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Radical Politics in an Era of Advanced Capitalism

Murray Bookchin, 1989 Defying all the theoretical predictions of the 1930s, capitalism has restabilized itself ith a !engeance and ac"uired e#traordinary fle#ibility in the decades since $orld $ar %%& %n fact, e ha!e yet to clearly determine hat constitutes capitalism in its most 'mature( form, not to speak of its social tra)ectory in the years to come& But hat is clear, % ould argue, is that capitalism has transformed itself from an economy surrounded by many precapitalist social and political formations into a society that itself has become 'economized&( *erms like consumerism and industrialism are merely obscurantist euphemisms for an all+per!asi!e embourgeoisement that in!ol!es not simply an appetite for commodities and sophisticated technologies but the e#pansion of commodity relationships , of market relationships , into areas of life and social mo!ements that once offered some degree of resistance to, if not a refuge from, utterly amoral, accumulati!e, and competiti!e forms of human interaction& Marketplace !alues ha!e increasingly percolated into familial, educational, personal, and e!en spiritual relationships and ha!e largely edged out the precapitalist traditions that made for mutual aid, idealism, and moral responsibility in contrast to businesslike norms of beha!ior& *here is a sense in hich any ne forms of resistance , be they by -reens, libertarians, or radicals generally , must open alternati!e areas of life that can counter!ail and undo the embourgeoisement of society at all its le!els& *he issue of the relationship of 'society,( 'politics,( and 'the state( becomes one of programmatic urgency& .an there be any room for a radical public sphere beyond the communes, cooperati!es, and neighborhood ser!ice organizations fostered by the 19/0s counterculture , structures that easily degenerated into bouti"ue+type businesses hen they did not disappear completely0 %s there, perhaps, a public realm that can become an arena for the interplay of conflicting forces for change, education, empo erment, and ultimately, confrontation ith the established ay of life0 Marxism, Capitalism, and the Public Sphere *he !ery concept of a public realm stands at odds ith traditional radical notions of a class realm& Mar#ism, in particular, denied the e#istence of a definable 'public,( or hat in the 1ge of Democratic 2e!olutions of t o centuries ago as called 'the 3eople,( because the notion ostensibly obscured specific class interests , interests that ere ultimately supposed to bring the bourgeoisie into unrelenting conflict ith the proletariat& %f 'the 3eople( meant anything, according to Mar#ist theorists, it seemed to mean a aning, unformed, nondescript petty bourgeoisie , a legacy of the past and of past re!olutions , that could be e#pected to side mainly ith the capitalist class it aspired to enter and ultimately ith the orking class it as forced to enter& *he proletariat, to the degree that it became class conscious, ould ultimately e#press the general interests of humanity once it absorbed this !ague middle class, particularly during a general economic or 'chronic( crisis ithin capitalism itself&

*he 1930s, ith its a!es of strikes, its orkers4 insurrections, its street confrontations bet een re!olutionary and fascist groups, and its prospect of ar and bloody social uphea!al, seemed to confirm this !ision& But e cannot any longer ignore the fact that this traditional radical !ision has since been replaced by the present+day reality of a managed capitalist system , managed culturally and ideologically as ell as economically& 5o e!er much li!ing standards ha!e been eroded for millions of people, the unprecedented fact remains that capitalism has been free of a 'chronic crisis( for a half+ century& 6or are there any signs that e are faced in the foreseeable future ith a crisis comparable to that of the -reat Depression& 7ar from ha!ing an internal source of long+ term economic breakdo n that ill presumably create a general interest for a ne society, capitalism has been more successful in crisis management in the last fifty years than it as in the pre!ious century and a half, the period of its so+called 'historical ascendancy&( *he classical industrial proletariat, too, has aned in numbers in the 7irst $orld 8the historical locus classicus [lit. classical place, an authoritative example of socialist confrontation ith capitalism9, in class consciousness, and e!en in political consciousness of itself as a historically uni"ue class& 1ttempts to re rite Mar#ian theory to include salaried