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CLARK, John. Municipal Dreams : A Social Ecological Critique of Bookchin’s Politics (Conclusion)

Monday 17 May 2004

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Democracy, Ecology and Community

Revolution in America (1969-1997)

Citizenship and Self-Identity

The "Agent of History"

The Municipality as Ground of Social Being

The Social and the Political

The Municipalist Program

The Fetishism of Assemblies

Municipal Economics

A Confederacy of Bookchinists

Municipalizing Nature?

Conclusion : Social Ecology or Bookchinism?

The questions raised here about libertarian municipalism in no way question the crucial importance of participatory, grassroots democracy. Rather, they affirm that importance and point toward the need for diverse, many-dimensional experiments in democratic processes, and to the fact that many of the preconditions for a free and democratic culture lie in areas beyond the scope of what is usually called "democracy." Communes, cooperatives, collectives and various other forms of organization are sometimes dismissed by Bookchin as "marginal projects" that cannot challenge the dominant system. [1] And indeed, this has often been true (though the weakness of the economic collectives in the Spanish Revolution, to mention an important counter-example, was hardly that they were marginal or non-challenging). However, it is questionable whether there is convincing evidence—or indeed any evidence at all—that such approaches have less potential for liberatory transformation than do municipal or neighborhood assemblies or other municipalist proposals. An eco-communitarianism that claims the legacy of anarchism (as a critique of domination rather than as a dogmatic ideology) will eschew any narrowly-defined programs, whether they make municipalism, self-management, cooperatives, communalism or any other approach the privileged path to social transformation. On the other hand, it will see experiments in all of these areas as valuable steps toward discovering the way to a free, ecological society.
Proposals for fundamentally restructuring society through local assemblies (and also citizens’ committees) have great merit, and should be a central part of a left Green, social ecological or eco-communitarian politics. But we must consider that these reforms are unlikely to become the dominant political processes in the near future. Unfortunately, partial adoption of such proposals (in the form of virtually powerless neighborhood assemblies and "town meetings," or citizens’ committees with little authority) may even serve to deflect energy or diffuse demands for more basic cultural and personal changes. On the other hand, major cultural advances can be immediately instituted through the establishment of affinity groups, "base" communities, internally-democratic movements for change, and cooperative endeavors of many kinds. Advocates of radical democracy can do no greater service to their cause than to demonstrate the value of democratic processes by embodying them in their own forms of self-organization. Without imaginative and inspiring examples of the practice of ecological, communitarian democracy by the radical democrats themselves, calls for "municipalism," "demarchy" or any other form of participatory democracy will have a hollow ring.

Bookchin has made a notable contribution to this effort in so far as his work has helped inspire many participants in ecological, communitarian, and participatory democratic projects. However, to the extent that he has increasingly reduced ecological politics to his own narrow, sectarian program of Libertarian Municipalism, he has become a divisive, debilitating force in the ecology movement, and an obstacle to the attainment of many of the ideals he has himself proclaimed.

Continued: Conclusion


[1Bookchin, Remaking Society, p. 103.