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Anarcho-Syndicalism, Technology and Ecology

By Graham Purchase - Kick It Over, #35, Summer 1995 [PDF Available]

In an anarchist society, the absence of centralized state authority will permit a radically new integration of nature, labour and culture. As the social and ecological revolution progresses, national boundaries will become cartographical curiosities, and divisions based upon differences in geography, climate and species distribution will re-emerge. This essay addresses the question of what role unionism will play in these changes.

First, it seems obvious that telecommunications, transportation and postal networks all require organization which extends far beyond the individual ecological region, and activities like road building between communities require cooperation beyond that of individual locales. Thus, a return to a community-based lifestyle need not and cannot imply a return to the isolation of the walled medieval city or peasant village.

Anarcho-syndicalists (that is, anarchist unionists) argue that the best way to address such needs is for the "workers of the world" to cease producing for capitalist elites and their political allies. Instead, they should organize to serve humanity by creating not only communication and transportation networks, but industrial, service, and agricultural networks as well, in order to ensure the continued production and distribution of goods and services.

Yet there are many people in anarchist and radical environmental circles who regard anarcho-syndicalism with distrust, as they mistakenly identify it with industrialism. They argue that global industrialism has been responsible for centralized organization and environmental destruction. They view industrialism as necessarily based upon mass production, and the factory as inevitably involving high energy use and dehumanizing working conditions. In short, critics believe that providing six billion people with toilet paper and building materials (let alone TVs, VCRs and automobiles) necessarily involves large-scale, mass production techniques ill-suited to ecological health - regardless of whether capitalist leeches or "free" workers are running the show. Industrialism, it is argued, is an environmental evil in and of itself; it is only made slightly more destructive by the narrow, short-term interests of capital and state. Such critics argue that technology has likewise outgrown its capitalistic origins, and has taken on a sinister and destructive life of its own.

I am not unsympathetic to this argument. That children and adults alike spend hours on end surrounded by deafening noise and blinding lights in video arcades, in an utterly synthetic technological orgy, is ample evidence of our species' sick fetish for non-organic, superficial pleasures. The regimentation of the work day, and the consignment of leisure and play to half-hour television slots interrupted by nauseating commercials, is nothing short of the industrial robotification of human nature - an alarming process that has led many to argue that humanity should abandon the industrial and technological revolutions altogether. They further argue that we should return to small-scale, minimally industrial technologies that utilize simple devices such as the hand loom. Given the enormously destructive effects of today's industrial system, such a course may ultimately be the only path open to humanity. At this point, however, simply abandoning our cities and our technologies and hoping that our species will somehow return to a small-scale, pre-industrial existence appears both unlikely and reckless.

Revolutionary Ecology, Biocentrism, and Deep Ecology

By Judi Bari - 1995 | [PDF File Available]

I was a social justice activist for many years before I ever heard of Earth First!. So it came as a surprise to me, when I joined Earth First! in the 1980s, to find that the radical environmental movement paid little attention to the social causes of ecological destruction. Similarly, the urban-based social justice movement seems to have a hard time admitting the importance of biological issues, often dismissing all but "environmental racism" as trivial. Yet in order to effectively respond to the crises of today, I believe we must merge these two issues.

Starting from the very reasonable, but unfortunately revolutionary concept that social practices which threaten the continuation of life on Earth must be changed, we need a theory of revolutionary ecology that will encompass social and biological issues, class struggle, and a recognition of the role of global corporate capitalism in the oppression of peoples and the destruction of nature.

I believe we already have such a theory. It's called deep ecology, and it is the core belief of the radical environmental movement. The problem is that, in the early stages of this debate, deep ecology was falsely associated with such right wing notions as sealing the borders, applauding AIDS as a population control mechanism, and encouraging Ethiopians to starve. This sent the social ecologists justifiably scurrying to disassociate. And I believe it has muddied the waters of our movement's attempt to define itself behind a common philosophy.

So in this article, I will try to explain, from my perspective as an unabashed leftist, why I think deep ecology is a revolutionary world view. I am not trying to proclaim that my ideas are Absolute Truth, or even that they represent a finished thought process in my own mind. These are just some ideas I have on the subject, and I hope that by airing them, it will spark more debate and advance the discussion.