people in the proletariat are not only nonsensical, they stand flatly at odds ith ho this !astly differentiated middle+class population concei!es itself and its relationship to a market society& *o li!e ith the hope that capitalism ill 'immanently( collapse from ithin as a result of its o n contradictory self+de!elopment is illusory as things stand today& But there are dramatic signs that capitalism, as % ha!e emphasized else here, is producing e#ternal conditions for a crisis an ecological crisis , that may ell generate a general human interest for radical social change& .apitalism, organized around a 'gro + or+die( market system based on ri!alry and e#pansion, must tear do n the natural orld , turning soil into sand, polluting the atmosphere, changing the entire climatic pattern of the planet, and possibly making the earth unsuitable for comple# forms of life& %n effect, it is pro!ing to be an ecological cancer and may ell simplify comple# ecosystems that ha!e been in the making for countless eons& %f mindless and unceasing gro th as an end in itself , forced by competition to accumulate and de!our the organic orld , creates problems that cut across material, ethnic, and cultural differences, the concept of 'the 3eople( and of a 'public sphere( may become a li!ing reality in history& *he -reen mo!ement, or at least some kind of radical ecology mo!ement, could thereby ac"uire a uni"ue, cohering, and political significance that compares in e!ery ay ith the traditional orkers4 mo!ement& %f the locus of proletarian radicalism as the factory, the locus of the ecology mo!ement ould be the community: the neighborhood, the to n, and the municipality& 1 ne alternati!e, a political one, ould ha!e to be de!eloped that is neither parliamentary on the one hand nor confined e#clusi!ely to direct action and countercultural acti!ities on the other& %ndeed, direct action ould mesh ith this ne politics in the form of community self+

management based on a fully participatory democracy , in the highest form of direct action, the full empo erment of the people in determining the destiny of society& The Green Movement and the Public Realm *he -reen mo!ement, in general, is remarkably ell positioned to become the arena for orking out such a perspecti!e and putting it into action& %nade"uacies, failures, and retreats like those of die !runen do not absol!e radical social theorists from the responsibility of trying to educate this mo!ement and gi!e it the theoretical sense of direction it needs& *he -reens ha!e not frozen into hopeless rigidity, e!en in $est -ermany and 7rance, despite the enormous compromises that ha!e already alienated the radicals in these countries from their respecti!e -reen parties& $hat is important is that the ecolo"ical crisis itself is not likely to permit a broad en!ironmental mo!ement to solidify to the point that it could e#clude articulate radical tendencies& *o foster such radical tendencies, to strengthen them theoretically, and to articulate a coherent radical ecology outlook is a ma)or responsibility of authentic radicals& %n an era of s eeping embourgeoisement, hat ultimately destroys e!ery mo!ement is not only the commodification of e!eryday life but its o n lack of the necessary consciousness to resist commodification and its !ast po ers of cooptation& Society, Politics, and the State *here is no a great need to gi!e this conciousness palpable form and reality& %f the 19/0s ga!e rise to a counterculture to resist the pre!ailing culture, the closing years of this century ha!e created the need for popular counter+institutions to counter!ail the centralized state& *he specific form that such institutions could take may !ary according to the traditions, !alues, concerns, and culture of a gi!en area& But certain basic theoretical premises must be clarified if one is to ad!ance the need for ne institutions and, more broadly, for a ne radical politics& *he need once again to define politics , indeed, to gi!e it a broader meaning than it has had in the past , becomes a practical imperati!e& *he ability and illingness of radicals to meet this need may ell determine the future of mo!ements like the -reens and the !ery possibility of radicalism to e#ist as a coherent force for basic social change& *he ma)or institutional arenas , the social, the political, and the statist , ere once clearly distinguishable from each other& *he social arena could be clearly demarcated from the political, and the political, in turn, from the state& But in our present, historically clouded orld, these ha!e been blurred and mystified& 3olitics has been absorbed by the state, )ust as society has increasingly been absorbed by the economy today& %f ne , truly radical mo!ements to deal ith ecological breakdo n are to emerge and if an ecologically oriented society is to end attempts to dominate nature as ell as people, this process must be arrested and re!ersed& %t easy to think of society, politics, and the state ahistorically, as if they had al ays e#isted as e find them today& But the fact is that each one of these has had a

