SOCIETY & NATURE, Vol. 1, No. 1 (1992)



In an effort to give the reader the opportunity to have an all-round conception of the theme under discussion, we will try to group the articles in each issue around thematic unities. A systematic effort will therefore be made to discuss each theme from as many political angles as possible, always, of course, within the framework defined by OUR AIMS.

Society and Nature celebrating the anniversary of the birth of the Athenian democracy, 2,500 years ago, takes off with a number of important contributions around the theme of the Polis and its importance for us today. The example of classical Athens takes a particular significance in today's conjuncture, after the collapse of the socialist project in both its marxist-leninist and social-democratic versions. The lessons that the Polis teaches us are therefore very much relevant to the effort of developing a new liberatory project. As a first contribution in this problematique, the general theme of this issue is the Polis and self-management today.

The articles in the first part, grouped together under the title "The Polis", constitute a critical analysis of Polis and its lessons. 

Starting with the... Greek crop, I (Takis Fotopoulos) attempted to relate political to economic democracy in ancient Athens, in order to stress the objective interdependence of the political and economic aspects of direct democracy and the significance of this interrelationship today. My conclusion is that the only way out of the present multidimensional crisis is the transcendence of both neoliberalism and statism and the renewal of the local, political and economic, democracy and self-reliance. 

Murray Bookchin's essay examines the historical relation between land and city in order to discuss the decline of the great ancient cities (Athens, Rome) in connection to the transcendence of the self-sufficiency limits, defined by the traditional balance between town and country. The conclusion one can derive from this significant analysis is that, as economic democracy is a precondition of political democracy, so the flourishing of the polis is a direct function of self-reliance and the balance of land and city. 

Janet Biehl's contribution is a documented critique of certain feminist writers that attempted to denigrate the democratic tradition in general and the democratic polis in particular, on the basis of the (indisputable) fact of the domination of women in classical Athens. 

John Friedmann's article shows that a new, still fragile polis is taking shape in many of the working class barrios of Latin America, illustrating the fact that the polis is not just the utopia of radical middle class Green circles in the metropolitan countries but also an expression of the revival of people's power aiming at the recovery of the local space in the monstrous urban agglomerations emerging all over the Third World.

The second and third parts develop a dialogue on the theme of self-management today. The need to redefine and broaden the meaning of self-management is imperative at a moment when the social consensus is built around a concept of freedom and self-management that, as distorted by neoliberals and social democrats, simply means representative (parliamentary) "democracy" and free market ("social" or not). At the same time, as a result of the collapse of the socialist project and the interconnected shrinking of the industrial society, the ideals of workers' democracy, workers' control etc have withered away and look outdated. 

Starting with a concise treatment of the meaning of social ecology (John Clark), that today constitutes one of the strongest currents in the Green movement, the articles in the second part attempt to link the original greek concepts of Politics and Polis to a contemporary conception of Politics that also aims at direct, political and economic, democracy. 

Thus, the father of social ecology, Murray Bookchin, in a very important contribution, states explicitly the need for a new Politics and defines the project of libertarian municipalism, determining with crystal clarity the form that self management could take today, based on a confederation of face-to-face municipal, political and economic, democracies. 

Finally, Daniel Chodorkoff attempts to define a "holistic" conception of community development and offers a concrete example to illustrate the praxis of social ecology in the Porto-Rican section of New York.

A first taste of the developing conflict between social ecologists and ecosocialists is provided by the article of the best-known ecomarxist James O' Connor, in the last part of the journal entitled "Local Economy and the State". O' Connor, in a significant contribution, criticises the localism of the Green movement and proposes a "sublation" of decentralism and centralism, of self-determination and planning. However, the crucial question still remains whether this sublation would be realised through a "democratic" state, as proposed by O' Connor, or, instead, through a con-federation of self-managed municipalities, as suggested by Bookchin ― a question that our journal will address again in the future. 

Andras Biro, deliberately leaving open the issue of the final form of a liberated society, examines the problem of transition from "here" to "there", through an analysis (illustrated with a series of local development experiences) of the relationship between the local economy and political, economic and cultural self-reliance. His conclusion is that alternative development is meaningful at the local level, which can only constitute the foundation of participatory democracy. However, whereas for Biro, local communities constitute crucial elements of the civil society that could counterbalance state power (a view that ecomarxists would subscribe not only for the transitional society but even for the liberatory one), for social ecologists (Bookchin, Clark, Chodorkoff) local communities, confederated, constitute a dual power that contests the legitimacy of state power and aims to function as a catalyst in the final withering away of the state. 

Finally, James Robertson, one of the founders of the New Economics movement in UK, refers to a modern tendency that challenges the assumption of national economic sovereignty, both in theory and in practice. This challenge originates in two conflicting trends: the trend to internationalise the economy (that today takes an institutional character in Europe) and the trend to enhance local economic self-reliance. Thus, whereas social democrat economists vainly try to mould today's reality into forms of Keynesianism (neo-Keynesianism, post-Keynesianism etc) the "new economists", building their analysis on the above trends, propose institutional and policy changes which, through promoting local economic self-reliance, will lead to economic democracy and full employment whereas at the same time will reverse the supra-national concentration of economic power and the institutionalisation of unemployment that neoliberalism implies.


Takis Fotopoulos, Editor