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We face the unthinkable. A brief outline of green anarchism
Blanca de la Torre
Today, before an unprecedented frozen landscape, we celebrate the hundredth anniversary of one of the main forerunners of ecologist thinking and the greatest exponent of what has been called "green anarchism": Murray Bookchin (January 14, 1921-July 30, 2006).
In a period of unparalleled climatic crisis, with extreme atmospheric phenomena such as those we are witnessing, which nevertheless does not appease climate-change denial, it seems to me that it is more pertinent than ever before to recuperate my Bookchinian philes, although, as Floreal Romero points out at the presentation of the last book released on the author, Murray Bookchin, por una ecología social y radical,2 Bookchin did not want any Bookchinians.
The wide and coherent corpus of reflections that the anarchist from New-York left us with have made him become a reference of social ecology: a discipline that interrelates ecological and social problems, particularly those that originate in domination hierarchic systems. Already in 1962, facing the ecological crisis of that period, he wrote a statement in Our Synthetic Environment, which he would further develop in works such as Ecology and Revolutionary Thought (1964) and Crisis in our Cities (1965), where he focused on the consequences of urban development. That same year, in We, The Green, We, The Anarchists, he emphasised the need for a libertarian society that would allow for ecological principles to become true.
In The Ecology of Freedom (1982) Bookchin establishes a link between the exploitation of nature by man and that of man over other men, a similar line of thought to that developed by ecofeminism between man's exploitation of nature and man's exploitation of women.
Bookchin was quite a pioneering figure in breaking the boring nature/culture binomial and in referring to what is holistic in regard to the fact that we are interdependent and eco-dependent beings, rejecting any sort of hierarchic relation. In this last aspect, Bookchin took the baton from Piotr Kropotkin -who, curiously enough, died the year Bookchin was born-, who, together with Élisée Reclus (1830-1905), made up a triad of green anarchism thinkers. Kropotkin foretold for our planet a fate similar to that of Mars given the extreme speed of aridisation, an argument echoed by Mike Davis in The Coming Desert.Kropotkin Ecology (2017).3
The thoughts of these authors were followed by the Neo-Impressionist painters, whom I often like to emphasise for they seem to have been relegated to the annals of the (unfair) History of Art because of their aesthetic views, their interest in colour and the dispersion of light on the landscapes of the Mediterranean coast. Little has been said about the fact that these scenes hide the anarchist ideals of the group, particularly those of Kropotkin and Reclus. In fact, the original title of the well-known painting Au temps d’harmonie (1893-1895) by Paul Signac was Au Temps d’Anarchie. The work conceals some of the anarchist assumptions, which are shared by the present degrowth movement, whose greatest figures are authors such as Carlos Taibo (who wrote the prologue of the above-mentioned book on Bookchin) and Joan Martínez Alier,4 in Spain, and Serge Latouche in France. The so-called "degrowth objectors" criticise the capitalist neoliberal system and propose, broadly speaking, to degrow by reducing consumption and production, restructuring production systems and redistributing wealth.5
In the same way that Reclus and Kropotkin inspired the Neo-Impressionists, Bookchin has also been the catalyst of later artistic ideas, such as the London's Street Farm collective that was active in the early 1970s. The collective expressed its ideas in its magazine Street Farmer, where they criticised capitalism and gentrification, suggested sustainable architecture and encouraged self-organisation, coining concepts such as the transmogrification of the city: the transformation of urban space through social revolution.
There are several contemporary writers that suggest the recuperation of the thinking of some previous authors. This is the case of Peter Gelderloos in his An Anarchist Solution to Global Warming, where he suggests recovering some of these views as the only possible way forward for a future society: to eliminate the use of fossil fuels, changes in the agrifood industry, decentralisation and self-organisation, among many others.6
In order to pull the thread further, now backwards again, I should mention another American anarchist author, a forerunner of environmentalism: Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), principally known for Walden: Life in the Woods (1854), a work that he wrote during his stay in a cabin he himself built. Thoreau was also one of the precursors of the art of walking that has so much impinged on later artistic practices (and pioneer, as well, of many other concepts, for he already spoke about biopolitics, long before Michel Foucault). It is also worth recalling that the well-known sentence from the Dead Poets Society, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately..." appears in his works, regarded by Emma Goldman as "the greatest of all American anarchists".
Given the fragile time in which we are to live, I do not think that we need to return to the woods, but rather understand that the world is like a great forest, as a useful means of overcoming the present climate -and hence civilizing- crisis, and walk towards a new post-fossil society.
1 First part of the title was inspired by the phrase "If we do not do the impossible, we shall be faced with the unthinkable" of Murray Bookchin in his book from 1982, The Ecology of Freedom (p.107 of the 2005 reprint).
2 Floreal M. Romero and Vincent Gerber (2019). Murray Bookchin. Por una ecología social y radical. Barcelona: Libélula Verde.
3 Mike Davis (2017). El desierto que viene. La ecología de Kropotkin. Barcelona: Virus Editorial.
4 Furthermore, Joan Martínez Alier is a key figure in the trend called "environmentalism of the poor", together with Ramachandra Guha.
5 For a good spectrum on this movement, I recommend Decrecimiento: Vocabulario para una nueva era (2015). Icaria Editorial, Spain. The English version: D’Alisa, Demaria and Kallis, (2015) Degrowth: A vocabulary for a New Era. London, p.6.