INTERVIEW WITH MURRAY BOOKCHIN
by Janet Biehl
Janet Biehl lives in Burlington, Vermont. Since the mid-1980s she has been involved with the theory and politics of social ecology. She has written articles on deep ecology, feminism, libertarian municipalism and fascism. Her books include Rethinking Ecofeminist Politics and The Politics of Social Ecology.
This interview dates from 12 November 1996 (Burlington, Vermont) and appeared in: JANET BIEHL, The Politics of Social Ecology, Libertarian Municipalism, Black Rose Books, Montreal etc., 1998 pp 145-176
Bi: Murray, one of your anarchist critics has taken your slogan "Democratize the republic and radicalize the democracy" and, in a sense, cut it in half. He accuses you of wanting only to democratize the republic, omitting that you also want to radicalize the democracy. Could you clarify the meaning of this slogan?Bo: In most republican Nation-States today, the civic liberties that exist within towns and cities today are the result of hard-won struggles that were waged long ago by popular movements of one kind of another. Many cities, it's true, didn't enjoy civic liberties. But those that did so gained them primarily by struggles on the part of oppressed sectors of the population - against nobles who claimed the cities as part of their own States or who were trying to incorporate the cities into the States they were trying to establish. It's true that in many towns and cities the most educated and well-to-so sectors played a hegemonic role in winning these liberties. But even go, they were always afraid of the more oppressed sectors of the population, who they usually exploited.These hard-won liberties have been diminished over time and circumscribed by the well-to-do. Yet they still remain, either in vestigial form or sedimented into the political culture of the present time.A libertarian municipalist movement today has to do two things. The first thing is, it has to try to preserve these liberties. And second, it has to try to expand them, to use them as a springboard for claiming greater civic liberties and creating new civic liberties, which foster the participation of the population as a whole, particularly by the oppressed sectors of the population.So when I say we have to democratize the republic, I mean we have to preserve those democratic features that were won by people in the past. At the same time we have to go beyond that and try to radicalize them by enlarging them in opposition to the State and those features of the State that have invaded civic life. I don't have to be told that many aspects of city and town life today are controlled by the Nation-State or by intermediate bodies, such as provincial and state governments that function in the interests of the Nation-State. There are State features in every town or even village, let alone every city, in the world today.But the point is that besides these very powerful State features in civic life, there are also democratic features, or vestigial democratic features, and these have to be enlarged and radicalized. And radicalizing them, I argue, is the only way in which a libertarian municipalist movement can develop as a dual power against the State.So the slogan describes an ongoing struggle that would involve simultaneously preserving and radicalizing democratic features and civic liberties. These two processes are both part of one large process of trying, ultimately, to confront the State with a sufficiently massive public power that can ultimately overthrow it and replace it with a libertarian communist society.
Today's Harsh Social RealitiesBi: I'd like to ask you next about Borne of the concrete obstacles that seem to stand in the way of this process. One is the problem of transnational capitalism. Of course, libertarian municipalism is trying to eliminate capitalism as well as the Nation-State. But many people believe that the ability of the Nation-State to exert a restraining influence on capital is in decline, especially with the phenomenon of globalization. If even the Nation-State, with all its enormous powers, is impotent against capitalism, how can municipalities or confederated municipalities ever hope to challenge it? Municipalities are small, and confederated municipalities may not be well enough united. Wilmington, Delaware, for example, is the headquarters of DuPont. Is it really feasible to think that Wilmington could ever municipalize that transnational corporation?Bo: It wouldn't happen right away. All right, take Wilmington. Even though it's a DuPont town, that wouldn't prevent a libertarian municipalist movement from emerging there. If I were a resident of W1lmington, I'd try to develop and participate in a movement that would initially call for the municipalization of the land around Wilmington, and that would create as many different alternatives as can be created, irrespective of DuPont and its giant factories. As for those factories, yes, ultimately the movement would have to take over the economy from the bourgeoisie. But by the time that happened the municipalities would be confederated and face-to- face democracy would have made them very strong.The "globalization" that we're talking about today isn't new. The export of capital was a central subject of discussion in Lenin's book on imperialism and in Rudolf Hilferding's works on the subject in the early part of this century. Lenin saw the export of capital as the key feature of capitalism in his time. What's happening today is that capitalism is doing what it has logically been expected to do according to Marxist economic theory-namely, export capital, move all over the globe, and ultimately industrialize the entire planet.So the mobility of capital has always existed - and it's been shown statistically that a great deal of that mobility takes place within single countries rather than from country to country. But the notion that plants just pick up and leave an area and go anywhere in the world has been greatly exaggerated. In the United States same corporations move their plants from the rust belt to other parts of the world like Mexico, but more of them move to the southern part of the United States, where unions are also weak and labour cheap. Of course a textile factory in the Northeast may close down and go to Malaysia. But more likely it won't-it will go to another part of the U. S. and get tax breaks and other emoluments.As for those that do go to Mexico or Malaysia - well, the movement I'm talking about is one that would extend beyond the borders of the United States. If capital is going to function in an international way, a libertarian municipalist movement will have to be international too. It was long known in past socialist movements - from the First International onward - that the working class had to function internationally. And during the time of the First International there were extraordinary examples of workers from different countries helping each other. Members of the International in Belgium prevented strikebreakers from going across the border to France to crush strikes by miners. English workers collected strike funds for workers in France, which led to a great deal of solidarity between the two. It surprises me today that so much of the left has lost its sense of international solidarity, apart from quasi-Maoist remnants. In short, a libertarian municipalist movement would have to be international, as would any radical movement today. And we need a vital international, one with solid roots on a local basis.As for the decline of the Nation-State, I think that notion is largely specious. Nation-States are undergoing certain mutations - especially the United States, Germany, China, and possibly Japan. These countries are becoming dominant in the whole constellation of