Editorial Board Response
To The Resignation Letter
September 20, 1996
To: Murray Bookchin and Janet Biehl
Social Ecology Project, Vermont
The Editorial Board of Democracy & Nature was astonished by the resignation of two of the valuable members of the International Advisory Board. This was particularly so, given the fact that Murray rejected the journal’s proposal that he use the dialogue section to present any of his criticisms of us—a proposal that included our commitment not to reply in the same issue. Instead, Murray (and Janet) chose the traditional resignation letter, which came like ‘a bolt from the blue’, not allowing any time for substantial dialogue, and with his full cognisance of the negative impression that its publication in the journal would create. We would have hoped for a different response from Murray and Janet, taking into account that our journal is a product—mainly—of the voluntary work of a small collective, whose members are engaged in many other activities (some of them necessary to secure their survival) and who are scattered across three and soon four countries; and in addition, that despite the enormous practical difficulties that accompany the publication of the journal on two continents, this project has been successful mainly due to the enthusiasm, the sacrifices (material and time–wise) and the unselfishness of the members of this collectivewho have translated, edited and published Murray’s and Janet’s work for five years now and who have promoted their ideas not only in terms of theory but also in terms of action.
Our astonishment turned into shock when the reasons for their decision became known through their letters of resignation. Murray points out that he joined the International Advisory Board because he had hoped that “it would become a valuable venue for presenting the views I have called social ecology. I am fully aware, of course, that Society/Democracy & Nature is a ‘political ecology’ periodical, hence a forum for diverse ideas—and not a social ecology periodical.” And indeed, it is true that Society and Nature was envisaged from the beginning as a radical forum. However, the explicit aim of the journal, as was stated in “Our Aims,” was not just to present “diverse ideas” on political ecology but “to initiate an urgently needed dialogue on the crucial question of developing a new liberatory social project.” Furthermore, this project was described, from the first issue of Society and Nature, as “a dialectical synthesis of three tendencies that are expressed in corresponding political traditions and movements: the autonomous–democratic tradition (that includes the feminist movement), the libertarian socialist and the radical green movement.”
It was therefore obvious at the outset that social ecology (in fact, those parts of it which we assessed were compatible with the development of such a project and particularly confederal municipalism) was just one of the components of the attempted synthesis. Similarly, those parts of the Castoriadian ‘project of autonomy’ which were compatible with the development of the journal’s project (especially its emphasis on the importance of a non–objective, and thus open to democratic dialogue, philosophical foundation for the liberatory project) were also just another component of the synthesis. In the context of this overall aim, Society and Nature/Democracy & Nature, has over these years sought to foster a debate among various currents of the socialist, the Green, the feminist and other radical movements around specific themes that were assessed to be important in the development of a new liberatory project. Starting from the democratic principle that readers should be fully informed about current discussions in the Left and the Green movement so they can form their own opinion about the need and the content of a new liberatory project, we presented multiple views, ranging from social democracy to anarchism and from deep ecology to social ecology. In fact, although the views of social ecology in general and those of Murray in particular were given higher prominence than any other trend of radical thought, to the extent that several readers (including some book review critics) identified the journal with social ecology, still, Murray has frequently criticised the journal in the past for the fact that it hosted other theoretical trends, perhaps on the basis of his misconception about the nature of the journal, which, however, was clearly stated in the programmatic document entitled “Our Aims.”
To be more specific, in its eight issues published, Society and Nature/Democracy & Nature has published 10 articles by Murray, four articles by Janet and another four articles by committed social ecologists (Dan Chodorkoff and Chaia Heller) as well as four articles by social ecologists who at the time of writing were approved of as such by Murray Bookchin, although they were later disowned by him (John Clark and Howard Hawkins). This means that 22 out of a total of 61 articles published so far have been explicitly expressing the movement of social ecology—an obvious bias in favour of this particular component of the attempted synthesis. Still, Murray does not hesitate to state in his letter that “the periodical seems to have become less of a ‘political ecology’ forum and more an organ for a distinct line—that of Castoriadis and Fotopoulos.” All this, when the total number of articles published by Takis Fotopoulos (seven) and Castoriadis (three) are not more than the number of articles published by Murray alone, let alone the 12 additional articles expressing the ‘line’ of social ecology! In view of the above facts, Murray’s accusation that the international managing editor “presides over the magazine in such a way that other people’s articles become foils for his own views [and] as a result the periodical seems to have become less of a ‘political ecology’ forum and more an organ for a distinct line—that of Castoriadis and Fotopoulos” does not make any sense.