comple# de!elopment, one that should be understood if e are to gain a clear sense of their importance in social theory and practice& Much of hat e today call politics, for one, is really statecraft, structured around staffing the state apparatus ith parliamentarians, )udges, bureaucrats, police, the military, and the like, a phenomenon often replicated from the summits of the state to the smallest of communities& But the term politics, -reek etymologically, once referred to a public arena peopled by conscious citizens ho felt competent to directly manage their o n communities, or poleis& #ociety, in turn, as the relati!ely pri!ate arena, the realm of familial obligation, friendship, personal self+maintenance, production, and reproduction& 7rom its first emergence as merely human group e#istence to its highly institutionalized forms, hich e properly call society, social life as structured around the family or oi$os& 8;conomy, in fact, once meant little more than the management of the family&9 %ts core as the domestic orld of oman, complemented by the ci!il orld of man& %n early human communities, the most important functions for sur!i!al, care, and maintenance occurred in the domestic arena, to hich the ci!il arena, such as it as, largely e#isted in ser!ice& 1 tribe 8to use this term in a !ery broad sense to include bands and clans9 as a truly social entity, knitted together by blood, marital, and functional ties based on age and ork& *hese strong centripetal forces, rooted in the biological facts of life, held these eminently social communities together& *hey ga!e them a sense of internal solidarity so strong that the tribes largely e#cluded the 'stranger( or 'outsider,( hose acceptability usually depended upon canons of hospitality and the need for ne members to replenish arriors hen arfare became increasingly important& 1 great part of recorded history is an account of the gro th of the male ci!il arena at the e#pense of this domestic or social one& Males gained gro ing authority o!er the early community as a result of intertribal arfare and clashes o!er territory in hich to hunt& 3erhaps more important, agricultural peoples appropriated large areas of the land that hunting peoples re"uired to sustain themsel!es and their life ays& %t as from this undifferentiated ci!il arena 8again, to use the ord civil in a !ery broad sense9 that politics and the state emerged& $hich is not to say that politics and statecraft ere the same from the beginning< despite their common origins in the early ci!il arena, these t o ere sharply opposed to each other& 5istory4s garments are ne!er neat and un rinkled& *he e!olution of society from small domestic social groups into highly differentiated, hierarchical, and class systems hose authority encompassed !ast territorial empires is nothing if not comple# and irregular& *he domestic and familial arena itself , that is to say, the social arena , helped to shape the formation of these states& ;arly despotic kingdoms, such as those of ;gypt and 3ersia, ere seen not as clearly ci!il entities but as the personal 'households( or domestic domains of monarchs& *hese !ast palatial estates of 'di!ine( kings and their families ere later car!ed up by lesser families into manorial or feudal estates& *he social !alues of present+day aristocracies are redolent of a time hen kinship and lineage, not citizenship or ealth, determined one4s status and po er&

The Rise of the Public Sphere %t as the Bronze 1ge 'urban re!olution,( to use =& -ordon .hilde4s e#pression, hich slo ly eliminated the trappings of the social or domestic arena from the state and created a ne terrain for the political arena& *he rise of cities , largely around temples, military fortresses, administrati!e centers, and interregional markets , created the basis for a ne , more secular and more uni!ersalistic form of political space& -i!en time and de!elopment, this space slo ly e!ol!ed an unprecedented public sphere& .ities that are perfect models of such a public space do not e#ist in either history or social theory& But some cities ere neither predominantly social 8in the domestic sense9 nor statist, but ga!e rise to an entirely ne societal dispensation& *he most