Nation-States. For example, Germany today is doing with considerable success what Wilhelm II in 1914 and Hitler in 1939 tried to do by force of arms, namely colonize large areas of Europe with the Deutschmark, with German capital and industry, but this time under the name of the European Union and partly in collaboration with France. One could say the same about the United States in North America - it's essentially completing its economic colonization of Canada and Mexico, and it has still other ambitions, as it has had for two centuries, going back to the Monroe Doctrine, of colonizing the whole Western Hemisphere. These are Nation-States we're talking about, not only transnational corporations. Key imperialist Nation-States, in other words, have found new ways of functioning imperialistically, namely through their industrial and financial might, not simply warfare.Bi: But isn't the purpose of NAFTA and GATT and the EU to strengthen the corporations, not the Nation-State? It would seem that, if anything, the U.S. government's power is being weakened by NAFTA-for example, undermining its ability to pass environmental laws. Aren't these "free trade" agreements that are part of "globalization" trying to eliminate State interventions in the activities of corporations 50 that capital can reap greater profits?Bo: Yes, I agree with you completely that the interests of the corporations are being facilitated enormously. And I'm not sure that the Nation-States are sorry about the power of corporations to circumvent certain domestic laws. The bourgeois State has always been at the service of capital. Note well, just recently, that the Clinton administration has dropped the Delaney Clause, the law that kept carcinogens out of foods. I was raising concerns about pesticides in food forty years ago, when Congressman Delaney was holding his hearings, and now all that is being undone.So it's a sad commentary that many self-styled leftists are now turning to the bourgeois Nation-State for redress from capital! The dumbing of the left has gone 50 far that someone like Chomsky, who professes to be an anarchist, wants to strengthen or at least support the centralized State against demands for its "devolution" to state governments, as though the centralized State could be used against the corporations, which it has always aided in the long run!But the question that I'm concerned with is, what is happening to the essential powers of Nation-States regardless of various international agreements? To what extent do Borne dictate to others? Under the excuse of the so-called "war on drugs," the United States is actually sending its helicopters - its military might - into Mexico, to repress groups like the Zapatistas and others. It's enhancing the police powers of the Mexicans in repressing the peasantry. It used to be able to do things like that only surreptitiously, as when it subsidized the contras in Nicaragua. But now it can extend these powers openly. European countries, too, have more freedom to use their police powers to aid other countries in what are essentially counterrevolutionary measures.So that while, admittedly, the U.S. is "compromising" its own environmental laws (which the State was forced to adopt reluctantly, by environmentalists), it is still helping American corporations exploit foreign labour at a much cheaper rate-which the corporations would have done anyway and the State has more domestic police powers that it didn't have before. Look at the so - called antiterrorism bill that the Clinton administration recently passed - it's allowing a lot more wiretapping, and it's even threatening habeas corpus - habeas corpus, of all things, an ancient right dating back to medieval England. So while greater power is being given to the corporations in NAFTA and so on, States are also enjoying greater internal powers, and more openly, than they had before.Ultimately the State always tries to expand the markets for corporations. Nobody should doubt that. There's a great danger in the course of overstating the extent to which the corporations are granted powers-and the export of capital, the expansion of foreign markets. One can easily forget the enormous role that the State plays, and the enormous powers that the State accrues in the process of expanding the corporations' powers. The two interact with each other completely. It's high time we started speaking of all existing States as bourgeois States, not only Nation-States.Bi: How will confederated municipalities keep themselves from being put into the service of the corporations the way the State is?Bo: Firstly, confederated municipalities can try to mobilize the people on a grassroots basis. They can try to constitute themselves into a movement - although such a movement does not exist so far. Secondly, confederated municipalities can try to pose alternatives, materially as well as politically, to capitalism. To the extent that such movements grow, they can try to mobilize public opinion to a degree that generally eludes the capacity of parties - especially at a time when there's so much cynicism about politics - to actively counteract the expansion of, say, DuPont abroad.Whereas I see no alternative in forming a party like the Greens, who are running Ralph Nader for president. Despite his seeming radicalism, he wants to operate entirely within the existing system. For my part, I'm speaking of forming radically different alternatives to the present system. I'm speaking of establishing a separate political culture, modes of organizing, modes of transforming bath politically and economically not only for Delaware but the entire United States or Canada or any other country, where - as those who are operating within the present social framework are only trying to moderate the State, to give it a "human face." They thereby make it more socially acceptable, I may add.I'll add something else. If a seemingly radical party becomes corrupted by parliamentarism, which has historically been the case with every single party that I know of, then that very party, that very parliamentary party will endeavour to moderate the existing situation, will in point of fact make it easier for the most vicious elements in society to have their way.There's no libertarian municipalist movement now, although there's a lot of talk these days about local democracy in all kinds of different circles. Yet such a movement is the only recourse we do have to the parliamentary path, which would certainly lead to overwhelming compromises that ultimately, in the long run, would abet the power of the corporations and State alike. Of course, we could also join hedonistic lifestyle anarchists by running naked in the woods-and do nothing but nourish our egos.Bi: Another problem for this approach today, or any approach, is the growth of large cities into megacities. You've made it clear that large cities can be decentralized, and you've advanced a distinction between institutional and physical decentralization. But today megacities - like Rio de Janeiro, Djakarta, Shanghai, Cairo - are growing to immense populations as peasants newly uprooted from the countryside for various reasons move into them. These megacities stand to grow still further in the coming years, to 15 or 20 million people. Can they be communalized in the ways youíve been describing?Bo: I would have to say that in such giant cities, one would have the greatest difficulty in creating a libertarian municipalist culture and movement. But that doesn't mean it would be impossible. People still have shared communal interests, in everything fromÝÝ sewage disposal to education, fromÝÝ air pollution to traffic, and so on. That wouldn't change. And they still would have a reason to try to alter the physical structure of their