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Making Local Woods Work

By Mark Walton - Stir to Action, October 2017

The Forestry Commission estimates that 47% of England’s woodlands are unmanaged. If you like to think of woods as wild places and flinch at the idea of a tree being felled, then you might consider this a good thing. But woodlands, at least in this country, need management.

Whilst truly wild woodlands are ‘climax vegetation’ that has achieved a balance between death and renewal, these generally need to be at a scale much bigger than any of our remaining woodlands to thrive independently of humans.

Here in Britain, “the wildwood” has a central place in our culture and imaginations, but the reality is that active management has shaped our woodlands since the ice age, providing supplies of food, fuel and timber, and creating diverse habitats amongst the trees. Unmanaged woodland lacks diversity and can result in poor tree health and increase the spread of tree diseases.

Whilst most of that unmanaged woodland is in private ownership, the future management of our public forest estate also remains uncertain. Attempts in 2010 to sell off the national forest estate were abandoned in the face of a public outcry, but austerity has resulted in many local authority woodland teams being disbanded and the future for the management of the national public forest estate – at least in England – remains unclear.

It is in that gap between the market and the state that we find the commons and, increasingly, a diverse range of community businesses, co-operatives and other forms of social enterprise creating value and livelihoods from its management. So does social and community business have a role in reinvigorating our woods and forests and rebuilding our woodland culture?

In 2012, in the aftermath of the failed forestry sell off and in the wake of the Independent Panel on Forestry’s report, a number of organisations came together to discuss alternative approaches to the management of our woods and forests.

There was already a well established sector of community woodlands and voluntary groups involved in woodland management across the UK. There were also some examples of social enterprises managing significant-sized woodlands, particularly in Scotland where community buyouts meant communities in the Highlands and Islands already had ownership and control over their local woodlands and a focus on sustainable local economic regeneration.

Could these approaches provide new models for managing our woodlands in ways that created livelihoods, improved their quality, and produced useful resources such as woodfuel?

That 2012 meeting led to the establishment of the Woodland Social Enterprise Network and, over time, the development of a proposal for a project to support the development of social enterprise in woodlands. In 2015, funding was secured from Big Lottery to deliver Making Local Woods Work, a pilot programme to provide technical assistance, training and peer networking opportunities for woodland-based social enterprises across the UK.

The programme, which runs until Autumn 2018, is providing support to 50 woodland social enterprises right across the UK, each of which embed woodlands or woodland products into their core activity whether that is the production of woodfuel and timber, or delivering educational or health and well-being activities in a woodland setting. It provides technical advice on woodland management and finance, support in developing business plans, choosing legal structures and strengthening governance, and advice on leases, tenure, and a wide range of other issues. It also provides training, webinars and peer networking opportunities, many of which are available to the wider network of woodlands social enterprises as well as those who are part of the formal support programme.

The Growth Paradigm: Measuring Nothing

By Chad Frederick - Institute for Social Ecology, January 2018

The following essay is an excerpt from America’s Addiction to Automobiles, by Chad Frederick. The book argues that contrary to the ethos of much contemporary urban planning, simply increasing the multimodal infrastructure of our cities is not enough to free them from automobile dependency. This task requires that we change the underlying logic of city governance, away from the growth paradigm to the sustainable development paradigm, with equity at its center.

Chad Frederick is an instructor of public affairs at Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky and a senior research associate at the Center for Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods at the University of Louisville. Visit his new blog, Cities are the Key or connect with him via Twitter @CitiesAreTheKey. The introduction and first chapter can be read for free following this link to book’s publisher. 

THE GROWTH PARADIGM: MEASURING NOTHING

Cities are currently developed, maintained, and most importantly, governed according to the standard of growth, particularly economic growth. Despite being shown insufficient for the task of producing stable, just, and sustainable cities, the resilience of the growth paradigm is that it has become a habit; it is “normal.” It has been around long enough, and has been correlated to progress and stability well enough, to pre-empt any discussion of evolving beyond it. As Stephen Purdey (2010) writes, “The paradigm is thoroughly implicit in all aspects of the socio-economic and political life of modern human society, and as such is so transparently normal that its presence, character and consequences rarely provoke critical scrutiny” (p. 8). In this way, it is quite powerful.

The growth paradigm is based on the deeply flawed and utopian assumption that growth creates all the other good things in life, such as quality of life, stability, and opportunity. For example, it is popularly—but uncritically—assumed that as the economy grows, more people can join the middle class. Certainly, the middle class has grown since the 18th century; the Industrial Age created the conditions for the growth paradigm to emerge. But correlation is not causation. The fact that the middle class grew as the national economy grew over the past 200 years has less to do with some “natural outcome” of a growing economy, and more to do with people actively and collectively advocating on their own behalf, particularly by demanding higher wages that otherwise would not have been given.