Anarchism and Environmental Survival (Graham Pucrhase)

By Graham Pucrhase - See Sharp Press, 1994

As a result of the environmental crisis, the once-unshakable belief that the human species should dominate nature is being challenged on all sides. "Survival" has come to mean something more complex than the simplistic notion of "survival of the fittest" or the right of dominance by a "superior" species. Increasing numbers of people are coming to see that regional and planetary environmental health, and human survival itself, depend upon a respectful approach to nature and to non-human life forms. We now know that healthy soils, animals, forests, grasslands and river systems are biological necessities for human survival. Ecological science further tells us that genetic and species diversity, not homogeneity, ensures the health and stability of ecosystems, and that the health and stability of the Karth itself can be no greater than that of its combined ecological regions. Our contemporary understanding of survival, then, and the means necessary to its realization, is a far cry from the individualistic struggle for existence—"Nature red in tooth and claw"—once depicted in elementary biology texts. Human survival depends not upon competition with other species (and within our own), but rather upon the adoption of cooperative and nurturant ways of life—a sustainable course of co-evolution with all living things.

At the same time, people are increasingly looking for nongovernmental ways to solve pressing social and environmental problems. They realize that it is everyone’s responsibility to create a greener, healthier, and more sustainable future for their families and communities. People are beginning to plant trees in suburban "green belts," to campaign against the pollution of local rivers, and to take the time to appreciate the wildlife in their regions. They notice that the massive and imperialistic military and economic ventures of nation states and multinational corporations are more often than not harmful to the regions in which they are imposed. Corporate capitalism, from Tokyo to Berlin seems determined to cover the delicate ecoregions of our living planet with a universal landscape of asphalt highways, golf courses, shopping malls, and theme parks. People everywhere are realizing that our survival is dependent upon environmental stability, and that the pathological interests of governments and multinational corporations pose the single biggest threat to the health of the Earth.

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The Ecology of Freedom (Murray Bookchin)

From Murray Bookchin's introduction:

This book was written to satisfy the need for a consistently radical social ecology: an ecology of freedom. It had been maturing in my mind since 1952 when I first became acutely conscious of the growing environmental crisis that was to assume such monumental proportions a generation later. In that year, I published a volume-sized article, "The Problems of Chemicals in Food" (later be republished in book form in Germany as Lebensgefiihrliche Lebensmittel). Owing to my early Marxian intellectual training, the article examined not merely environmental pollution but also its deep-seated social origins. Environmental issues had developed in my mind as social issues, and problems of natural ecology had become problems of "social ecology"--an expression hardly in use at the time.

The subject was never to leave me. In fact, its dimensions were to widen and deepen immensely. By the early sixties, my views could be summarized in a fairly crisp formulation: the very notion of the domination of nature by man stems from the very real domination of human by human. For me, this was a far-reaching reversal of concepts. The many articles and books I published in the years after 1952, beginning with Our Synthetic Environment (1963) and continuing with Toward an Ecological Society (1980), were largely explorations of this fundamental theme. As one premise led to another, it became clear that a highly coherent project was forming in my work: the need to explain the emergence of social hierarchy and domination and to elucidate the means, sensibility, and practice that could yield a truly harmonious ecological society. My book Post-Scarcity Anarchism (1971) pioneered this vision. Composed of essays dating from 1964, it addressed itself more to hierarchy than class, to domination rather than exploitation, to liberatory institutions rather than the mere abolition of the State, to freedom rather than justice, and pleasure rather than happiness. For me, these changing emphases were not mere countercultural rhetoric; they marked a sweeping departure from my earlier commitment to socialist orthodoxies of all forms. I visualized instead a new form of libertarian social ecology-or what Victor Ferkiss, in discussing my social views, so appropriately called "eco-anarchism."

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Post Scarcity Anarchism (Murray Bookchin)

By Murray Bookchin - Ramparts Press, 1971

This book is a collection of essays by Murray Bookchin, first published in 1971 by Ramparts Press. Bookchin outlines the possible form anarchism might take under conditions of post-scarcity. It is one of Bookchin's major works, and its radical thesis provoked controversy for being utopian in its faith in the liberatory potential of technology.

