending on, as it is taking from them. To reach this goal society has to be organised in a different way. Production and consumption must be planned with regard to human needs and the rest of the nature – not be subjected to the market’s need of infinite growth. In fact, the complete capitalist system has to be challenged, together with top heavy institutions that today are contributing to keeping control of society away from ordinary people.

    We believe that an Oslo that has participatory democracy, solidarity, inclusiveness, independence and sound ecology, is possible. But this won’t happen by itself. Such an Oslo can’t be created by semi-professional politicians or bureaucrats, but must be won by a new popular movement that struggles for change. If you agree with the main points of this program, we ask you to vote for our list in the municipal election in Oslo 2007. However, we also have to create a movement which can fight for change between elections. You should therefore also read this as an invitation to become a part of creating such a movement and to keep in contact with us. Without you another Oslo is not possible!

  28. Hi Rafa,

    Thanks for those posts.

    I have a question for you: when you wrote (above) “Communalists actually have participated in the latest local elections of Oslo,” were you referring to the elections in 2007? (I assumed you were speaking of something more recent, but maybe I was mistaken).

    I really like the Communalist program (above) in many respects. I very much appreciate the attempt to translate an anti-statist and anti-capitalist politics into real, viable demands. I think that making the step toward writing and advancing an articulated program is extremely hard but a real accomplishment. It enables—or at least helps—us to start thinking concretely about how we want to change the world. In my view, that is an inescapable but very emancipatory step. I congratulate them for this.

    However, I can’t say I’m surprised that few people voted for them. The program itself is primarily an argument for a new political culture, not so much a guide for providing material benefits to the residents of Oslo. Of course, calling for and wanting a new political culture is a good thing—it’s something I want too—but it is also very abstract. It is easy for me to see why an ordinary citizen would be more attracted to candidates who somehow pledge to improve their financial circumstances or make their lives easier in one way or another. In part, I say this because I know many voters are very self-interested (they “vote with their stomachs”), but I can also imagine a voter who is attracted to the political culture outlined in the Communalist program saying something like this, “whether or not I vote for Democratic Alternative has little bearing on the emergence of this new political culture. Voting is the least important part of creating such a culture. So, I will vote for another party, one that promises to lower my taxes or shorten my commute, AND work in other ways to create the political culture identified by Communalists.”

    I also want to make a point about one of the main programmatic demands advanced here: the demand for rule by popular assemblies. I understand the historical significance of this demand and it is one that I embrace, as a whole. However, it is not in itself a viable demand unless qualified in all sorts of important ways. Political and economic elites can easily buy influence in popular formations, often do so, and certainly would do so if important matters of social policy were at stake. This doesn’t mean that the demand for popular assemblies is wrong, but how they could work, and how they could be protected against the machinations of elites, needs to be articulated on some level for the demand to be compelling.

    In any case, I think the program is a valuable and interesting document that could provide a basis for a lot of interesting discussions.

  29. Hi Chuck,

    You’ve written:
    “I have accused Bookchin of sectarianism because he *was* a sectarian. He was deeply sectarian, both in his political practice and in the way that he related to people that he differed with. Of course, he was other things as well—he wasn’t ONLY a sectarian—but there is no doubt that he was a sectarian.”

    You put an emphasis on this on most of your posts and I understand it is something important for you as a message to tell. But could you define your point: what does it mean being “sectarian” in you point of view ? You will agree that it’s a bit light to say “I accused him of sectarianism because he *was* sectarian.”

    I definitely agree that Bookchin wasn’t a pluralist, he make all his life an appeal for a precise view and got arguments (good or wrong, depending on the view) for doing so. But I wouldn’t call it a “sectarian” view, with its religious aspect, more like “purist” attitude.

    Whoever he his, I think “David B.” made a very good comment on this about your article Being a Bookchinite : http://www.negations.net/being-a-bookchinite/ (it is the last comment). On my reasearch on social ecology, I just get to the same conclusions as him. Bookchin wanted social ecology to be one clear thing, that could change through time, be modifiate, but one theory should go with one terms. He didn’t like the plurality of view associtated with anarchism, deep ecology, etc and wanted social ecology to be clear, so that people could debate and know what they were referring too.

    I don’t say he was right on this (who could tell it ?), but that I understand that he tried to do something else because of his experience with other groups and their failure.

    Where I would like to end is this: People should be free to praise or critize Bookchin, as long as they have argument for and we shouldn’t be here saying “Communalists people always do this or that”, “We should leave LM out/ follow it”, “This kind of answer are typically…”, etc. ad nauseam. Maybe Bookchin gave us an important information on this: follow your path if you believe it is the right one. It is exactly what he did.

  30. Hi Vincent,

    Bookchin was many different things. I knew him to be a highly innovative, charismatic, intelligent, humorous, and generous person, but he was also, in addition to all of these things, a sectarian. Throughout his life, he organized small groups of select followers (sects) to advance his views and he often related to people with whom he disagreed in a very divisive, aggressive, and polemical manner (i.e., in a sectarian fashion). I would never suggest that he was a sectarian because of any personal gain it might have afforded him—on the contrary, I think his sectarianism reflected a series of thought-out commitments about how truth, history, and politics intersect. I now disagree with these commitments but he did have very developed arguments for his approach to organizing and debate.

    I have mentioned this on the ISE blog as a way to point to some dangers—as an example NOT to follow—as people around the ISE struggle to find a way to talk through different perspectives on Murray’s work and building a movement for a just, ecological society.

  31. Hi all,
    For anyone who is paying attention to this exchange and cares to know, I have written a further response. I’ve asked several people to offer me feedback on the draft, including the members of the ISE board, prior to publishing it here. I’m still awaiting responses from several people from whom I am hoping to receive feedback, so it may be a short (days) wait before I go forward with publishing the response here on the Blog. Thanks for your understanding-

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