Democracy  &  Nature, Vol. 5No. 3


The Politics of Social Ecology: Beyond the Limits of the City

John Clark



The questions raised here about libertarian municipalism 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, co-operatives and collectives are sometimes dismissed by Bookchin as "marginal projects" that cannot challenge the dominant system. And indeed, this has often been true (though the weakness of the economic collectives in the Spanish Revolution, to mention an important counterexample, 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 they have less potential for liberatory transformation than do municipal or neighbourhood assemblies or other municipalist proposals.  An eco-communitarianism that claims the legacy of anarchism will eschew any narrowly-defined programs, whether they make municipalism, self-management, co-operatives, communalism or any other approach the privileged path to social transformation.  On the other hand, it will see all experiments in any of these areas as a valuable step 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 neighbourhood 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, small communities, internally-democratic movements for change, and co-operative endeavours of many kinds.  Advocates of radical democracy can do no greater service to their cause than to demonstrate the value of democratic processes in their own self-organisation.  Without imaginative and inspiring examples of the practice of mutualistic democracy by the radical democrats themselves, calls for "municipalism," "demarchy" or any other form of participatory democracy will have a hollow ring.

To paraphrase Thoreau, social ecologists, radical democrats and eco-communitarians must cast their "whole vote," right now, by embodying their ideals in immediate (though perhaps not unmediated) social creativity.