remarkable of these ere the seaports of ancient 5ellas and the craft and commercial cities of medie!al %taly and central ;urope& ;!en modern cities of ne ly forming nation+ states like >pain, ;ngland, and 7rance de!eloped identities of their o n and relati!ely popular forms of citizen participation& *heir parochial, e!en patriarchal attributes should not be permitted to o!ershado their uni!ersal humanistic attributes& 7rom the ?lympian standpoint of modernity, it ould be as petty as it ould be ahistorical to highlight failings that cities shared ith nearly all 'ci!ilizations( o!er thousands of years& $hat should stand out as a matter of !ital importance is that these cities created the public sphere& *here, in the agora of the -reek democracies, the forum of the 2oman republic, the to n center of the medie!al commune, and the plaza of the 2enaissance city, citizens could congregate& *o one degree or another in this public sphere a radically ne arena , a political one , emerged, based on limited but often participatory forms of democracy and a ne concept of ci!ic personhood, the citizen& Defined in terms of its etymological roots, politics means the mangement of the community or polis by its members, the citizens& Politics also meant the recognition of ci!ic rights for strangers or 'outsiders( ho ere not linked to the population by blood ties& *hat is, it meant the idea of a uni!ersal humanitas, as distinguished from the genealogically related 'folk&( *ogether ith these fundamental de!elopments, politics as marked by the increasing secularization of societal affairs, a ne respect for the indi!idual, and a gro ing regard for rational canons of beha!ior o!er the unthinking imperati!es of custom& % do not ish to suggest that pri!ilege, ine"uality of rights, supernatural !agaries, custom, or e!en mistrust of the 'stranger( totally disappeared ith the rise of cities and politics& During the most radical and democratic periods of the 7rench 2e!olution, for e#ample, 3aris as rife ith fears of 'foreign conspiracies( and a #enophobic mistrust of 'outsiders& ' 6or did omen e!er fully share the freedoms en)oyed by men& My point, ho e!er, is that something !ery ne as created by the city that cannot be buried in the folds of the social or of the state: namely, a public sphere and a political domain& *his sphere and this domain narro ed and e#panded ith time, but they ne!er completely disappeared from history& *hey stood !ery much at odds ith the state, hich tried in !arying degrees to professionalize and centralize po er, often becoming an end in itself,

such as the state po er that emerged in 3tolemaic ;gypt, the absolute monarchies of se!enteenth+century ;urope, and the totalitarian systems of rule established in 2ussia and in .hina in our o n century& The Importance of the Municipality and the Confederation *he abiding physical arena of politics has almost al ays been the city or to n , more generically, the municipality& *he size of a politically !iable city is not unimportant, to be sure& *o the -reeks, notably 1ristotle, a city or polis should not be so large that it cannot deal ith its affairs on a face+to+face basis or eliminate a certain degree of familiarity among its citizens& *hese standards, by no means fi#ed or in!iolable, ere meant to foster urban de!elopment along lines that directly counter!ailed the emerging state& -i!en a modest but by no means small size, the polls could be arranged institutionally so that it could conduct its affairs by rounded, publicly engaged men ith a minimal, carefully guarded degree of representation& *o be a political person, it as supposed, re"uired certain material preconditions& 1 modicum of free time as needed to participate in political affairs, leisure that as probably supplied by sla!e labor, although it is by no means true that all acti!e -reek citizens ere sla!eo ners& ;!en more important than leisure time as the need for personal training or character formation , the -reek notion of paidaeia , hich inculcated the reasoned restraint by hich citizens maintained the decorum needed to keep an assembly of the people !iable& 1n ideal of public ser!ice as necessary to out eigh narro , egoistic impulses and to de!elop the ideal of a general interest& *his as achie!ed by establishing a comple# net ork of relationships, ranging from loyal friendships , the -reek notion of philia , to shared e#periences in ci!ic festi!als and military ser!ice& But politics in this sense as not a strictly 5ellenic phenomenon& >imilar problems and needs arose and ere sol!ed in a !ariety of ays in the free cities not only in the Mediterranean basin but in continental ;urope, ;ngland, and 6orth 1merica& 6early all these free cities created a public sphere and a politics that ere democratic to !arying degrees o!er long periods of time& Deeply hostile to centralized states, free cities and their federations formed some of history4s crucial turning points in hich humanity as faced ith the possibility of establishing societies based on municipal confederations or on nation+states& *he state, too, had a historical de!elopment and cannot be reduced to a simplistic ahistorical image& 1ncient states ere historically follo ed by "uasi+ states, monarchical states, feudal states, and republican states& *he totalitarian states of this century beggar the harshest tyrannies of the past& But essential to the rise of the nation+state as the ability of centralized states to eaken the !itality of urban, to n, and !illage structures and replace their functions by bureaucracies, police, and military forces& 1 subtle interplay bet een the municipality and the state, often e#ploding in open conflict, has occurred throughout history and has shaped the societal landscape of the present day& @nfortunately, not enough attention has been gi!en to the fact that the capacity of states

to e#ercise the full measure of their po er has often been limited by the municipal obstacles they encountered& 6ationalism, like statism, has so deeply imprinted itself on modern thinking that the !ery idea of a municipalist politics as an option for societal organization has !irtually been ritten off& 7or one thing, as % ha!e already emphasized, politics these days has been identified completely ith statecraft, the professionalization of po er& *hat the political realm and the state ha!e often been in sharp conflict ith each other , indeed, in conflicts that e#ploded in bloody ci!il ars , has been almost completely o!erlooked& *he great re!olutionary mo!ements of the past, from the ;nglish 2e!olution of the 1/A0s to those in our o n century, ha!e al ays been marked by strong community upsurges and depended for their success on strong community ties& *hat fears of municipal autonomy still haunt the nation+state can be seen in the endless arguments that are brought against it& 3henomena as 'dead( as the free community and participatory democracy should presumably arouse far fe er counterarguments than e continue to encounter& *he rise of the great megalopolis has not ended the historic "uest for community and ci!ic politics, any more than the rise of multinational corporations has remo!ed the issue of nationalism from the modern agenda& .ities like 6e Bork, Condon, 7rankfurt, Milan, and Madrid can be politically decentralized institutionally, be they by neighborhood or district net orks, despite their large structural size and their internal interdependence& %ndeed, ho ell they can function if they do not decentralize structurally is an ecological issue of paramount importance, as problems of air pollution, ade"uate ater supply, crime, the "uality of life, and transportation suggest& 5istory has sho n !ery dramatically that ma)or cities of ;urope ith populations approaching a million and ith primiti!e means of communication functioned by means of ell+coordinated decentralized institutions of e#traordinary political !itality& 7rom the .astilian cities that e#ploded in the Comunero re!olt in the early lD00s through the 3arisian sections or assemblies of the early 1E90s to the Madrid .itizens4 Mo!ement of the 19/0s 8to cite only a fe 9, municipal mo!ements in large cities ha!e posed crucial issues of here po er should be centered and ho societal life should be managed institutionally& *hat a municipality can be as parochial as a tribe is fairly ob!ious , and is no less true today than it has been in the past& 5ence, any municipal mo!ement that is not confederal , that is to say, that does not enter into a net ork of mutual obligations to to ns and cities in its o n region , can no more be regarded as a truly political entity in any traditional sense than a neighborhood that does not ork ith other neighborhoods in the city in hich it is located& .onfederation, based on shared responsibilities, full accountability of confederal delegates to their communities, the right to recall, and firmly mandated representati!e forms an indispensable part of a ne politics& *o demand that e#isting to ns and cities replicate the nation+state on a local le!el is to surrender any commitment to social change as such&