Bookchin's "post-scarcity anarchism" is an economic system based on social ecology, libertarian municipalism, and an abundance of fundamental resources. Bookchin argues that post-industrial societies are also post-scarcity societies, and can thus imagine "the fulfillment of the social and cultural potentialities latent in a technology of abundance". The self-administration of society is now made possible by technological advancement and, when technology is used in an ecologically sensitive manner, the revolutionary potential of society will be much changed.

Bookchin claims that the expanded production made possible by the technological advances of the twentieth century were in the pursuit of market profit and at the expense of the needs of humans and of ecological sustainability. The accumulation of capital can no longer be considered a prerequisite for liberation, and the notion that obstructions such as the state, social hierarchy, and vanguard political parties are necessary in the struggle for freedom of the working classes can be dispelled as a myth.

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Fields, Factories and Workshops:or Industry Combined with Agriculture and Brain Work with Manual Work (Peter Kropotkin)

By Peter Kropotkin - (second edition) 1912

Under the name of profits, rent, interest upon capital, surplus value, and the like, economists have eagerly discussed the benefits which the owners of land or capital, or some privileged nations, can derive, either from the under-paid work of the wage-labourer, or from the inferior position of one class of the community toward another class, or from the inferior economical development of one nation towards another nation. These profits being shared in a very unequal proportion between the different individuals, classes and nations engaged in production, considerable pains were taken to study the present apportionment of the benefits, and its economical and moral consequences, as well as the changes in the present economical organisation of society which might bring about a more equitable distribution of a rapidly accumulating wealth. It is upon questions relating to the right to that increment of wealth that the hottest battles are now fought between economists of different schools.

In the meantime the great question “What have we to produce, and how?” necessarily remained in the background. Political economy, as it gradually emerges from its semi-scientific stage, tends more and more to become a science devoted to the study of the needs of men and of the means of satisfying them with the least possible waste of energy, — that is, a sort of physiology of society. But few economists, as yet, have recognised that this is the proper domain of economics, and have attempted to treat their science from this point of view. The main subject of social economy — that is, the economy of energy required for the satisfaction of human needs — is consequently the last subject which one expects to find treated in a concrete form in economical treatises.

The following pages are a contribution to a portion of this vast subject. They contain a discussion of the advantages which civilised societies could derive from a combination of industrial pursuits with intensive agriculture, and of brain work with manual work.

The importance of such a combination has not escaped the attention of a number of students of social science. It was eagerly discussed some fifty years ago under the names of “harmonised labour,” “integral education,” and so on. It was pointed out at that time that the greatest sum total of well-being can be obtained when a variety of agricultural, industrial and intellectual pursuits are combined in each community; and that man shows his best when he is in a position to apply his usually-varied capacities to several pursuits in the farm, the workshop, the factory, the study or the studio, instead of being riveted for life to one of these pursuits only.

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The Conquest of Bread (Peter Kropotkin)

By Peter Kropotkin - 1906

One of the current objections to Communism and Socialism altogether, is that the idea is so old, and yet it could never be realized. Schemes of ideal States haunted the thinkers of Ancient Greece; later on, the early Christians joined in communist groups; centuries later, large communist brotherhoods came into existence during the Reform movement. Then, the same ideals were revived during the great English and French Revolutions; and finally, quite lately, in 1848, a revolution, inspired to a great extent with Socialist ideals, took place in France. “And yet, you see,” we are told, “how far away is still the realization of your schemes. Don’t you think that there is some fundamental error in your understanding of human nature and its needs?”

At first sight this objection seems very serious. However, the moment we consider human history more attentively, it loses its strength. We see, first, that hundreds of millions of men have succeeded in maintaining amongst themselves, in their village communities, for many hundreds of years, one of the main elements of Socialism the common ownership of the chief instrument of production, the land, and the apportionment of the same according to the labour capacities of the different families; and we learn that if the communal possession of the land has been destroyed in Western Europe, it was not from within, but from without, by the governments which created a land monopoly in favour of the nobility and the middle classes. We learn, moreover, that the mediæval cities succeeded in maintaining in their midst for several centuries in succession a certain socialized organization of production and trade; that these centuries were periods of a rapid intellectual, industrial, and artistic progress; and that the decay of these communal institutions came mainly from the incapacity of men of combining the village with the city, the peasant with the citizen, so as jointly to oppose the growth of the military states, which destroyed the free cities.