This is also true regarding issue 8 (Democracy and Liberalism) in particular, which, according to Murray, is “certainly not a forum.” He refers to “the immense size of Takis’ article—roughly one–third of the entire issue!—to which can be added Castoriadis’ and other pieces that subserve Takis’ ideas,” forgetting that his own contributions in the past covered similar space in the journal and that, if we add the contributions by other social ecologists, the journal has been justifiably criticised as biased towards social ecology. Furthermore, the long size of articles attempting to put forward a NEW synthesis is obviously not surprising, particularly if one takes into account the fact that this new synthesis attempts to fulfil a programmatic aim of the journal and that in contrast, for instance, to Murray’s articles, which are backed up by a dozen or so of his books, the articles which express the new synthesis in the journal initiate completely new theoretical work. Also, it is of course untrue that the articles by Thomas Martin and William McKercher in issue 8 “subserve” Takis’ ideas, when in fact they are also criticised in Takis’ article. Similarly, Murray’s accusation that in issue 8 he feels he has been “set up” because his article on communalism is followed by articles by Castoriadis and Fotopoulos which “flatly contradict much of what I argued in ‘Communalism’” involves a clear misconception of what a dialogue is about. It is obvious that a dialogue will of necessity involve contradictory views (otherwise the ‘dialogue’ becomes just a collection of variations on the same theme), and the journal has always consciously attempted to establish a dialogue among really alternative views, as a necessary step in its effort to develop a new liberatory project.
In fact, one may add here, the very presence on the International Advisory Board of people expressing alternative theoretical views has frequently been the object of Murray’s criticism in the past. This is also implicit in his letter of resignation when he states that “as a member of the International Advisory Board, I bear the responsibility of having to reply to these articles. Were I to default on this responsibility while my name is still on the board, my silence would result in confusion among readers interested in social ecology.” However, unless a member of the International Advisory Board sees the journal as an ‘organ’ of his/her particular way of thinking, it is obviously clear that no member of the International Advisory Board has a ‘responsibility’, just because he/she is a member of the Board, to reply to articles critical to his/her views. Several articles by the international managing editor and others that were published in the journal were critical of the views of some of the members of the International Advisory Board, but no other member of the Board to date has felt the need to resign because of that! Furthermore, Murray himself does not seem to have any objection to participating in the Editorial Board of other journals (e.g., Anarchist Studies) which have often published directly critical articles of social ecology. If dialogue does not involve a critical assessment of alternative theoretical views, then it is obviously meaningless. In fact, Society and Nature/Democracy & Nature, to safeguard the rights of authors, has long established a ‘dialogue’ section where authors have the right to criticise other articles, editorials, etc., and at least on one occasion this has led to a fruitful debate (see Society and Nature, issue 4).
Another misconception on which Murray bases his accusations against the journal is that Takis’ contribution in issue 8 “to a large extent … appears to be programmatic for the magazine as a whole.” However, it is explicitly stated on the inside of the journal’s front cover that “opinions expressed in this journal are not necessarily those of the editorial or advisory boards.” It is obvious that this applies even to the views of individual members of the editorial board when they individually sign a contribution to the journal. The same applies to the editorial, which although it is generally expressing the thinking of the editorial board, still, is mainly reflecting the views of the international managing editor, and it is for this reason that we adopted the policy that all editorials are signed. The only text in the journal which is “programmatic” in the sense meant by Murray is “Our Aims,” which is the product of collective collaboration and indeed expresses the journal’s programmatic views.