$hat is of immense practical importance is that prestatist institutions, traditions, and sentiments remain ali!e in !arying degrees throughout most of the orld& 2esistance to the encroachment of oppressi!e states has been nourished by !illage, neighborhood, and to n community net orks, itness such struggles in >outh 1frica, the Middle ;ast, and Catin 1merica *he tremors that are no shaking >o!iet 2ussia are due not solely to demands for greater freedom but to mo!ements for regional and local autonomy that challenge its !ery e#istence as a centralized nation+state *o ignore the communal basis of this mo!ement ould be as myopic as to ignore the latent instability of e!ery nation+state< orse ould be to take the nation+state as it is for granted and deal ith it merely on its o n terms& %ndeed, hether a state remains 'more( of a state or 'less( , no trifling matter to radical theorists as disparate as Bakunin and Mar# , depends hea!ily upon the po er of local, confederal, and community mo!ements to counter!ail it and hopefully establish a dual po er that ill replace it& *he ma)or role that the Madrid .itizens4 Mo!ement played nearly three decades ago in eakening the 7ranco regime ould re"uire a ma)or study to do it )ustice& 6ot ithstanding Mar#ist !isions of a largely economistic conflict bet een ' age labor and capital,( the re!olutionary orking class mo!ements of the past ere not simply industrial mo!ements& *he !olatile 3arisian labor mo!ement, largely artisanal in character, for e#ample, as also a community mo!ement that as centered on "uartiers and nourished by a rich neighborhood life& 7rom the Ce!ellers of se!enteenth+ century Condon to the anarcho+syndicalists of Barcelona in our o n century, radical acti!ity has been sustained by strong community bonds, a public sphere pro!ided by streets, s"uares, and cafes& The Need for a Ne Politics *his municipal life cannot be ignored in radical practice and must e!en be recreated here it has been undermined by the modern state& 1 ne politics, rooted in to ns, neighborhoods, cities, andregions, forms the only !iable alternati!e to the anemic parliamentarism that is percolating through !arious -reen parties and similar social mo!ements , in short, their recourse to sheer and corrupti!e statecraft in hich the larger bourgeois parties can al ays be e#pected to outmaneu!er them and absorb them into coalitions& *he duration of strictly single+issue mo!ements, too, is limited to the problems they are opposing& Militant action around such issues should not be confused ith the long+range radicalism that is needed to change consciousness and ultimately society itself& >uch mo!ements flare up and pass a ay, e!en hen they are successful& *hey lack the institutional underpinnings that are so necessary to create lasting mo!ements for social change and the arena in hich they can be a permanent presence in political conflict& 5ence the enormous need for genuinely political grassroots mo!ements, united confederally, that are anchored in abiding and democratic institutions that can be e!ol!ed into truly libertarian ones&

Cife ould indeed be mar!elous, if not miraculous, if e ere born ith all the training, literacy, skills, and mental e"uipment e need to practice a profession or !ocation& 1las, e must go though the toil of ac"uiring these abilities, a toil that re"uires struggle, confrontation, education, and de!elopment& %t is !ery unlikely that a radical municipalist approach, too, is meaningful at all merely as an easy means for institutional change& %t must be fought for if it is to be cherished, )ust as the fight for a free society must itself be as liberating and self+transforming as the e#istence of a free society& *he municipality is a potential time+bomb& *o create local net orks and try to transform municipal institutions that replicate the state is to pick up a historic challenge , a truly political one , that has e#isted for centuries& 6e social mo!ements are foundering today for ant of a political perspecti!e that ill bring them into the public arena, hence the ease ith hich they slip into parliarnentarism& 5istorically, libertarian theory has al ays focused on the free municipality that as to pro!ide the cellular tissue for a ne society& *o ignore the potential of this free municipality because it is not yet free is to bypass a slumbering domain of politics that could gi!e li!ed meaning to the great libertarian demand: a commune of communes& 7or in these municipal institutions and the changes that e can make in their structure , turning them more and more into a ne public sphere , lies the abiding institutional basis for a grassroots dual po er, a grassroots concept of citizenship, and municipalized economic systems that can be counterposed to the gro ing po er of the centralized nation+state and centralized economic corporations&