6 votes

Theses on Libertarian Municipalism

2 comments

  1. pleure (edited ) Link
    This is a paper by Murray Bookchin looking at, from an anarchist perspective, the role of the city as an alternative to and opposer of the State. There is also some discussion of the "degradation...

    This is a paper by Murray Bookchin looking at, from an anarchist perspective, the role of the city as an alternative to and opposer of the State. There is also some discussion of the "degradation of concepts to suit ideological ends", for example the merging of "politics" and "statecraft" or "city" and "urban". It was written in the 80's and personally seemed very prescient, I've pulled out some examples below.

    When urbanization will have effaced city life so completely the city no longer has its own identity, culture, and spaces for consolidation, the bases for democracy —in whatever way the word is defined— will have disappeared and the question of revolutionary forms will be a shadow game of abstractions.

    By the same token, no radical outlook based on libertarian forms and their possibilities is meaningful in the absence of direction. Let there be no mistake about the fact that all democratic and libertarian forms can be turned against the achievement of freedom if they are conceived schematically, as abstract ends that lack that ideological substance and organicity from which every form draws its liberatory meaning. Moreover, it would be naïve to believe that forms like neighbourhood, town, and popular communal assemblies could raise to the level of a libertarian public life or give rise to a libertarian body politic without a highly conscious, well-organized, and programmatically coherent libertarian movement. It would be equally naïve to believe that such a libertarian movement could emerge without that indispensable radical intelligentsia whose medium is its own intensely vibrant community life (one is reminded here of the French intelligentsia of the Enlightenment and the tradition is established in the quartiers and the cafés of Paris), not the assortment of anemic intellectuals who staff the academies and institutes of western society.[3] Unless anarchists develop this waning stratum of thinkers who live a vital public life in a searching communication with their social environment, they will be faced with the very real danger of turning ideas into dogmas and becoming the self-righteous surrogates of once-living movements and people who belong to another historical era.

    (...)

    They would also serve us best if they revealed how the oppressed strata of the revolutionary era pushed the ‘bourgeois’ revolutions beyond the narrow confines of the bourgeoisie itself established into remarkable areas of democratic principles with which the bourgeoisie has always lived in an uneasy unsuspicious accommodation. The various ‘rights’ these revolutions formulated were achieved not because of the bourgeoisie but in spite of it by the American yeoman farmers in the 1770s and the sans culottes of the 1790s —and their future becomes increasingly questionable in a growing corporate and cybernetic world.

    But this very future and recent trends —technological, societal, and cultural which shake up and threaten to decompose the traditional class structure produced by the Industrial Revolution— raise the prospect and that a general interest can emerge out of the particular class interests created by the past two centuries. The word ‘people’ may well return to the radical vocabulary —not as an obscurantist abstractions but as a highly meaningful expression of increasingly rootless, fluid, and technologically displaced strata which can no longer be integrated into a cybernetic and highly mechanized society. To the technologically displaced strata we can add the elderly and the young who face a dubious future in a world that can no longer define the roles people play in its economy and culture. These strata no longer fit elegantly into a simplistic division of class conflicts that radical theory structured around ‘wage labour’ and ‘capital.’

    (...)

    By contrast, the Urban Revolution played a very different role. It essentially created the idea of a universal humanitas and the communalizing of that humanity along rational and ethical lines. It raised the limits to human development imposed by the kinship tie, the parochialism of the folk world, and the suffocating effects of custom. The dissolution of genuine municipalities by urbanization would mark a grave regression for social life: a destruction of a uniquely human dimension of consociation, of the civil life that justifies any use of the word ‘civilization’ and the body politic that gives meaning and identity to the world ‘politics.’ Here, if the theory and reality enter into conflict with each other, one is justified in invoking Georg Lukacs' famous remark: «so much the worse for the facts.» Politics, so easily degraded by ‘politicians’ into statecraft, must be rehabilitated by anarchism in its original meaning as a form of civic participation and administration that stands in counterposition into the State and extends beyond those basic aspects of human intercourse we appropriately call social. [4] In a very radial sense, we must go back to the roots of the word in the polis and the unconscious stirrings of the people to create a domain for rational, ethical, and public intercourse which, in turn, gave rise to the ideal of the commune and the popular assemblies of the revolutionary era.

    (...)

    Every radical tendency is burdened by a certain measure of intellectual inertia, the anarchist no less than the socialist. The security of tradition can be so comforting and it ends all possible innovation, even among anti-authoritarians.

    (...)

    The Commune still lies buried in the city council; the sections still lies buried in the neighbourhood; the town meeting still lies buried in the township; confederal forms of municipal association still lies buried in regional networks of towns and cities. To recover the past that can live and be reworked to suit liberatory ends is not to be captive to tradition; it is to ferret out uniquely human goals of association that have abiding qualities in the human spirit —the need for community as such— and which have welled up repeatedly over the past. They linger in the present as stillborn hopes which people find within themselves at all times and which come to the surface of history in inspired moments of action and release.

    1 vote
  2. mjb Link
    Bookchin elaborates on this thesis in his book Social Ecology and Communalism, and further refined these ideas in collaboration with Janet Biehl in Politics Of Social Ecology, which deals more...

    Bookchin elaborates on this thesis in his book Social Ecology and Communalism, and further refined these ideas in collaboration with Janet Biehl in Politics Of Social Ecology, which deals more with the organizing model of Libertarian Municipalism.

    1 vote