neighbourhoods. A common civic culture could still be developed.A very important phenomenon is that when many urban belts reach a large size, they begin to recreate themselves into small cities. I have the strongest doubts that 20 million people could live in a megalopolis without recreating smaller urban centres and ultimately constituting themselves into a conglomeration of relatively smaller cities.And this is actually happening now, although it's being ignored in many discussions of urbanism. In the U. S. - and I'm more knowledgeable about this country than l am about other parts of the world - American megacities that seem physically like the huge urban conglomerations that are now forming elsewhere are, in fact, wrinkling internally into smaller and smaller city centres. The suburb in the traditional sense, those bedroom communities that were monotonous tracts, homogeneous enclaves of middle-class mediocrity - many of those are becoming nucleated now and are increasingly turning into fairly self-contained cities in the sense of having their own downtowns and their own industrial as well as commercial areas. In places where for years there was nothing but residential tracts, a regrouping is taking place in which office buildings appear, institutional buildings, schools, government buildings, and even new kinds of industries. People no longer go to the old "city centre"-they now go to new "downtowns" that have been recreated out of their suburbs. So that what were originally bedroom communities are becoming relatively viable towns.Bi: But aren't these new smaller cities very often bastions of privilege? They're made up of people who have fled the poverty of the centre cities and in their own private cities, they buy their own police farces, their own school systems - the residents are rich enough to finance their own private community systems. And the residents put up gates around these privatized cities to keep out what they think of as "undesirable" people.Bo: Of course many of the new cities are privileged ghettos. In fact, I predicted several decades ago, in my book The Limits of the City, that there would be a tendency toward a kind of ghettoization, in which the rich would separate themselves from the poor. We cannot ignore the possibility that ghettoization could lead to a very reactionary development.But we're still in a process of transition. We don't know where these nucleated cities will go in the long run. They're not all hiring their separate police forces or developing independent educational systems. They're not all privatized jurisdictions with walls around them. It's happening in a disturbing number of cases, but nucleation is far from taking place everywhere.On the other hand, even these enclaves are opening up a degree of nucleation that could ultimately be used in a progressive sense. Our job is to examine what potentialities exist that, in the event of a social crisis, would lend themselves to a libertarian municipalist approach. What may be a privileged city today may one day feel the buffeting of the economy in such a way that it becomes a fairly rebellious city. A totally protected community, breached by economic, environmental, and cultural farces in the society, may turn into a radical city. The future of these cities is not foreclosed by the locked gates that separate them from less privileged areas.Bluntly speaking, we will either have socialism or barbarism. There's no question that barbarism is possible - in fact, in many areas of life it's all too advanced. But there are still many areas of life where it has not advanced very far, if at all. Nor do IÝÝÝÝ exclude the possibility of failure. But if there's any basis for hope, it's in a libertarian municipalist approach that recognizes transitions that may very well take place even in same of the most guarded of these nucleated areas.Bi: One more problem that a libertarian municipalist movement faces today is the mass media. Today the media are exerting a stifling effect on the human spirit, dragging it down to the lowest common denominator, producing a devolution in consciousness. They promote the consumer society, cajoling us in every possible way to shop for things we don't need. For people who are trying to farm a political culture that values a commitment to the common good and not just to the maximization of individual pleasure and self-interest, how can we counteract this immense cultural pressure?Bo: A libertarian municipalist movement would be working on an intimate personal level that's hopefully outside the boundaries of what the media can touch. OneÝ thing that should be understood is that to the extent that the media become increasingly concentrated, they are becoming farces of alienation, and today more and more people genuinely resent them-these remote institutions that seem to be governing their lives. While the media do have a great deal of power over public opinion, they are also disenchanting millions. In fact, many people are disgusted with the media.The third party movement in the 1996 election year, however feeble, and the unprecedented abstention from voting are evidence that many people in the United States couldn't find in any existing Statist organizations a meaningful response to their problems. They were fed up with media displays, with media attempts to treat them like juveniles and debase them with glitz. One has only to look at the popular reaction to the party conventions for the Republicans and Democrats in 1996-even the media have declared that they will no longer cover conventions if they're going to be so patently organized for television. There's a growing sentiment against this concentrated media hurricane, and a libertarian municipalist movement can take advantage of the public's alienation.In fact, a libertarian municipalist approach would be the only kind that could hope to counteract the concentrated power of the media, because it tries to reach people at their community level, and provide them with ways of counteracting and opposing the impact of the media, by working at the level of face-to-face interaction.Bi: Still another problem today is time. More and more ordinary people - the ones who stand to be most empowered by libertarian municipalism, as citizens against the elites - are working at two and even three jobs just to get by. They don't have enough time even to see their families. How can we call upon them to show up at a public meeting when they have to make all kinds of compromises with their time just to read their child a bedtime story?Bo: If people want to become human beings instead of organisms I that merely survive, I would suggest that they have to make same compromises. If people today are prepared to accept a way of life that requires them to work throughout all their waking hours in order to subsist, then I would say that I don't understand what drives them to continue, other than same animal instinct for survival. It has been one of the most challenging demands of Western philosophy, especially Hellenic philosophy, that people should strive to realize themselves as human beings. If they're not willing to do that, if they absolutely can't do that, then others who can do it will have to act for them in their own behalf for a while, without condescension, without demanding privileges for doing so The injustices that force so many people to walk long hours have to be corrected so that they can finally be free to come to assembly meetings.I would like to think that in a rational society, advances in technology, such as automation, would all but abolish toil, but that lies in the future. At present, people must make a moral effort to be free, to find the time - difficult as it may be - to attend meetings and take control over their lives.
