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Peter Kropotkin

State, Capital, and Ecology: A Report to the International Marxist-Humanist Organization

By Mariah Brennan Clegg - Climate Justice Project, July 26, 2018

I would like to begin today’s talk with a quote from Kevin Anderson. No, not that Kevin Anderson. In discussing impending ecological collapse and the shortcomings of the now dramatically undermined Paris Agreement, climate scientist Kevin Anderson says, “You add up all of the commitments that every country has made, and it’s probably somewhere between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius warming.” “…there is a widespread view that a 4 degrees Celsius future is incompatible with any reasonable characterization of an organized, equitable, and civilized global community.”

To be sure, ecological calamity will not permit an organized, equitable, and civilized global community. Marxist Humanists and others would like to add, “it doesn’t come from one, either.” Anti-capitalism is becoming more mainstream as the (perhaps too easy) slogan, “Infinite growth cannot be sustained on a finite planet”, gains traction even on the centrist fringes of Left wing environmentalism. This is good news. From here, it is crucial that we develop a rigorous and concrete, alternative method of organizing our political economy and a plan for how to get there. Today I will begin with a Marxist-humanist analysis of the ecological crisis. From there I will explore a variety of common solutions and argue that there are theoretical and strategic reasons to pursue more radical alternatives. I will conclude by fleshing out one such solution based on freely associated labor and participatory governance.

Let’s begin with a statement of the problem. The fact that capitalism is causing ecological collapse has enough consensus within our group and has been written about so extensively that it is hardly possible to contribute anything new on the matter. Still, for the purposes of affirming a common footing, several points bear repeating. I do not endeavor to be exhaustive; I seek only to get to the main issues quickly so that solutions can be developed on solid ground.

The problem with capitalism most relevant to the ecological crisis is that it causes a rift in the social metabolism. Joel Kovel explains how this split begins with the dual character of money as use-value and as exchange-value. Because use-value is purely qualitative, physically grounded in the sensuous world, and only realized in use and for subsistence, the growth of use-value is finite. In contrast, exchange-value diminishes all things to an objective quantity, which by definition cleaves them from their particular subjectivity, their being for themselves. Moreover, exchange-value is entirely unhinged from use, its movement limitless and indifferent to natural and human content. Thus, where capitalism is built on exchange-value, we must reorient our economy toward the satisfaction of use-values.

Review: The Anarchist Roots of Geography

From Notes toward an International Libertarian Eco-Socialism - Originally posted at Marx and Philsophy*, March 28, 2017

In The Anarchist Roots of Geography, a “proverbial call to nonviolent arms,” Simon Springer discusses some of the past, present, and future relationships between anarchism and geography. He mobilizes the thought of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Peter Kropotkin, Elisée Reclus, and Lev Tolstoy to denounce global capitalism and oppression—declaring, with Kropotkin, that anarchism is “what geography ought to be”—while also affirming the more contemporary approaches of Saul Newman and Todd May, who have advanced the idea of “post-structuralist anarchism” in opposition to classical approaches through a turn to thinkers like Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Jacques Derrida, and Judith Butler, among others. Springer therefore presents his own perspective as amounting variably to “anarchism without adjectives” or “post-anarchism,” neither of which is the same. The former refers to the synthesist approach favored by Voline and others in opposition to the anarcho-communist Platformism advanced by Nestor Makhno, Peter Arshinov, and other exiled militants following the defeat of the Russian Revolution. Post-anarchism, a more recent development, integrates the nihilism, irrationalism, and defeatism of postmodern analyses in expressing opposition to social revolution and universalism as “totalizing narratives.” In this way, while The Anarchist Roots of Geography provides many compelling insights, it itself presents a synthesis of a number of anarchist or anarchistic approaches that cannot so readily be melded together.

Springer’s main project in this volume is to bring geography back to its radical anarchist roots, thus issuing a course correction of sorts beyond those set by the hegemonic presence of Marxists within academic geography departments starting in the late 1960s. The author presents the works of Kropotkin and Reclus as luminous alternatives to the ethnocentrism and state-centricity that has plagued the discipline since its origins. Springer wishes to wield anarchism, defined as the practice of mutual aid with the concern for universal geography in mind, to undermine statism, capitalism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, imperialism, and speciesism (or anthroparchy). For him, anarchism is the “only meaningful form of postcolonialism” (38), as the State-form effectively continues colonization even after formal independence, and—following Reclus—it must centrally express concern for the integrity of the planetary system by means of nature conservation, vegetarianism, and opposition to animal cruelty. Springer here traces the philosophical arc linking Reclus with social ecology and the animal-rights and animal-liberation movements. The author holds that direct action, cooperation, and prefigurative politics can allow humanity to affiliate by free federation, reestablish equality among humans, rebuild the commons, and overturn the domination of nature. Taking after Proudhon (1840), who analyzed property as originating in the Roman concept of sovereignty, or patriarchal despotism, Springer defines property as violence and calls for insurrection—but not revolution—against oppression. Echoing Reclus, he emphasizes the place of beauty in the struggle, citing Albert Einstein’s view that “[o]ur task” must be to “wide[n] our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty” (137), and he declares the importance of unity for anarchy, in parallel to the teachings of Taoism, Buddhism, and Baruch de Spinoza.