Still, whatever the case might have been from the founding of the United States until the end of World War II, there is no correlation between the size and strength of the middle class and growth in the U.S. economy since then. In fact, from 1980 to 2014, the correlation is negative. The Center for American Progress (Miller and Madland 2014) reported that “the share of working-age households falling into the middle-class range fell from 56.5% in 1979 to only 45.1% in 2012.” In contrast, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2016) (OECD), the national economy grew from $12,500 per capita to nearly $56,000 per capita in 2014.

Libertarian Municipalism: Networked Cities as Resilient Platforms for Post-Capitalist Transition

By - C4SS, January 20, 2018

We live in a time of terminal crisis for centralized institutions of all kinds, including the two most notable members of the genus: states and large corporations. Both a major cause and major symptom of this transition is the steady reduction in the amount of labor needed to produce a given level of output, and consequently in total aggregate demand for wage labor. This shows up in shrinking rates of workforce participation, and a shift of a growing part of the remaining workforce from full-time work to part-time and precarious employment (the latter including temporary and contract work). Another symptom is the retrenchment of the state in the face of fiscal crisis and a trend towards social austerity in most Western countries; this is paralleled by a disintegration of traditional employer-based safety nets, as part of the decline in full-time employment.

Peak Oil (and other fossil fuels) is creating pressure to shorten global supply and distribution chains. At the same time, the shift in advantage from military technologies for power projection to technologies for area denial means that the imperial costs of enforcing a globalized economic system of outsourced production under the legal control of Western capital are becoming prohibitive.

The same technological trends that are reducing the total need for labor also, in many cases, make direct production for use in the informal, social and household economies much more economically feasible. Cheap open-source CNC machine tools, networked information and digital platforms, Permaculture and community gardens, alternative currencies and mutual credit systems, all reduce the scale of feasible production for many goods to the household, multiple household and neighborhood levels, and similarly reduce the capital outlays required for directly producing consumption needs to a scale within the means of such groupings

Put all these trends together, and we see the old model of secure livelihood through wages collapsing at the same time new technology is destroying the material basis for dependence on corporations and the state.

But like all transitions, this is a transition not only from something, but to something. That something bears a more than passing resemblance to the libertarian communist future Pyotr Kropotkin described in The Conquest of Bread and Fields, Factories and Workshops: the relocalization of most economic functions into mixed agricultural/industrial villages, the control of production by those directly engaged in it, and a fading of the differences between town and country, work and leisure, and brain-work and muscle-work.

France: ZAD declares victory as airport plan dropped!

By staff - Freedom, January 17, 2018

In a communique the famous horizontal community Zone à Defendre (ZAD) has declared a “historic victory” and called for “expropriated peasants and inhabitants to be able to fully recover their rights as soon as possible.”

The entirety of the land area devoted to the airport project — 1,650 hectares of land declared as being of public utility in 2008 — currently belongs to the State, with the exception of three roads crossing it. the ZAD has argued that this land should be kept in public hands and, rather than turned into an airport, put into forms of public lease for the benefit of the community and wildlife.

Responding to reports that the Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport project is now officially dead, reps for the ten-year environmental occupation campaign wrote:

This afternoon, the government has just announced the abandonment of the project.

We note that the declaration of public utility [key to enabling large projects to function and compulsory purchases to happen] will not officially be extended. The project will definitely be null and void on February 8th.

This is a historic victory against a destructive development project. This has been possible thanks to a long movement as determined as it is varied.

First of all, we would like to warmly welcome all those who have mobilised against this airport project over the past 50 years.

Regarding the future of the ZAD, the whole movement reaffirms today:

  • The need for expropriated peasants and inhabitants to be able to fully recover their rights as soon as possible.
  • The refusal of any expulsion of those who have come to live in recent years in the grove to defend it and who wish to continue to live there and take care of it.
  • A long-term commitment to take care of the ZAD lands by the movement in all its diversity — peasants, naturalists, local residents, associations, old and new inhabitants.

To implement it, we will need a period of freezing the institutional redistribution of land. In the future, this territory must be able to remain an area of ​​social, environmental and agricultural experimentation.

With regard to the issue of the reopening of the D281 road, closed by the public authorities in 2013, the movement undertakes to answer this question itself. Police presence or intervention would only make the situation worse.

We also wish, on this memorable day, to send a strong message of solidarity to other struggles against major destructive projects and for the defense of threatened territories.