Identity and UniversalsBi: You frequently invoke ancient Athens and colonial New England as historical precedents for direct democracy. Yet the ancient Athenians were extremely patriarchal and had slaves. So were the New England Puritans, who also hanged Quakers and enslaved Native people. Aren't these societies so tainted with sexism and racism, so exclusive to white males, that they really can- not be used as models for any free society today?Bo: Despite the consistent criticism I have received on this point, I do not now and never have upheld either ancient Athens or colonial New England as a "model." None of the historical examples I cite here or anywhere else represents a "model" of libertarian municipalist ideas - not classical Athens, not the various medieval cities and city confederations - and not even the revolutionary Parisian sections and the New England town meetings. None, let me emphasize, represents an ideal image of what could or should be achieved in the future.All were significantly tainted by major shortcomings - notably, class divisions and antagonisms and the exclusion of women and often the propertyless fromÝÝ public activity. The Athenian ecclesia didn't admit resident aliens ‚ metics - even though same of them had been living in the city for several generations. They had a closed conception of citizenship. Sometimes people acted abusively and arrogantly in the ecclesia. Citizens were easily swayed by self-seeking orators and demagogues. And their societies were far from being post-scarcity societies. In the absence of freedom from toil, the most hardworking sectors of the population were too tired to go to the assembly.So there's no model anywhere for a libertarian municipalist society. Above all, a libertarian municipalist society would be a rational society - but many of the cultures that produced these institutions weren't even rational. The Athenians overlaid their assemblies with sacred business, so their agenda was divided between the sacred and the secular.And there were many other defects, even though they've been underplayed quite recently by Cornelius Castoriadis, who claims that slaves were primarily the property of a small, wealthy elite. This isn't at all true, according to Hansen [Mogens Herman Hansen, The Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes: Structure, Principles and ldeology - trans. J. A. Crook - Un. of Oklahoma Pr., Norman, 1999]. I'd be the last one to regard these cities as models. The city I envision as truly rational, tree, and ecological has yet to exist, and all my references to historical cities are designed only to show remarkable institutions that existed in the past that deserve our deepest consideration. I cite them not for what they constituted at any given time, but for what they innovated historically, and for the tradition that they established that remains unfinished today' a tradition that with libertarian municipalism might well be brought to its rational completion.Bi: Same friends in other parts of the world have had problems invoking the New England town meeting, because it belongs to American culture rather than their own. Or they reel that the sectional assemblies are indigenous to France and therefore not relevant to their area. Even democracy seems alien to traditions in many parts of the world - it's been European in its origins. How can these "foreign" ideas be made relevant to people in other parts of the world, or can they? Should they instead look to indigenous traditions, even though they may not be as clearly democratic?Bo: My concern with democratic institutions is not specific to the cultures from which they stem. Thus, it's not because I'm a Greek that IÝÝÝÝ talk about the Athenian ecclesia. I'm not a Greek. I'm not a Frenchman, either, still less a Parisian, yet I've repeatedly invoked the value of studying the Parisian sections. Nor am I Spanish, although I invoke the comuneros. And I'm not a New Englander by background - I've lived here only for about a third of my life, most of which was spent in New York City. But the town meeting is a remarkable case of direct democracy. Should I ignore it because I live in New England now?During the 1960s, to be sure, I was deeply concerned about working from specifically American traditions. But that approach didn't come from any American chauvinism on my part - although I've been accused of that. I was opposing "New Lefties" who were talking to the American people in terms of German Marxism, Russian Leninism or Stalinism, and Chinese Maoism. That's not to say that Marxism was or is irrelevant to the United States, not at all. But in their understandable opposition to American imperialism, they were really venerating Chinese and Vietnamese totalitarianism. Today, many of them would like to forget the mischief they caused, in view of recent - quite foreseeable - developments.In invoking Athens, New England, the Parisian sections, I was trying to show that left-libertarians had good examples institutions of freedom right, in same cases on their very doorstep. They don't have to look overseas, not even to Southeast Asia, still less to China.It was always the institutions themselves that were my primary focus, not a romanticization of the cities. What would be the point of invoking the Athenian ecclesia or the Parisian sections if I were an American chauvinist? Obviously I was concerned with the structure and the feasibility of these institutions, and only secondarily that they were part of traditions that were complementary to American thinking.If human beings are potentially rational, as Aristotle said they were, it's the rationality of the institutions that should count, not the traditions. I would have no compunction whatever about going to places that have no democratic traditions, either ideological or institutional, and trying to convey the benefits of a genuinely democratic society. My job would be to function as a propagandist and an agitator, and to talk to people about the new, not necessarily the old, even counterposing the new with the old-trying to explain why, on solidly rational grounds, not traditional ones, they should discard an old system and adopt a new one. Such an endeavour would help offset the extent to which people's oppression has become deeply rooted even in their own thinking. I don't think I'm being patronizing or elitist. There are traditions that we would do very well to get rid of, like female "circumcision," if you please, or the veiling of women, or mythical interpretations of what are really social problems, accounts that obfuscate and mystify the power of existing elites.Nor would I, as a Jew, find it either enriching or rewarding to go back to traditions from the Hebrew Scriptures, which are really fairly bloody. I could go through my own "traditions" and select some and discard others - but I don't embrace them or reject them just because they're part of my ethnic background. My point always remains that the people are potentially rational beings, they should