As far as the indirect accusations of Murray that the journal promotes social democracy, the market(!) and subjectivism, they can only be perceived with astonishment by the readers of our journal—especially when the programmatic declaration of the journal, that is, “Our Aims,” states clearly and unequivocally our opposition to the market economy, statism in general and social democracy in particular. With regard to the accusation that the journal promotes subjectivism, it is ironic that in Britain, for example, Society and Nature has been considered the organ of “Bookchinism” while those of us who are involved in activism are often accused—accusations that Murray knows very well—that we overemphasise the direct democratic political element, confederal municipalism, the social character of the ecological crisis and that we do not take enough into consideration the subjective dimension and the importance of life–style change.
Finally, as far as our philosophical differences with Murray are concerned, we think that no one can—and no one should expect to—‘end’ the philosophical questioning, including Bookchin. We do not believe that philosophy has ‘ended’ with Dialectical Naturalism, nor do we accept of course any ‘absolute truth’, no matter who it comes from. There are a lot of things that need to be discussed—that is why this journal was initiated, to open, at last, the substantial debate for a new liberatory project. However we regard that, for one to avoid dialogue and resign using as his/her argument the idea that in this journal the views of social ecology are not promoted enough or, worse, that some of the published articles are indirectly critical of social ecology’s aspects, is as much patronising to our readers as it is incomprehensible, particularly so when it comes from an intellectual whose thought crucially centres around the need for the creation of a society without enlightened leaders, gurus, gods or bosses.
To conclude, the members of this Editorial Board and many others, having recognised the historical experience that the ethical substance of any liberatory social action either will be the outcome of a direct democratic process and dialogue or will lead into totalitarianism, and having as their fundamental principle the questioning of any authority, have sought, are seeking and will be seeking comrades in this common effort to understand and change the hierarchical and eco–destructive social system we live in. It is in the course of this search that we met and got inspired by Murray and Janet. The question that arises is whether they were seeking comrades as well or merely followers.
The Editorial Board of Society and Nature/Democracy & Nature deeply regrets Murray’s and Janet’s decision to resign and hope that, even if they do not wish to reconsider their decision in the light of the above clarifications, they will continue to contribute to the journal.
Pavlos Stavropoulos, Editor, English Edition
Nikos Raptis and Theodore Papadopoulos, Editors, Greek Edition
Takis Fotopoulos, International Managing Editor
Takis Fotopoulos adds:
Murray’s and Janet’s decision to resign and their reasons for it were of a particular shock to me given the warmth and friendship they showed to me up to just a few months ago when I was in Burlington for a lecture I was invited to give at the University of Vermont. As Murray points out in his letter, our theoretical differences were of course well known, although I have always refrained in my articles in the journal from explicitly criticising social ecology in general and dialectical naturalism in particular. Needless to say that far from criticising explicitly Murray’ s thought, in all my editorials and articles I expressed my full support for confederal municipalism which I thought of as an indispensable part of the attempted synthesis.
Thus, in my article in issue 2 (“The ‘Objectivity’ of the Liberatory Project”), although I do criticise the idea of an ‘objective’ liberatory project, my criticism centers on the dialectical method in general and Marxist dialectics in particular and not on Murray’s dialectical naturalism. Similarly, in my article in issue 8 (“Towards a New Conception of Democracy”), where I attempt to formulate a synthesis of the autonomist tradition, as expressed by Castoriadis’ thought, and confederal municipalism, as formulated by Murray, again, in order not to aggravate our differences, I do not specifically or explicitly criticise Murray’s thought, unlike my forthcoming book, Towards an Inclusive Democracy (Cassell, Dec. 1996), where I attempt a full synthesis of the autonomist/democratic, radical green, socialist and feminist traditions. It is indicative to note here that both the main exponents of two of the major components of the attempted synthesis, Castoriadis and Bookchin, refrained from endorsing my book, when asked to do so, perhaps because both do not see the need for any synthesis involving their respective ‘schools’. In a sense, this might be a significant indication that the attempted synthesis has achieved at least one major aim, that is, to be a real synthesis and not just a ‘Castoriadian’ or ‘Bookchinite’ clone. Whether of course this is a successful synthesis is something for readers to judge.