We call to converge widely on February 10th in the grove to celebrate the abandonment of the airport and to continue building the future of the ZAD.

Acipa, Coordination of Opponents, COPAIn 44, Naturalists in struggle, the inhabitants of the ZAD.

On the 800th Anniversary of the Charter of the Forest

By Peter Linebaugh - CounterPunch, November 20, 2017

A Keynote Address, Delivered in the State Rooms at the House of Commons, 7 November 2017.

Two winds have propelled me here to you, to this House of Commons.

One wind, a hurricane and diabalo, brought flood and fire threatening the destruction of petrochemial civilization, call it capitalism. Homelessness or prison accompany the wind from, Detroit, Michigan, to Houston, Texas, from Puerto Rico in the Caribbean to northern California at the Pacific edge.

A second gentler, softer wind, a zephyr, has renewed my spirit from the Lacandón jungle in Chiapas where the Zapatistas have vowed to protect the forest and reclaim the land, or from the Great Plains of the American continent where pipe lines of oil and gas endanger the pollution of land and the rivers.  Encampments of indigenous people and their allies by prayer and by protest have become, in their words, “water protectors.”

Then, day before yesterday on Guy Fawkes Day, with some merry companio

An old oak tree in Sherwood Forest gave Robin Hood a safe house.  He told Little John that he and his merry companions (here I quote the 14th century Geste of Robin Hood) shall not rob the “husbonde that tylleth with his plough” or the “gode yeman that walketh by grene wode shawe.”ns of the indigenous people of these islands, I visited Sherwood Forest and Laxton parish in Nottinghamshire.

Laxton with its common and open fields, you know, is the oldest surviving system of agriculture based on the commons, similar to the ejido, or commons, of Mexican villages.  One of its commoners, Stuart Rose by name, took us ‘round.  By curious historical coincidence Laxton lent its name to the town of Lexington in Massachusetts where in 1775 the “shot was fired that was heard around the world.”

This was day before yesterday and since then revolutionary thoughts perforce have come to mind as I have journied at last to you here in this House.  Actually, your House provided me, a stranger, with a kind of home, because it was in its public gallery that my mother and father visited regularly in the years between 1947 and 1953 to listen to you.  Through the blinding pea soup fogs and in the pinching system of food rationing they were nourished by crystal clear words, both soft and gentle – that zephyr again – of Aneurin Bevan on behalf of housing and health care for all.  I was old enough to feel their passions and to identify with the protagonist of these words, the common people, because, as I was informed by my upper class school chums, as an American I, too, was “common.”

So, propelled by these winds of disaster and memories of defense I have become one of the scholarly vectors of a planetary discussion of the commons that began before 6 November 1217 when the Charter of the Forest was sealed and has continued ever since.  We do that work again for commons of housing and health care for all as we commemorate the Charter of the Forest, the little companion to the bigger, Magna Carta.

“It will be noticed how the word ‘common’ and its derivatives … appear and re-appear like a theme throughout the centuries,” wrote Edgell Rickword in The Handbook of Freedom, a book found in the kit of the boys going off to war in 1939.  “It was for the once vast common lands that the peasants took up arms; it was as the ‘true commons’ that they spoke of themselves when they assembled, and it was the aspiration of men not corrupted by petty proprietorship ‘that all things should be common.’”

William Blake said that “the whole duty of man is art and all things common.”

Why you've never heard of a Charter that's as important as the Magna Carta

By Guy Standing - Open Democracy, November 6, 2017

Eight hundred years ago this month, after the death of a detested king and the defeat of a French invasion in the Battle of Lincoln, one of the foundation stones of the British constitution was laid down. It was the Charter of the Forest, sealed in St Paul’s on November 6, 1217, alongside a shortened Charter of Liberties from 2 years earlier (which became the Magna Carta).

The Charter of the Forest was the first environmental charter forced on any government. It was the first to assert the rights of the property-less, of the commoners, and of the commons. It also made a modest advance for feminism, as it coincided with recognition of the rights of widows to have access to means of subsistence and to refuse to be remarried.

The Charter has the distinction of having been on the statute books for longer than any other piece of legislation. It was repealed 754 years later, in 1971, by a Tory government.

In 2015, while spending lavishly on celebrating the Magna Carta anniversary, the government was asked in a written question in the House of Lords whether it would be celebrating the Charter this year. A Minister of Justice, Lord Faulks, airily dismissed the idea, stating that it was unimportant, without international significance.

Yet earlier this year the American Bar Association suggested the Charter of the Forest had been a foundation of the American Constitution and that it was more important now than ever before. They were right.

It is scarcely surprising that the political Right want to ignore the Charter. It is about the economic rights of the property-less, limiting private property rights and rolling back the enclosure of land, returning vast expanses to the commons. It was remarkably subversive. Sadly, whereas every school child is taught about the Magna Carta, few hear of the Charter.

Yet for hundreds of years the Charter led the Magna Carta. It had to be read out in every church in England four times a year. It inspired struggles against enclosure and the plunder of the commons by the monarchy, aristocracy and emerging capitalist class, famously influencing the Diggers and Levellers in the 17th century, and protests against enclosure in the 18th and 19th.

At the heart of the Charter, which is hard to understand unless words that have faded from use are interpreted, is the concept of the commons and the need to protect them and to compensate commoners for their loss. It is scarcely surprising that a government that is privatising and commercialising the remaining commons should wish to ignore it.

In 1066, William the Conqueror not only distributed parts of the commons to his bandits but also turned large tracts of them into ‘royal forests’ – ie, his own hunting grounds. By the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, there were 25 such forests. William’s successors expanded and turned them into revenue-raising zones to help pay for their wars. By 1217, there were 143 royal forests.

The Charter achieved a reversal, and forced the monarchy to recognise the right of free men and women to pursue their livelihoods in forests. The notion of forest was much broader than it is today, and included villages and areas with few trees, such as Dartmoor and Exmoor. The forest was where commoners lived and worked collaboratively.

The Charter has 17 articles, which assert the eternal right of free men and women to work on their own volition in ways that would yield all elements of subsistence on the commons, including such basics as the right to pick fruit, the right to gather wood for buildings and other purposes, the right to dig and use clay for utensils and housing, the right to pasture animals, the right to fish, the right to take peat for fuel, the right to water, and even the right to take honey.

The Charter should be regarded as one of the most radical in our history, since it asserted the right of commoners to obtain raw materials and the means of production, and gave specific meaning to the right to work.

It also set in train the development of local councils and judiciary, notably through the system of Verderers, which paved the way for magistrate courts. In modern parlance, it extended agency freedom, giving commoners voice in managing the commons, as well as system freedom, by opposing enclosure.

The Charter set the foundation for what is now called the communal stewardship of pooled assets and resources. Its ethos is the antithesis of the Government’s pretentious Natural Capital Committee, which is trying to capitalise the natural commons, to make them ‘profitable’. The commons exist for a way of living, not profits.

Anything is possible when the multitude assembles

By Ben Trott - Red Pepper, October 25, 2017

From the Arab Spring and Occupy to the mass protests in Hong Kong in 2014, we have seen numerous recent movements and uprisings addressing people’s needs and desires, variously for democracy, for freedom, unshackling the people from the forces of reaction. And yet, they have failed to deliver on these radical desires; failed to create lasting change or a more democratic form of society. It is with this observation that Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri open their compelling and provocative new book, Assembly. It confronts a history of failure that has dogged leftwing movements, often framed as a problem of ‘effectiveness’, and particularly the much-debated ‘problem of leadership’. Hardt and Negri root their analysis in contemporary social reality, asking the question – given these historic disappointments, what should a new left do if it is not altogether to abandon faith in social movements?

Hardt and Negri’s best-known book, Empire, was published at the turn of the century, just after the alter-globalisation movement had taken to the streets of Seattle, disrupting the World Trade Organisation’s ministerial meeting. It argued that nation-states had become unable to guarantee and regulate capitalist production and accumulation, which were becoming truly global following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening of the Chinese economy. According to the authors, sovereignty itself was shifting to the global level of Empire itself: a network of supranational organisations (including the WTO), transnational corporations, state and non-state actors.

One of the book’s distinctive characteristics was its break with what Walter Benjamin, and more recently the political theorist Wendy Brown, have described as ‘left melancholia’. This is the tendency for some on the left to attach themselves to particular political ideas – and even to the failure of these ideas – rather than seizing the present possibilities for transformation. By offering a radical re-thinking of democracy, and indeed of communism, Empire served as an antidote to left melancholia at the supposed ‘end of history’ – the moment when all thought of political alternatives have been rendered useless or meaningless by the overwhelming power of the contention that ‘There Is No Alternative’ to capitalism.

It cast the emerging Empire as destructive, but resisted nostalgia for earlier forms of domination. Moreover, it argued that ‘the multitude’, or the labour that animated the ‘postmodern’ global economy, worked in increasingly creative and collaborative ways, and that the multitude itself could potentially become capable of creating a ‘counter-Empire’, inventing new democratic forms and ‘an alternative political organization of global flows and exchanges.’