try to live in a rational society, irrespective of their traditions. I'd like to think that humanity has had ten thousand years of education out of the primitivism and traditionalism and customs that ostensibly are our cultural roots, not that we're going to try to revive traditionalism for its own sake.Bi: Sometimes when people form libertarian municipalist groups, they call a meeting of a popular assembly in their neighbourhood, but not very many people show up. A visitor from Moscow recently told us of having this problem. It's pretty disheartening. What would you say to these people?Bo: Treasure those who show up. Treasure them. Try to educate them. Remember that even in a libertarian municipalist society, assemblies will not necessarily be fully attended. Not even ancient Athens was based on universal participation. The ancient Athenians operated under very propitious conditions for democracy and had a democratic culture, but even they established a quorum of only 5,000 people, out of a potential citizen body of 30,000 [According to Hansen (1999 pp 130-132), to witch Bookchin referred above, the quorum was 6000 or one fifth of the voting members ‚ transl.]. That's only one-sixth of the people who were eligible to attend. In other words, they were satisfied to get one out of every six citizens to come to the ecclesia.And the most revolutionary sections of Paris were a marvellous flare-up of energy, but they too accounted for a minority even of the sectional population. They were often attended by only fifteen or twenty people out of one or two thousand [According to J. M. Thompson (The French Revolution, 1966 pp 306-307) since 21.05.1790 there were 100-250 or 5%-15% of the about 1720 active citizens (voting members)‚ transl.]. And usually it was only in times of crisis that more than a score or so people came to a given sectional assembly meeting; out of all those that could legitimately attend. Attendance at sectional assemblies varied very much according to what issue was on the agenda.People may decide to attend or not to attend an assembly meeting, depending on their personal concerns, private concerns, degrees of interest, amount of free time, the agenda, their own level of social and political development, illness, who knows what. One sophist I know from New Orleans - John Clark -wants to claim that unless everybody attends an assembly, it is not truly democratic. He looks at the total population of a large city today, figures out how many people live in each neighbourhood, and comes to the conclusion that huge numbers of people would be allotted to each assembly - say, five thousand or ten thousand. And they would all have to come, it would seem, for this to be real democracy-but look, he gays, there are too many of them for democracy. So libertarian municipalism is impossible - that's his argument. It's as if he puts a grid on a city of eight million and calculates how many people would have to come to the assembly in each little square.But the assumption here is that every infant, every child, every Alzheimer's patient will have to attend if what we have is to qualify as a popular assembly. This becomes a logistical sophism that is meant to obfuscate rather than clarify. The most important thing about popular assemblies in a libertarian municipalist society, one that has in time been decentralized physically as well as institutionally - and I don't mean scattered farms all over vast prairies-when all of this has been finally achieved, it would be a miracle if out of all those who are even physically capable of coming to an assembly, even a majority, would do so.What counts is that the freedom to attend exists. This freedom stands as a sentinel over any authoritarian or hierarchical tendencies. The doors are open, and indeed it would be outrageous if people were forced to attend. Such an endeavour would be not only unrealistic but a travesty of human freedom-namely, the right not to attend as well as the right to attend. The main point I wish to make is that the popular assemblies would be open to everyone who lives in a municipality and is of a certain age, without restriction, and that people would be encouraged to attend and would be informed about the topics that will be discussed, so that they could decide if they want to engage in the act of democratizing. I would be surprised indeed if everyone in a community who was able to attend did attend, even a meeting where the most important decisions were made.Another important point: Libertarian municipalism isn't exclusively a movement to create popular assemblies. It's also a process of creating a political culture. In most places a libertarian municipalist movement wouldn't be successful for years - I can't say how many - in convincing people that it offers a solution to the present political and economic impasse. Libertarian municipalism is a process, and it's a movement that tries to develop this process, to enlarge it, to win people's minds, even before libertarian municipalist institutions are established. The battle will have to go on, certainly past the remaining years of my life.So one shouldn't confuse a libertarian municipalist movement with a libertarian municipalist society, although obviously the goal of the movement is to create the society. Nor should one confuse the process of education with immediate success here and now.I will make a prediction, though: Were libertarian municipalists to succeed in establishing popular assemblies, in whatever form, in certain communities, the founders of the assembly them- selves would be in a minority, because an attempt will be made by other interests, including class interests, to take over the assemblies. History has to be on our side. Many misjudgments will be made, many failures will occur, many retreats will be necessary, and years will pass when there will seem to be no positive response to the propaganda of such a movement. But what's new about that? It took the anarchist movement Borne seventy years to take root in Spain. It took Russian revolutionaries almost a century of work to alter consciousness enough and to finally shake up the Russian people enough to the point where they were ready for the demolition of the czarist autocracy.One problem I have today is that people want immediate or quick results - it's one of the major diseases of the boomer generation. The 1960s upsurge, with all its generous ideals, fell apart partly because young radicals demanded immediate gratification and sensational successes. If people today think that politics should be like a vending machine, where you put in your quarter and out comes a candy bar - if that's what they think, then I would recommend that they go back into private life. People have to be prepared, to be steeled, to have the character - they themselves have to embody the political culture of the future in their character to create a movement that might someday change society so that it is libertarian, communalist, and political in the best sense of the word.
