Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Post-Scarcity Anarchism, Introduction to First Edition


Murray Bookchin (1986 [1971]) Post-Scarcity Anarchism. (Second Edition). Black Rose Books, Buffalo, NY.

[Merrifield discusses and critiques Bookchin in his Politics of the Encounter, which got me thinking of this book which influenced me back in high school. This 1986 edition was no doubt the one I got off the shelf of the Santa Rosa Public Library... though the pdf I am using here is missing the last three essays along with the notes, bibliography, etc.]

Summary of Introduction to the First Edition

In this introduction, Bookchin wanders among many key themes, which he says will all be discussed in the text. The first concept he brings up is presentism, as a blinder that leaves us unaware of the burden of the past (a la Marx) and the possibilities of the future (a la Benjamin) (I am inferring those links; Bookchin certainly references Marx plenty as one who "interred" the dead of the past; he does not mention Benjamin and presumably would not have had read him, though there are many commonalities to their thinking). The big event of present history is the emergence of the possibility of post-scarcity, a future condition in which material wealth is enough to prevent anyone from having to experience scarcity: scarcity, in this reading of history, was experienced by all older societies, and is the "historic rationale" for the replacement of the originary "organic societies" which lived in union with nature, by state societies and all the forms of hierarchy they involve. The conditions for post-scarcity create a dissatisfaction in the "psyche" which appears to be Bookchin's name for a revolutionary (or not) consciousness that is rooted in the experience of lived conditions during one's lifetime.

Related to "psyche," another important concept appears, which is "privilege," or rather false privilege. This is how capitalism ensnares the bourgeoisie into supporting the system, although they themselves are also bought and sold and alienated. The older generation which has experienced scarcity clings to their privileges, but the younger generation, which has not, is dissatisfied and thus forms a revolutionary consciousness which is ultimately the possibility of achieving an anarchist, "post-scarcity" utopia. There are some very Benjaminian passages in which wishes and dream images are created by capitalism and turned into critiques of it; capitalism as [pharmakon]. But Bookchin is not thinking of Benjamin, he is probably being influenced by psychoanalytic ideas here (refers e.g. to the unconscious).

Bookchin attacks Marxism (in the Leninist and Maoist forms) in particular as examples of failed or flawed revolutionary movements, which failed to critique and get rid of all forms of hierarchy, and thus ended up being more counter-revolutionary than revolutionary. In contrast he celebrates the diverse progressive movements and liberation struggles of his day, over race, gender, sexuality, etc. Because modern [late] capitalism is so fragile, it can actually be attacked and harmed in all of these ways, because each of these struggles for liberation is a struggle for everyone's liberation. This also seems tied to his concept of revolutionary spontaneism, by which he means the autonomous choices of a small affinity group (or individuals) to take action based on their own analyses, instead of there being some proper program or proposal that everyone should be following or adhering to (or some specific point of attack that is more important than others). He talks about "privileges" and "rights" and articulates the anarchist critique that rights are about buying off would-be revolutionaries: but the post-scarcity-conscious youth are unsatisfied with this: "It is not justice any longer that is being demanded, but rather freedom" (17). This aspect is very relative imho to the current controversy of "woke ideology" and the critique of it e.g. by Michel Bauwens (namely, the argument that “wokism” is about achieving opportunities and recognition (in the name of rights) for small, relatively privileged fractions of BIPOC, LGBTQ+, women, etc., while most people in all of these categories are unable to benefit, because the current hierarchical power structure is maintained). In any event this all makes Bookchin's later attacks on "lifestyle anarchism" (which I used to dismiss as a dumb old rant) more interesting to potentially read; given also that in the present text he discusses the "lifestyles" of the current hippy movement as necessary to the cultivation and development of revolutionary psyche. (Direct action is also discussed in this context, as an experience that allows the individual to recognize their own agency; what Debord would call a return of history).

He talks of revolutionary epochs of which the late 20th century is the most important: these moments are also convergences in a certain place, and this time it is the US, where the contradictions are most stark and the resources are available to fight and break capitalism (hence the development of psyche and the growth and number of liberation movements). He seems to dismiss the factory-based working class as a revolutionary force and celebrate the middle class youth as the repository of the appropriate psyche or revolutionary consciousness (I keep using that latter term, but he does not). This seems interesting based on his own background as a factory worker for many years before becoming a professor. He insists that the issue of post-scarcity, and the particular promise of the present and future, must be insisted on along with the traditional focuses on exploitation, in order to keep the leftist critique from becoming "traditional” (and thus dead as in Marx's dead weights of the past). This in itself is a great foreshadowing of post-critique and of Wark's critique of "sublime language."

The main things I got from reading this book before (way back in high school) were the importance of ecology, and the unity of a political critique of hierarchy, with a sustainable ecological future. He has touched on those concepts so far, but has not really developed them as much as the above points.

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