The history of mankind, thus understood, does not offer, then, an argument against Communism. It appears, on the contrary, as a succession of endeavours to realize some sort of communist organization, endeavours which were crowned with a partial success of a certain duration; and all we are authorized to conclude is, that mankind has not yet found the proper form for combining, on communistic principles, agriculture with a suddenly developed industry and a rapidly growing international trade. The latter appears especially as a disturbing element, since it is no longer individuals only, or cities, that enrich themselves by distant commerce and export; but whole nations grow rich at the cost of those nations which lag behind in their industrial development.

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Mutual Aid: a Factor in Evolution (Peter Kropotkin)

By Peter Kropotkin - 1902

Two aspects of animal life impressed me most during the journeys which I made in my youth in Eastern Siberia and Northern Manchuria. One of them was the extreme severity of the struggle for existence which most species of animals have to carry on against an inclement Nature; the enormous destruction of life which periodically results from natural agencies; and the consequent paucity of life over the vast territory which fell under my observation. And the other was, that even in those few spots where animal life teemed in abundance, I failed to find -- although I was eagerly looking for it -- that bitter struggle for the means of existence, among animals belonging to the same species, which was considered by most Darwinists (though not always by Darwin himself) as the dominant characteristic of struggle for life, and the main factor of evolution.

The terrible snow-storms which sweep over the northern portion of Eurasia in the later part of the winter, and the glazed frost that often follows them; the frosts and the snow-storms which return every year in the second half of May, when the trees are already in full blossom and insect life swarms everywhere; the early frosts and, occasionally, the heavy snowfalls in July and August, which suddenly destroy myriads of insects, as well as the second broods of the birds in the prairies; the torrential rains, due to the monsoons, which fall in more temperate regions in August and September -- resulting in inundations on a scale which is only known in America and in Eastern Asia, and swamping, on the plateaus, areas as wide as European States; and finally, the heavy snowfalls, early in October, which eventually render a territory as large as France and Germany, absolutely impracticable for ruminants, and destroy them by the thousand -- these were the conditions under which I saw animal life struggling in Northern Asia. They made me realize at an early date the overwhelming importance in Nature of what Darwin described as "the natural checks to over- multiplication," in comparison to the struggle between individuals of the same species for the means of subsistence, which may go on here and there, to some limited extent, but never attains the importance of the former. Paucity of life, under-population -- not over-population -- being the distinctive feature of that immense part of the globe which we name Northern Asia, I conceived since then serious doubts -- which subsequent study has only confirmed -- as to the reality of that fearful competition for food and life within each species, which was an article of faith with most Darwinists, and, consequently, as to the dominant part which this sort of competition was supposed to play in the evolution of new species.

On the other hand, wherever I saw animal life in abundance, as, for instance, on the lakes where scores of species and millions of individuals came together to rear their progeny; in the colonies of rodents; in the migrations of birds which took place at that time on a truly American scale along the Usuri; and especially in a migration of fallow-deer which I witnessed on the Amur, and during which scores of thousands of these intelligent animals came together from an immense territory, flying before the coming deep snow, in order to cross the Amur where it is narrowest -- in all these scenes of animal life which passed before my eyes, I saw Mutual Aid and Mutual Support carried on to an extent which made me suspect in it a feature of the greatest importance for the maintenance of life, the preservation of each species, and its further evolution.

And finally, I saw among the semi-wild cattle and horses in Transbaikalia, among the wild ruminants everywhere, the squirrels, and so on, that when animals have to struggle against scarcity of food, in consequence of one of the above mentioned causes, the whole of that portion of the species which is affected by the calamity, comes out of the ordeal so muc h impoverished in vigour and health, that no progressive evolution of the species can be based upon such periods of keen competition.

Consequently, when my attention was drawn, later on, to the relations between Darwinism and Sociology, I could agree with none of the works and pamphlets that had been written upon this important subject. They all endeavoured to prove that Man, owing to his higher intelligence and knowledge, may mitigate the harshness of the struggle for life between men; but they all recogni zed at the same time that the struggle for the means of existence, of every animal against all its congeners, and of every man against all other men, was "a law of Nature." This view, however, I could not accept, because I was persuaded that to admit a pitiless inner war for life within each species, and to see in that war a condition of progress, was to admit something which not only had not yet been proved, but also lacked confirmation from direct observation.

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