The Nature of the MovementBi: You've criticized alternative economic efforts, like cooperatives, saying that in the end they fit well into a capitalist society. Yet your municipalized economy would certainly be organized along Borne type of cooperative, as opposed to competitive, lines. Alternative economic forms would very likely be needed there - for example, municipally owned cooperatives. When you criticize cooperatives, are you saying that efforts to build them are entirely irrelevant to a libertarian municipalist movement?Bo: No, I don't oppose cooperatives in principle. They're invaluable, especially as schools for teaching people how to cooperate. I've only tried to show that we're not going to be able to eliminate capitalism by colonizing it with ever more cooperatives, since cooperatives are going to function like capitalist enterprises in many respects - that is to gay, they'll become part of the market system, whatever the intentions of their founders.Back in the 1840s Proudhon had the idea-and he wasn't the only one-that by creating cooperative peoples' banks and other kinds of cooperatives, capitalism could be replaced by them. Today, if I were to follow Proudhon, I would have to think that many small credit institutions could eventually replace Chase Manhattan, that small cooperative grocery stores could eventually replace supermarket chains. I would have to believe that small chemical factories could replace the DuPont corporation in Delaware.The value of cooperatives today is that they teach people how to cooperate. But generally what happens in most cooperatives, in my own personal experience and in historical experience, is that they become bourgeois enterprises in their own right, getting into the competitive situation that the market produces. Those that don't, disappear.Now "municipally owned cooperatives" would not be cooperatives in the conventional sense of the term. These would not be single private cooperatives or federations of private cooperatives. They would be "owned" by a community, meeting in popular assemblies. 80 they would operate as part of the community, not on their own, and they would be answerable to the community. Not only would these distinctly social cooperatives be "owned" by the community, but many of their policies would be decided by the community in assembly. Only the practical administration of these policies would fall within the purview of the individual cooperative.But not only would the community as a whole determine their policies, the general public would establish a kind of ethical relationship with the cooperative, by Virtue of the fact that the cooperative is integrally part of the public. This is one area where a political culture goes beyond the strictly institutional politics of the assembly and confederation. Not only would the economy be municipalized; but the political culture would help create a moral economy in the community, a new type of economic relationship between citizens and the sources of their subsistence, whether they be producers or retailers.Under those circumstances of municipalization and a political culture, there would be no danger of each cooperative being a free-floating enterprise in a capitalist market. We would no longer have an authentic market in the bourgeois sense. In the bourgeois market the buyer-seller relationship is not only competitive but anonymous. Municipally owned cooperatives could very well subvert the market, because the community would own them and because citizens would have an ethical responsibility toward perpetuating them.I don't believe the bourgeoisie would tolerate this development in the long run. Libertarian municipalism will not creep up on capitalism and pull the rug from underneath it suddenly. Everything I'm describing involves a confrontation, sooner or later, not only with the State, but with capitalism. Libertarian municipalism is meant to awaken a revolutionary development in the communities that in varying degrees follows libertarian municipalist practices.How this development and confrontation will occur is impossible to foresee. Suffice it to say that they can open a wide door for the improvisation of "strategies" that no speculation on my part can possibly predict. Where such a confrontation would lead, how it would unfold, I don't know, but I do know that if libertarian municipalism were embraced by a sizable number of communities, we would potentially, at least, create something like a revolutionary situation.Bi: Some libertarian socialists have argued that you are too quick to rule out workers' control. "Worker," they argue, is hardly a particularistic category anymore. Most able-bodied adults of both sexes today are workers. Since the category is so genera, why can't a libertarian municipalism be combined with workers' control?Bo: Yes, the great majority of people have to work in order to earn a livelihood, and a sizable proportion of them are productive work- erg. A huge number of workers are unproductive as well. They operate entirely with the circumstances and framework created by the capitalist system, such as shuffling invoices, contracts, credit slips, insurance policies, and so forth. Probably nine out of ten "workers" wouldn't have any work to do in a rational society - one that would not require insurance or any other commercial transactions.In a libertarian municipalist society, the assembly would decide the policies of the entire economy. Workers would shed their unique vocational identity and interests, as least as far as the public realm is concerned, and see themselves as citizens in their community. The municipality, through the assembly of citizens, would control and make the broad decisions for its shops, lay down the policies that they should follow, always working with a civic outlook rather than an occupational one.The supposition made by people who want to include workers' control in libertarian municipalism is that once we've democratized the society as a whole through the popular assembly, we would want to democratize the workplace itself and give it over to the workers to control. Now, what would that mean? Well, unless the workers in an enterprise really begin to see themselves primarily as citizens rather than workers, then we're opening up the very strong possibility that they will claim authority over their workplaces at the expense of the popular assembly. To the extent that you withdraw power from the popular assembly and give it to the workplace, to that extent you open cracks in the unity of the popular assembly and increase the possibility that the workplace itself will act as a subversive element in relation to the popular assembly.Let me put it simply: The more power the workplace has, the less power the popular assembly has - and the less power the workplace has, the more power the popular assembly has. If work- erg' control is to become a major emphasis of our program, we will be diminishing the power of the popular assembly and thereby opening the possibility that the workplace will accrue power at the expense of the popular assembly.And as I've said, the mere takeover of a shop and the operation of that shop by the workers does not remove the probability that they will develop - indeed, enlarge - an ever-present sense of a special entrepreneurial interest. Workers' control can easily result in workers becoming particularized, whatever their jobs may be. In anarcho-syndicalist Barcelona in 1936, workers who had taken over, gay, a textile factory often pitted themselves against their own comrades in the same industry who had also taken over a similar shop. That is, such workers often became collective capitalists, as Gaston Leval pointed out in his account of Spanish collectivization in the cities [Gaston Leval, Collectives in the Spanish Revolution - trans. Vernon Richards - Freedom Press, London, 1975] and they