DEMOCRACY & NATURE: The International Journal of INCLUSIVE DEMOCRACY vol. 5, no. 1, (March 1999)

CNS and Bookchin-ology

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The eco-Marxist journal Capitalism, Nature, Socialism has published an interview with Arne Naess, the father of deep ecology, in which Andrew Light, the interviewer, notes the following in connection to D&N’s publication of Bookchin’s “Comments on the International Social Ecology Network Gathering and the deep ecology of John Clark” (D&N, Vol. 3, No. 3): It is interesting to note that after this “exchange” between Bookchin and Clark, Clark was dropped without comment from the editorial advisory board of the social ecology journal D&N, edited by Takis Fotopoulos (CNS, Vol. 8 (1), p. 76, fn. 6). Given the gross inaccuracies in this statement about the nature of the journal and Clark’s “dropping” from its advisory board, the following letter was sent in April last year (through Andrew Light who offered to retract publicly) to the editor of CNS James O’Connor:

<< Andrew Light in his interview with Arne Naess seems to be insinuating —unjustifiably as I will try to explain— that John Clark was “dropped” from the advisory board of Democracy & Nature on Bookchin’s “directions. In the first place, it must be pointed out that the journal never claimed to express the views of social ecology. 

In fact, in an editorial statement since its very first issue, back in 1992, and repeated since then, it was clearly stated that its aim was “to initiate an urgently needed dialogue on the crucial question of developing a new liberatory social project, at a moment in History when the Left has abandoned this traditional role. The materialisation of the liberatory project and the transition from a hierarchical society to an ecological one is meant as the outcome of 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 movements”. Obviously, for us in the journal, social ecology and libertarian municipalism have always been just a component —albeit an important one— of this synthesis. In fact, Bookchin himself has misconceived the nature of the journal and its aims and this has led him to dissociate from the journal and resign from its advisory board as soon as he became conscious of this misconception (see reply of the editorial board to Murray Bookchin’s resignation letter, Democracy & Nature, No. 9 (1997). Second, neither Clark, nor anybody else for that matter, was “dropped” from the advisory board of the journal. To adopt such tactics in dealing with valuable contributors is simply not compatible with the ethics of the new liberatory project that the journal attempts to develop. 

Furthermore, the editorial board never accepted pressures of any kind to this effect (although there have been similar pressures) which are, again, incompatible with the autonomy project for an inclusive democracy that it supports. In fact, there has never been any decision to “drop” any member of the advisory board by the editorial board, let alone by myself alone (still, although decisions in the journal have always been taken collectively and democratically by the entire editorial board, Bookchin, in an obvious attempt to discredit me, keeps trying to create the impression that important decisions in the journal are taken by myself alone). As a matter of fact, after a dispute between the editorial board and the publisher of the greek edition of the journal, we had to restart the journal under a new name and a new editorial and advisory board structure, as we declared in No. 8 (1995) of the journal under its new name Democracy and Nature. In this context, we had to decide which members of the old advisory board would be invited to take part in the new board ―a routine decision that every new journal has to take. The criteria we used on that decision were the same we used when we started the journal in 1992, i.e. who would best help in the achievement of its main aim concerning the development of the synthesis mentioned above. John Clark, after his recent vitriolic attack on the conception of direct democracy, which I criticised in my recent book (“Towards An Inclusive Democracy”, Cassell, 1997, p.p. 235-37) had obviously no place in a journal fighting for an authentic direct, economic and ecological democracy. Similar criteria were used in the decision not to include in the new advisory board Dimitri Roussopoulos. I would therefore appreciate if you check your facts carefully before you make insinuations of the sort I mentioned above. >> 

Needless to add that James O’Connor never published the above letter (he did not even bother to reply to my message) nor any other retraction from Andrew Light. It now seems however that this was not just another example of Marxist authoritarianism but had deeper motives. O’Connor is also the overall editor of a Guilford series called “Democracy and Ecology” and the latest book published in the series is a collection of essays edited by Andrew Light under the title’ “Social Ecology after Bookchin”. The biased character of this book on “Bookchin-ology” is obvious by the fact that not only it does not include any critique of social ecology from the democratic viewpoint advanced by this journal but in fact it contains straightforward attacks against the democratic project, (notably that by John Clark) despite the title of the series! In this light, it is not accidental that CNS has never bothered to discuss the project for Inclusive Democracy advanced by D&N, although D&N, in a truly pluralist way, has extensively discussed in the past the eco-Marxist views advanced by CNS. 

However, it is obvious that the aim of the aforementioned book was not really to discuss Bookchin’s social ecology, particularly from a democratic viewpoint as the title of the series claims. The aim was clearly to discredit Bookchin and, worse, the revolutionary elements of his theory by an assortment of people ranging from “born again Marxists”, who have abandoned the revolutionary element in Marxism, to irrationalism of the mysticism/spirituality variety. This is obvious not only by the implicit exclusion of the Inclusive democracy critique on social ecology mentioned above but even by the explicit omission of the essence of the dispute between Bookchin and D&N. Thus the editor of the book uses this dispute in the Introduction as “a dramatic example” of how “when social ecologists go too far afield from this theory (social ecology) they are pushed out of the camp, or else leave voluntarily out of frustration”. 

All this, without mentioning once what the theoretical background of the dispute was about, i.e. the inclusive democracy project which of course is not a variant of social ecology or anything of the sort as we have repeatedly stressed In fact, Andrew Light to substantiate his argument distorts the Editorial Board’s reply to Bookchin’s resignation letter to derive the conclusion that D&N is “a journal that the editors admit has evolved into a journal largely associated with social ecology, or rather, with Bookchin’s own views”. Of course, the Editorial Board never made such an admission and the conclusion was based on quote taken completely out of context. The quote was: “the journal has been justifiably criticised as biased toward social ecology”. But, the context was a reference to the number of articles published by social ecologists and not the political nature of the journal! The latter is obvious by the programmatic statement OUR AIMS which we publish in each issue and the editorials. In this sense, Bookchin was right to dissociate from the journal the moment he was sure that the journal was not an organ of social ecology (or, for similar reasons Castoriadians were right to try to dissociate the thought of Castoriadis from the journal —see David Ames’ Curtis article in this issue). But, this incident does highlight the view of democratic dialogue adopted by CNS and the books published under its aigis —a view which can hardly justify its “democratic” credentials.