Assembly follows their books Multitude (2004) and Commonwealth (2009) in developing some of Empire’s arguments and conceptual categories, although it dedicates comparatively little space to geopolitics and global order. It offers instead the authors’ most detailed discussion of the present prospects for transformation, and in light of the movements that have emerged since the global crisis of 2007/8. Its chapters are punctuated by ‘calls’ and ‘responses’ that present an approach to thinking how the multitude can assemble more effectively. And indeed, how it can ‘take power’, not by winning elections but through the invention of new institutional forms, and through cooperation in social production.

Raj Patel on How to Break Away from Capitalism

By Chris Winters - Yes! Magazine, October 23, 2017

Capitalism has been the world’s dominant economic system for more than 700 years. And as it brings the planet to new crises, author Raj Patel believes it’s important to imagine what might replace it.

But reform won’t happen unless we understand capitalism’s appeal and historical rise, says Patel, a food justice activist and professor at the University of Texas at Austin. It’s remarkably resilient and can be traced to a process he calls “cheapness.”

Together with Binghamton University professor Jason W. Moore, he has written The History of the World in Seven Cheap Things (University of California Press, 2017), which aims to put it all together for us. The seven “things” of the title aren’t physical objects as much as they are a hidden social, ecological and economic infrastructure: nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives. The point being that cheapness is a process of responding to economic crises by devaluing each of those forces so that capitalism can continue to concentrate wealth in the hands of the already-wealthy. In that sense, “cheap nature” refers to the way in which land and its resources are systematically given away to businesses for exploitation, “cheap work” refers to slavery and other anti-worker tactics that keep wages low, and so on.

Capitalism values cheapness above all else. And through this lens, Patel and Moore explore the evolution of capitalism from its roots in the late medieval period with the collapse of feudalism in Western Europe caused by climate change and the Black Death to—now.

Raj Patel spoke with YES! Magazine senior editor Chris Winters in Seattle. This interview has been edited and condensed.

Let’s Own Everything Together

By Jacob Stringer - P2P Foundation, October 24, 2017

Notes on the Bure ZAD and the politics of eternity/death

By Julius Gavroche - Autonomies, September 16, 2017

Un grand sommeil noir
Tombe sur ma vie :
Dormez, tout espoir,
Dormez, toute envie !

Je ne vois plus rien,
Je perds la mémoire
Du mal et du bien…
O la triste histoire !

Je suis un berceau
Qu’une main balance
Au creux d’un caveau :
Silence, silence !

Paul Verlaine

The ZADs of france (Zone à défendre), at Notre-dame-des-landes, Testet, Roybon and the many others elsewhere (click here for ZAD map: le monde 21/12/2015) have emerged originally as moments of contestation against major infrastructure developments, public and private, typically outside of large urbanised spaces.  The protests have then, in some cases, been followed by occupations of the contested territories with the aim of literally physically impeding the development projects.  It is then bodies against machines, the war machine of the State, with all of its apparatuses of control and repression, and the physical machines that re-make space and life, to serve the movement of capital-commodities.

The very real physical nature of the protest then calls something into play which is rarely, if ever, present in momentary city protests (and perhaps not sufficiently reflected upon): bodies need to be feed, sheltered, clothed, cared for.  To provide for these needs and more, a protest that extends in time must gain roots, it must become to some degree self-sustaining.  The ZADs then become expressions-experiments in other, non-commodified, forms of life.  Organised collectively, horizontally, self-managed without a centre or leadership, open to all who share in its vision, the ZADs prefigure a different world, an non-capitalist world opposed to the kinds of infrastructure investments essential to capitalism’s continuous expansion.

This physical dimension of radical politics has often been set aside or ignored in the heat of demonstrations, riots and insurrections.  But the fragility of the “occupy” movements of post-2011, focused primarily on the occupation of city squares, was in part due to this blindness.  The occupations in fact could not be maintained, because the bodies present needed more than the occupiers could provide for themselves.

This same fragility however can serve as the occasion to remember older forms of radical politics in which needs and desires were consciously addressed: feminism, race-national liberation movements, syndicalist and anarcho-syndicalist organisations, workers cooperatives, neighbourhood assemblies, and so on, are all past and present examples (not without weaknesses) of desire become political.  Indeed, the more one explores the history of “anti-capitalist” politics, the more our disembodied politics of protest appear to be the exception rather than the rule.  What were the revolutions of the past (the Paris Commune 1871, the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Spanish Revolution of 1936, etc.) if not creations born of needs and passions?  And if revolution seems so distant to so many today, is it not because politics has become but one more alienated and ghostly spectacle of consumption?

The ZADs bring us back to the living earth, giving life back to us.

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