Libertarianism is a Type of Socialism, NOT Classical Liberalism

By Geoff - Ideas and Action, August 25, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Libertarianism is a socialist political philosophy which has its roots in the socialist workers’ movements of the 1800s and 1900s. It is especially associated with ideas that came out of the First International (IWA – 1864-1876), especially those of Joseph Proudhon, Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin. It was upon these ideas, as well as some of those which came later like those of Peter Kropotkin, that the libertarian syndicalists in Spain formed the CNT union in the early 1900s, with the goal of creating a libertarian (socialist) and workers’ self-managed society. What this means is they wanted emancipation of the working class, recognizing that class struggle comes as a result of resistance to management power over workers, because business owners’ aims are profit-based. This means that managers will submit workers to rigid control in the workplace, cut corners and compensation, heap stress on them, etc., in order to maximize profit.

The inequitable distribution of wealth that comes as a result of wage labor creates an economic, political and social power imbalance, since in the market your vote is your dollar, and wage labor in the workplace is an apparatus to give a minority of people more votes in the market than the rest. Libertarians historically wanted to replace these conditions with workers’ self-management and create a socialist society where people have control over their own work and in all economic planning and decision-making, as arranged through popular associations like unions, assemblies, councils and federations. There are various concrete proposals for these types of economies from people like Cornelius Castoriadis, Peter Kropotkin, GDH Cole and others.

In the 1962 book “Capitalism & Freedom”, Milton Friedman says: “The rightful and proper label is liberalism…liberalism emphasized freedom as the ultimate goal and the individual as the ultimate entity in the society. It supported laissez faire at home as a means of reducing the role of the state in economic affairs and thereby enlarging the role of the individual; it supported free trade abroad as a means of linking the nations of the world…”. The word “libertarianism” became associated with right wing classical liberals in the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s who sought to use the word for political opportunism. In “The Betrayal of the American Right”, Murray Rothbard said, “One gratifying aspect of our rise to some prominence is that, for the first time in my memory, we, ‘our side,’ had captured a crucial word from the enemy…‘Libertarians’…had long been simply a polite word for left-wing anarchists, that is for anti-private property anarchists, either of the communist or syndicalist variety. But now we had taken it over…”

An easy way to understand the major differences between libertarians and classical liberals is that libertarians prioritize positive liberty whereas classical liberals prioritize negative liberty. Positive liberty means having control over the decisions that affect you (self-management) and having access to the resources to fulfill your potential. Negative liberty means merely absence of external restraint. Because the employer doesn’t put a gun to your head to take a job, you’re supposedly “free” as far as the liberal is concerned. But in reality workers face a denial of positive liberty because they are forced to work for employers to afford access to resources they need to live their lives, and have no direct control over their own work or over economic planning decisions which affect their lives.

EcoUnionist News #55

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, July 7, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Story:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Just Transition:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC; Hashtags: #greenunionism #greensyndicalism #IWW

Potential, Power and Enduring Problems: Reassembling the Anarchist Critique of Technology

Capital Blight: Who’re You Calling “Immigrant”, Pilgrim?

By x344543, May 5, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

A recent article on thinkprogress.org details a jingoist anti-immigration group’s efforts to wrap itself in a green cloak and (once again) obfuscate the real cause of environmental destruction. The (inaccurately named) organization in question, “Californians for Population Stabilization” (CAPS) attempted to use Earth Day (April 22) to argue that the primary cause of ecological destruction is immigration (read: an influx of poor brown skinned people from south of the US-Mexican border, naturally).

This tired old dog has been asked to hunt so many times, it’s hard to see how anyone could imagine that it can, but sure as I write these words, there it is.

I’ll admit that this is a bit of a trigger for me. I am, by any standards you could imagine, the descendents of varying strains of white, central European and Mediterranean immigrants of several generations back (five or six in most cases), but my ancestors (Jews, Irish, and Hungarians) suffered greatly at the hands of more dominant empires among those regions, so perhaps it has imbued me with a stronger sense of empathy for the downtrodden peoples in what currently constitutes “America”. I don’t take too kindly to insulting racist propaganda—even if it tries to fly a green flag, and CAPS certainly fits that description.

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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