Libertarian Municipalism

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Terry
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Dec 26 2006 21:21
Libertarian Municipalism

Libertarian Municipalism, for those that do not know what it is you can see:
http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/ANARCHIST_ARCHIVES/bookchin/libmuni.html
http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/ANARCHIST_ARCHIVES/bookchin/gp/perspectives24.html

I'm not that interested in reading criticims of it only having a very minor focus on the workplace, little in the way of a class anaylsis, and it appears no orientation towards popular struggle, or at least no realisation that such would provide the dynamic for the sort of program of direct democracy Libertarian Municipalism proposes.
Likewise I'm familar with anti-democratic communist arguments.
What I would like to see if anyone has any criticism of, or opinions on, the Libertarian Municipalist strategy in its own terms.
How does local government contain elements which can be transformed into a 'dual power' situation with the state?
Does local government in the United States radically differ from what we are familar with on this side of the Atlantic?
I ask as Libertarian Municipalism has an anti-state position, indeed describes itself anarchist, but here I can see no difference between central government and local government that would make me think the later has a potential for popular participatory decision making.
What I have read of the rest of Bookchin's writings makes sense. This I do not get at all.

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sam sanchez
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Dec 26 2006 21:51

I think that libertarian municipalists probably think that the idea of taking part in local elections would be to legislate in the following sort of changes:

a) the right to mandate and recall councillors
b) the creation of face-to-face, directly democratic neighbourhood assemblies, i.e. mass meetings of everyone in living in a given locality. These would be the institutions where people get together to exercise the right to make their own decisions, recall and mandate delegates etc.

I suppose one criticism would be that people would neither have aquired the skills, nor the inclination for such democratic participation, unless they have created these forms themselves. Through the very process of getting together with neighbours and forming community assemblies to deal with local issues, people teach themselves "how to be free", whereas if just commanded to do so by the local council, they won't.

Also, direct, participatory democracy in the political realm need not effect the economic realm. It doesn't in and of itself bring about community control of the economy or workers' self-management of production. Furthermore, since people are habituated into hierarchy and subordination every day in their jobs, is it likely that a democratic "personality" will become common until hierarchy is overthrown in the workplace, by people's self conscious collective class struggle (sorry).

Mike Harman
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Dec 26 2006 22:22

I like Bookchin, and used to be into LM, but now not.

The main things to bear in mind about it are this:

1. Bookchin spent most of his time in Vermont - both Vermont and to a lesser extent other states in New England have long traditions of Town Meetings which had some kind of municipal legal powers - to the point where Vermont became a nuclear free state in the '70s due to co-ordinated action across town meetings with decisions made by majority vote (iirc), I think it's 100% billboard free as well via the same methods. So he's writing from a perspective where there's a local quasi-directly democratic institution already in place, although much eroded. A caveat - he's also highly critical of the town meetings (need I say Salem), and regards all previous municipal democracies as incomplete etc., but felt there's some positive commonality and potential for them to develop into something more - LM form, social ecologist/libertarian communist content.

2. He also tries to place LM in the context of the municipal nature of some revolutionary organs - an obvious one would be the Parisian sections, instituted by the monarchy but turned on their head by the enragés etc. good for getting to this is "The Third Revolution".

I think the third point is by the end of the '80s - mid-'90s he got so fucked off with anarchists that he polemically over-egged some stuff the other side. From what I've seen some of the people who've come through the ISE have taken all this a step further.

There's some people starting a Social Ecology reading group in London, including a couple from the Bookchinist/LMist Democratic Alternative in Scandanavia. They might have more to say on it but not sure if they're around on here much.

Dundee_United
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Dec 27 2006 00:34

I think there's some stuff you could do with local government, up to a point. Full employment. House building programmes. Decent public transport and so on. I think involvement has to be done on a tactical basis - eg in North America there would be lots of scope for running candidates (or "anti" votes) for particular Sherrifs, prosecutors etc. I think in some states you can even elect the likes of dog catchers; think of all the mayhem co-ordination here could reap.