As regards Murray’s criticisms raised against my article in issue 8, I obviously cannot deal with unsubstantiated sweeping generalisations such as “conventional wisdom of Anglo–American academic ‘discourse which appears in his articles”; or “ It gives the reader often doubtful instruction on freedom, individualism, collectivism, the foundations of democracy, sovereignty, the state, liberalism, socialism, economics, community, decision making, and a future politics”; or “presentation generally fallacious”; etc. It is clear that, unless Murray can spare some of his precious time to substantiate his charges, no rational discussion may follow on these matters.
I will only refer to Murray’s charge that “very disturbingly, Takis and I have even drifted apart on the issue that long held us together, libertarian municipalism.” He bases this supposed schism on the following grounds: a) on my “current” advocacy of a personal voucher system and an “artificial ‘market’,” and b) on my supposed “notion that libertarian municipalism could somehow creep up on the bourgeoisie and erode the power of the state (on pages 93–94).” According to Murray, “these notions divest libertarian municipalism of its confrontational stance toward the state in the form of a revolutionary dual power” to the extent that he feels obliged to state that “I did not propound this theory of politics to see it mutate into Bernsteinian evolutionary social democracy.”
Regarding (a), Murray asks “whatever happened to a libertarian–communist moral economy?” My first reaction is of course one of surprise since what Murray calls my “current” advocacy of a personal voucher system and an “artificial ‘market’” has a history going back three and one–half years when, in issue 3 (“The Economic Foundations of an Ecological Society”), I made initially these proposals; Murray has never made any written or oral criticism of these proposals in my very frequent contacts with him throughout all these years. Second, the aim of these proposals is not of course to mutate libertarian municipalism into “Bernsteinian evolutionary social democracy,” which is hardly compatible with the explicit advocacy in my scheme of a stateless, marketless, moneyless economy! In fact, my proposals aim exactly at making the advocacy of such an economy feasible TODAY, under conditions of scarcity, and not in a mythical state of post–scarcity abundance, which is presupposed by a ‘communist moral economy’. I think this is the only fruitful way to avoid justifiable charges against libertarian municipalism like the ones raised by Noam Chomsky (“I can’t spend my time arguing about things that seem to be hopelessly abstracted from human existence, now or in the foreseeable future”—Social Anarchism, No. 20/1995). Furthermore, as I try to explain in my forthcoming book from Cassell, a post–scarcity society is inconceivable, even in the long term, if needs are defined ‘objectively’, and I give credit to Murray that he strives to avoid the trap of a post–scarcity society based on an objective definition of needs. I hope that this is still his position.
Regarding (b), Murray refers to pages 93–94 of my article where I am trying to expand on the need to break the socialisation process and make an alternative social paradigm hegemonic, through the creation of a new type of political organisation, which—through direct action, participation in social struggles, etc.—will take over municipalities (by contesting local elections) and establish new political and economic structures of direct and economic democracy. This, according to Murray, “divests libertarian municipalism of its confrontational stance toward the state in the form of a revolutionary dual power.” Still, a few pages before, I specifically stated that “such new forms of social organisation could only be created, as the supporters of a community–based society argue, by contesting local elections in order to develop [and here I use the following quotation from Murray’s work!] ‘a public sphere —and in the Athenian meaning of the term, a politics—that grows in tension and ultimately in a decisive conflict with the state’” (p. 79). It is therefore obvious to any careful reader of my article that it does not adopt a non–confrontational stance but a stance that presupposes that the inevitable confrontation with those controlling the state and the market economy should come AFTER the majority of the population has been won over democratically to the alternative social paradigm—and not before, as it was for instance in the case of the Bolshevic revolution, which has led to the present disastrous collapse not just of socialist statism but socialist ideals in general.
To conclude, I must admit that I feel totally at a loss over the decision of Murray and Janet to resign and can only attribute it to their determination not to take part in an effort to develop a new synthesis that will encompass and transcend the socialist, autonomist/democratic and radical green traditions, presumably on the grounds that social ecology is a closed system and that by itself it constitutes adequate ground for a new radical Left, a view that I cannot share.