Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Post-Scarcity Anarchism, Introduction to Second Edition

Summary of Introduction to the Second Edition


Distinctly less upbeat than the first introduction, the 1985 intro offers an autopsy of the hopes of the 60s and 70s, along with a defense of the numerous ways in which the original text was both foresightful and influential, and remains timely. Two of his main topics of discussion are the 60s (of which he provides an analysis of its promises and shortcomings) and of Marxism, certain versions of which have become welcomed into the academy, from which they work as a barrier to the broader exposure of people to anarchist ideas. Bookchin discusses the leftist "professoriat" on numerous occasions – it is unclear (he credits the term to someone else) if this is tongue in cheek (because professors are so bourgeois) or refers (in its origin, to any degree) to the adjunctification/precarization of the academic workforce; probably only the former, as the trend only became pronounced later, and Bookchin makes no explicit reference to it (though he does talk about careerism and the pressures to conform in the academy). One thing he dislikes about Marxism, and apparently particularly academic Marxism of the 80s, is its "hodge-podge" adoption of ideas of his, such as ecology, and so on; he points to certain contradictions this involves (for instance, he sees nature as fecund and overflowingly creative, whereas Marx more traditionally saw it as "stingy"). He of course does not blame this on Marx himself though, but on "epigones" and their "epigonic" writings. He complains how, in the 30s, the diverse leftist movements got along and cooperated with and defended each other; but this is no longer the case. 

He counters the idea that the 60s has been coopted, because it was too radical; it has instead fragmented, and fragments have been coopted. In part this is the fault of some of the radical movements (he does not here fault "lifestyle" movements, but rather doctrinaire Marxists). They went too far for other parts of society to follow along with them, became too dangerous and unrecognizable (and perhaps violent) and frightened people off. He points out the important role of black militants, to whom the white college crowd was secondary (though also important); one wonders if this is a corrective to his earlier insistence on the middle class youth as a revolutionary force in itself). He singles out the situationalists for their "repellent dogmatism."  In any event, the failure of the 60s came down to an overenthusiasm, the movement presumed more than it could achieve, while remaining no more than marginal in both the black and white communities. In my reading this sounds like somewhat of a retreat from his earlier spontaneism; perhaps a more sophisticated understanding of his spontaneism (from his several other books) would correct me on this; in any event for much of the chapter he calls for a more unified consciousness or understanding, which takes more time to achieve. Impatience does not work. He remains opposed to the Marxist emphasis on "class analysis" and continues to insist that "transclass" consciousness, and formations (even such as "the people") remain essential [one wonders: perhaps because this is what the mainstream of a capitalist democracy also relies on? Yet today, in 2022, what is the condition of this "People"?]

He notes that the conditions for true revolution will rely on "objective forces," then reiterates his call for an inclusive approach in which a broad front of movements serve a unifying purpose of achieving social liberation. He singles out ecology, feminism (especially eco-feminism), the peace movement (which ultimately needs to oppose militarism and thus hierarchy, not just seek disarmament), and localism. He makes a distinction between "politics" and "statecraft":

Suffice it to say that politics, in my view, is the recovery of the Greek notion of a local public sphere — the municipality — in contrast to the statecraft of the nation-state which we have so mistakenly designated as "politics." (42)

He identifies cities and municipalities, neighborhoods, etc. as the locus for these new practices of true politics. (He cites his own books about the Limits of the City and Urbanization without Cities; nevertheless the content of his remarks here makes Merrifield's accusation that Bookchin is anti-urban sound unfair. There is perhaps a semantic distinction which he makes elsewhere.) He calls for a reassessment of the old Democratic revolutions which the Marxists had dismissed as "bourgeois" – Bookchin being against an overly obsessive class analysis, would perhaps call these "transclass movements". [An interesting opposition here to my recent reading of Benjamin in which he is following Marx in decrying the limited consciousness of bohemian "professional conspirators" in these pre-Marxist movements in the 1800s]. Further, Bookchin wants to reconnect with older populist and (apparently) pre-industrial traditions of opposition, an apparent call for folk or populist traditions to be seen as libertarian:

Tragically, we have lost contact with our own radical traditions in Western society and, due in no small measure to Marxism-Leninism, have replaced them with ideologies and a vocabulary that is utterly alien to our own communities. (44)

[This is akin to the observation that "democracy" in countries like Iraq etc. needs to grow out of local institutions and movements, not be imposed from the outside by military force; he is essentially saying the same needs to happen here, and that the Marxist critique is "alien" somehow. It is interesting to consider the Shumsky book I just finished on crowds and politics in the 1870s and the rise of Kearny and the Workingmens’ Party of California (WPC), in this light.; however, these links really do not seem promising. In that particular instance, it seems clear that Kearny's “transclass” movement was destructive and negative, and ultimately reactionary, compared to the potential of the actual socialists of the original WPUSA whom he displaced.]

Bookchin has modified his take on scarcity since the earlier text; he now states that the idea of post-scarcity as a historical precondition is something that was an artifact of his Marxism in the 50s. He notes that the historical scheme he nodded at was "equivocal" and what was important was the present, not the past. "Post-scarcity" as well seems not about pure excess of wealth anymore, but the arrangement of needs, etc. and availability of resources. He talks about how needs become a productive force, the fetishization of needs, not just of commodities. Thus post-scarcity is a necessary precondition for escaping capitalism, not a necessary one for all time and societies. He also counters charges that his book "fetishizes technology," and points out some errors in the original, along with his new reservations about certain technologies such as nuclear power and electric cars, which he had endorsed in the original and now has doubts about. He ends with a call not only for counterculture but for counterinstitutions to spread and unify that culture; study groups are more important than affinity groups; and municipalities show the most hope as locations where popular assemblies can be formed and real politics regained.


No comments:

Post a Comment