As a popular movement grows to a more dual power position there may be some parts of the local government administration which can be effectively seized or ran, or in individual cases it might be worthwhile getting individual seats in councils etc - all big anarchist no-nos but in reality it ought to be a tactical decision, which in most cases at least in the UK at the moment, the way the class struggle is going would have to lead you to the conclusion "don't bother." Bookchin also talked about the pointlessness of what he termed "lesser evil politics" - he hated the German greens for example; that's an important point to bear in mind when you consider critiques of his work from the likes of the De Leonist SPGB (I read a Bookchin book review of their five years ago), that assert that they don't really see, given Bookchin's acceptance of some forms of electoralism, how this differs from the leftist practice in relation to elections of just fielding candidates where you can. It's really a very different position, Bookchin accepts that it may be tactically necessary - he doesn't propose it as the method. He argues absolutely against electoralism, and against confusing state federalism and semi-autonomous local authorities with decentralisation, democracy and people power. The point is that in limited instances electoral involvement could be useful in building all three.

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georgestapleton
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Dec 27 2006 00:58
Mike Harman wrote:
1. Bookchin spent most of his time in Vermont - both Vermont and to a lesser extent other states in New England have long traditions of Town Meetings which had some kind of municipal legal powers - to the point where Vermont became a nuclear free state in the '70s due to co-ordinated action across town meetings with decisions made by majority vote (iirc), I think it's 100% billboard free as well via the same methods. So he's writing from a perspective where there's a local quasi-directly democratic institution already in place, although much eroded. A caveat - he's also highly critical of the town meetings (need I say Salem), and regards all previous municipal democracies as incomplete etc., but felt there's some positive commonality and potential for them to develop into something more - LM form, social ecologist/libertarian communist content.

Yeah on this the Green Mountain Collective (NEFAC-Vermont) wrote an interesting manifesto called Neither Washington Nor Stowe: Common Sense For The Working Vermonter in 2004 that goes into town meetings up in that neck of the woods a bit. Its well worth a look.

Terry
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Dec 27 2006 03:09

Dundee United this is not a tactical question, not like Bookchin held that maybe standing someone for a council election in a situation of dual power might not be a bad idea, and yes he does totally reject the idea of getting into government to get a few reforms.

The strategy of libertarian municipalism is for small groups to band together and, after a period of study educate their neighbours (part of this involving election campaigns), to the eventual point where you win a majority of council seats on a revolutionary platform, and you then transfer the powers of the local government over to citizens assemblies by changing the municipal charter, confederated together through different areas and towns this then becomes a dual power situation with the state. That is the basic model, there is a allowance for modifications, such as setting up the citizens assemblies extra-legally after failing to win control of the local government.

As far as I can see (albeit from a quick glance over Wikipedia) in New England the power for changing charters (basically the constitution) of local government lies with the regional government (aka the state government). In other parts of the U.S. local governments have ’home rule’ where they can change their charters., but those parts do not have the ‘town meeting’ structure.

Local government in the Republic of Ireland is subject to central control. Its funding mostly comes from central government, and important officials within it are responsible to the central government and its powers and functions are set by central government.
Also its record does not suggest a reflection of the “will of the people” (as Bakunin said of local government in a quote employed by libertarian municipalist).

I’m supposing that the underlying premises of LM is that local government is small scale and amenable therefore to direct democratic control, short of a revolution, quite different from the state as a whole.

Libertarian municipalism brings together a couple of different things:
(1) standing for election as propaganda.
(2) setting up citizens assemblies (or community councils, or barrio assemblies, or sections, etc..).
(3) taking over local government to transfer its powers to such assemblies.
(4) social change as a process of education carried out by revolutionary minorities.

I think the idea behind (3) was derived from the New England town meetings and the fact the sections of Paris had their origins as part of the electoral process for the estates general.
That is very little to extrapolate an entire revolutionary strategy from (though most such do seem to be based on great generalisations!)

(2) I’m all for, and I agree with the emphasis on community.

(1) Is a different debate.

(4) Is one of my main problems: this is like the Socialist Party of Great Britain/World Socialists strategy of educating people into socialism one by one and then getting a majority in parliament to legislate socialism into existence.

My other main problem with libertarian municipalism is that it has no class analysis, indeed for something largely based on the writings of a man who did much to champion opposition to all forms of domination, very little mention of any such apart from the State.
The piece from the Green Mountain Collective illustrates this as it has information on town meetings of wealthy areas rejecting a tax increase (enacted by a higher tier of government) to pay for public education.

Indeed in one of the articles I linked to in my post above Bookchin writes of a general human interest in the face of environmental problems/ecological crisis, personally I would say many, but not all, environmental conflicts are class struggles of a sort, and on a local level as much as anything else (there is a considerable range of local establishment support for Shell in Mayo) moreover the sort of changes necessary to even begin to deal with global environmental issues challenge powerful vested interests, class interests, despite the general interest, which is why one has official/state/corporate band aid environmentalism.

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syndicalistcat
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Dec 27 2006 05:13

The lack of class analysis is a major defect. Even in working class neighborhoods, you have people who are professionals, business owners, landowners. We've had this problem in my neighborhood where there were three assemblies related to the fights with the city over zoning and gentrification.

Two of these assemblies were called by the Mission Anti-displacement Coalition -- a coalition of non-profits, tenant groups, and radical artist groups (e.g. San Francisco Print Collective, Art & Revolution was involved at one point). MAC's charter said that its main aim was to defend the working class Latino families, who make up 60% of the population of the neighborhood. Another constituency was the very poor multi-racial population living in residential hotels.

MAC itself called two assemblies, and the city planning department, in response to demands from MAC and others, also called a neighborhood assembly to get input on what the priorities for the neighborhood should be.

The neighborhood assembly called by the city was inundated with business owners and landowners, worried that radical activists from MAC were pressuring the city in ways that would impact their fortunes. MAC had to mobilize its base to defend its program. For example, there is a right-wing "libertarian" landowner, very articulate, who converted a former Best Foods mayonaise factory (after the operation was moved to Guatemala) into high-priced offices. I ended up debating him at the city-invoked assembly. This guy even showed up to one of the MAC-invoked assemblies.

This is in an old factory district that provides many of the better paying blue-collar jobs. Changing the land use to high priced condos and offices drives out blue-collar employers by making the rents and land costs too high. MAC was trying to maintain the land in this area for blue-collar employers so that high paying manufacturing and repair industry jobs (auto repair, building fixture makers, bakeries, printing plants, warehouses) could remain. Thus MAC was trying to get the city to prevent capitalist developers and speculators from changing the land use to a more gentrifying use -- office buildings where the people working would mainly be professionals and managers.

So, there still may be class struggle within neighborhood assemblies and the need for working class organizations to mobilize and insert themselves into the debate.

t.

Terry
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Dec 27 2006 07:15
syndicalistcat wrote:
So, there still may be class struggle within and the need for working class organizations to mobilize and insert themselves into the debate.

I would put it more that neighborhood assemblies have to be based on actual issues in the community, e.g. mass meetings in opposition to gentrification, and thereby have more of a class content (the bloke that turned up at the one you mention being somewhat of an exception).
Of course within that there will still be all kinds of different views, which is why one would want a political revolutionary organisation(s) to be in there making its case.

I like Bookchin's writings a lot, but, while libertarian municipalism is shaky on wider grounds, his rejection of the "hegemonic role of the industrial proletariat" involved throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
At least that is how I see it at the moment, I shall have to read more to see if libertarian municipalism is actually just one facet of a wider strategy. Doesn't look like it.

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sam sanchez
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Dec 27 2006 11:15

This libertarian municipalism thing isn't all that different to the IWCA, although they are not explicitly anarchist.

Spikymike
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Aug 17 2015 12:10

There is much we can agree with in some of today's 'libertarian municipalist/communalist social ecology' types criticism of the way society functions and their aspirations for a genuinely human ecologically sustainable alternative, but the 'libertarian municipal' strategy and it's lack of grounding in any clear understanding of either the class or competitive 'exchange value' basis of modern global capitalism just leads them to a weak social democratic style of reformist political practice as witnessed by contributors to the 'New Compass' website such as Marco.R.Rossi in their attempts to get elected to local state bodies in the USA. Equally their seizing on the writings of Ocalan and recent developments in Rojava to bolster this strategy, even if in the more plausible context of civil war and a consequent breakdown of existing state structures, ignores the same realities of both global capitalism and it's inter-imperialist and nationalist rivalries.

tigersiskillers
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Aug 17 2015 16:14

As someone who did spend some time around social ecology stuff (and I do think there's a lot of value there, strategy aside) I have been amused by the current excitement over Rojava. Surely the correct thing for the Kurds to do is to try to get themselves elected to local councils?