competed with each other for access to raw materials and markets. Al! of this occurred even though the workers professed to be anarcho-syndicalists working in the same industry, under the same black and red nag, and belonging to the same syndicalist union! As a result, the union had to reregulate the industries in order to prevent these collective capitalist practices. Ironically, the CNT bureaucracy [The CNT was the biggest syndicalististic trade union ‚ transl.] took control of the shops and essentially diminished the workers' control in order to maintain same kind of cooperative approach.If shops are pern1itted to formulate the policies governing their behaviour without regard for the community as a whole, then such shops may very well follow paths that are not only divergent from those of the rest of the community but also in conflict with it.Hopefully most trades will one day be mechanized - especially the more onerous and routine work operations. And by the way, that is not a completely utopian idea. Ultimately I believe that so much work will be taken over by machinery that the problem of workers' control will be virtually meaningless, and the whole issue will dwindle to the point of insignificance. I stand in flat opposition, on this score, to self-styled anarchist primitivists, such as the Fifth, Estate mafia, who profess to oppose any advances in technology under all conditions.Bi: What is the relationship of a libertarian municipalist movement to direct action?Bo: Libertarian municipalism is the highest form of direct action. It is the direct-indeed, face-to-face - self-administration of a community. People act directly on society and directly shape their own destinies. There's no higher form of direct action than self-determination.Having said that, I believe emphatically that it's part of every radical political education to engage in direct action by trying to stop, gay, the building of a development or same abusive, economically aggressive, vicious enterprise, indeed by taking social and political actions in every issue that arises today. These could involve sit-ins - the American labour movement in the 1930s was built on the occupation of factories by workers, after all. Not only is a strike a form of direct action, so is the occupation of a factory ‚ in fact, it's an even more radical form of direct action that involves a transgression of the laws that protect the private property of the bourgeoisie.To what extent these actions can lead to violence, I don't know. But I don't believe, either, that the bourgeoisie will surrender its status, still less its holdings in society, voluntarily.Bi: Will a libertarian municipalist movement have leaders?Bo: There will be leaders everywhere, wherever there is a struggle. Does the existence of leaders necessarily mean the existence of hierarchy? Absolutely not! The word leader shouldn't frighten us away from recognizing that same individuals have more experience, maturity, character development, and the like, than others. These distinctions definitely exist, they're very real. To dismiss them and say that everyone is at the same level of knowledge, experience, and insight is a preposterous myth that is subverted by all the realities of everyday life. And not only the realities of every- day life, but also biological reality. People who have lived longer can often be expected to know more than those who are very young. Not even a precocious twelve-year-old could have the wisdom of someone who's lived three times his or her life and had a wealth of experiences. Biology renders it impossible for a child to have the knowledge of an adolescent, for an adolescent to have the knowledge of an adult person, and so on.That doesn't mean that the more knowledgeable people will use their knowledge to dominate others. A leader is as much an educator as any person who offers people a sense of direction. In fact, we desperately Deed people to educate us. I have a great deal of trouble with anarchists who reject leadership altogether. There's no more subtle tyranny than the "tyranny of structurelessness"- which can also involve the tyranny of a false interpretation of equality-namely, that we all know the same. There's a big difference between saying that we all already know the same and saying that we are all capable, potentially, of learning and sharing knowledge on a potentially egalitarian basis.Which raises the question that Hegel did once, in his early theological writings, about the difference between Socrates and Jesus. Socrates was an indubitably a leader, and he was loved as a leader - but as one who tried to overcome the difference, through education and dialogue, between what he knew and what the young Athenians around him knew, thereby trying to create a level playing field of discourse. Many of his dialogues consisted of overcoming the difference. Jesus, on the other hand, was a leader in an authoritarian sense. He made pronouncements that no one in his presence could possibly contradict without fearing his wrath. It's quite different to try to enforce obedience to the Ten Commandments because God supposedly ordained us to do so, and to explore them and find out what is valid and what isn't, to provide natural rather than supernatural reasons for obeying any idea. Parts of the decalogue are very regressive, such as Yahweh's injunction that he is a jealous god who will tolerate no other gods - and by inference, no contradiction.Be that as it may, a leader does not make an elite, nor does he or she necessarily become an elite. Leadership as such is not necessarily hierarchical. A leader may simply be someone who knows more than others about a particular kind of situation and thereby plays a leading role in advising people on what they should do to address it. He or she doesn't dominate people or demand their submission. In a rational society, of course, leaders would not have the power to force people to do what they didn't want to do. Their sole source of influence is persuasion. And above all, they would be accountable to the rest of the people-that is, their actions would be under constant scrutiny.Nor do I regard vanguard organizations as necessarily authoritarian. Ironically, more than one anarchist newspaper in the past has been named Vanguard, and more than one anarchist work has called for the formation of a vanguard organization. Vanguard organizations can give a movement a sense of direction, a map of how to go from here to there-and help mobilize them in systematic actions to change society.It's tragic that the words vanguard and leader were discredited by the 1960s "New Left," because of the experiences of Stalinism and Leninism. In many revolutions there were immensely important, even decisive leaders and organizations that carried the revolutions forward, and in the absence of such decisive figures, the revolutions collapsed. During the Paris Commune [18 march-28 may 1871] Adolphe Thiers [1797-1877], who led the counterrevolution against the communards, was holding the revolutionary Auguste Blanqui [1805-1881] as a prisoner. The Commune wanted Blanqui back, and they tried very hard to gain him in exchange for their own hostages, even the archbishop of Paris. Thiers shrewdly knew that giving the communards Blanqui would be equivalent to giving them a fu1l division of troops, because Blanqui would have insisted on marching on Versailles and checkmated the counterrevolution. So one can't just erase the important role that many individual and organizational leaders have in history, even though there is always the danger, in a revolution that manages to make any degree of headway, that a leader can turn into a tyrant, and that an organization can turn into an elite. There is no substitute, in dealing with this danger, for intelligence and countervailing institutions that prevent leaders and organizations fromÝÝ becoming tyrants or elites - certainly not opposition to leaders and organizations as such.Bi: You've distinguished in the past between intellectuals and intelligentsia. Intellectuals are those who are endemic to the academy, while intelligentsia are the educated, theoretically minded individuals who are part of the public political culture that accompanies a revolution. Do you see an intelligentsia as playing a role in a libertarian municipalist struggle?Bo: An intelligentsia is indispensable - and here I differ with all those academic intellectuals who denigrate the importance of an intelligentsia. It's amusing that professors, ensconced in the university system, would denounce an intelligentsia as an elite. I think it would be wonderful if everyone were a member of the intelligentsia, in a living public intellectual life, where ideas are part of the everyday milieu - indeed, where philosophy, ethics, and politics are not simply subjects of study but are lived practices.For me, it is inconceivable, notwithstanding injunctions from various anarchist theorists, that the garnered wisdom of a true member of the intelligentsia can be ignored. I made a close study of revolutions while I was writing The Third Revolution, ranging from the Peasant Wars of the 1520s in Germany clear through to the Spanish Revolution of 1936. So closely did I study them that I felt as if I were brought into the very streets of these revolutions. This study made it immensely clear to me that these revolutions could not have hoped to succeed or even advance very far, without the knowledge-and even the leadership, in the best of cases-that intelligentsia or public intellectuals provided. What would the French Revolution have been without Jean Varlet [1764‚1837], who stood head and shoulders above the best of the Jacobin leaders? What would the American Revolution have been without Thomas Paine [1737-1809]? What would the revolutions of 1848 in Paris have been without a man of the calibre of Blanqui to inspire them? What would the Paris Commune have been without EugËne Varlin [1839-1871]? What would the Russian Revolution have been without Martov [1873-1923], who foresaw the dangers of a Bolshevik autocracy? It's essential that we recover this waning tradition of thinkers who live a vital public life and at the same time are part of a lived revolutionary social and political environment.Bi: When a libertarian municipalist movement runs candidates for office, it will need an electoral program. What kinds of things should be on this program? If we put only our short-term goals on the program, we seem like only a reformist party. But if we only put in our long-term goals, like abolishing capitalism-well, many people aren't ready to hear that yet. Should we wait till ordinary citizens are somehow educated in these ideas before we run a libertarian municipalist campaign? Or should we run the campaign in order to educate people? How should we strike the balance between long-term and short-term goals?Bo: The short-term goals in a program are designed to attract people eventually to support the movement's long-term goals. People might well support a libertarian municipalist candidate because they agree with the short-term goals on the program, and at first they mayor may not agree with the long-term goals. I'm sure that after the Second World War millions of people in Britain who were afraid of socialism still voted for the Labour Party, even though the party expressed a long-term commitment to a form of socialism. Many very pragmatic problems would have induced them to vote for Labour, and they also had a vague aspiration that "a better world," which was designated by the word socialism, should come out of the war. Hence the enormous victory of the Labour Party toward the close of and after the war.A libertarian municipalist movement would, of course, fight for the redress of specific injustices, and these should be in its program, even as it fights for the broader goals of freedom and direct democracy. But fighting against injustices alone, without offering an ideal of freedom, will not get to the root of the injustices that we want to correct. One anarchist I know has recently said that he still has a "vision" of an anarchist society, but that it's somewhere off in the distance. At present he works to fulfill his more short-term "goals," goals that involve correcting injustices - including the strengthening of the State, no less!But the struggle against injustices can't be separated from the struggle for freedom. If it is, weíll still be burdened by the same social order, slightly or perhaps significantly more just, but still one that inevitably must inflict increasing damage on society and the natural world. A living connection must exist between our vision and our goals, such that our visions feed into our goals and give them immediacy. Otherwise, if goals and visions are bifurcated, we're functioning more as caretakers of capitalism, who are giving it a human face, rather than as revolutionaries trying to overthrow the root causes of all these injustices, as well as restrictions on the freedom and self-realization of all human beings.So a libertarian municipalist program wouldn't make short-term demands without also making long-term demands at the same time. In the Left of the 1930s and 1940s, we used to call these the minimum and maximum programs. But the relationship of the minimum program to the maximum program can best be elucidated through the transitional program, a useful term invented, to the best of my knowledge, by Trotsky. A transitional program is meant to link the small steps that can be taken immediately with the ultimate goals, like communism or socialism.For a libertarian municipalist movement, the transitional program might link a specific demand, like stopping "growth," to the long-term, maximum demand of replacing capitalism with a moral economy. And it would certainly link a simple, immediate demand like "better local administration" with the movement's long-term goal of direct democracy, calling for changes in a city charter that would allow for public assemblies and then demanding that these public assemblies be endowed with increasing powers.As the libertarian municipalist movement gets underway, direct action might well be used to advance these demands and bring them to public attention. But first the movement would call for public assemblies here and now, and the establishment of civic centres where these assemblies could convene. Let us say these assemblies are formed, on an informal basis, and hopefully become a forum for neighborhood discussions. It may happen at first only in certain portions of a city, but those neighbourhoods may then become examples for parts of the city that are not, as yet, in political motion. Soon people, generally, win begin to see that something is going on in their own city, and they might start to do the same thing.Increasingly, the assemblies may pass resolutions raising a variety of demands-anything from greater control over city services, to more fire stations, to improved and more numerous schools. The movement begins to campaign around these resolutions, presenting them as popular demands. The citizens speak, as it were. But most important, the movement raises the demand for changing the city charter so that the citizen assemblies have ever more, if not complete, legislative power.In any community the people involved in the libertarian municipalist movement are likely to be a small minority within the very public assembly they have inspired. Other citizens in the assembly win probably still be fairly cautious and conservative. It is the job of libertarian municipalists to debate with these citizens over various issues in the assembly, to counter their objections, and to explain the broader social and political farces at work in society. In the process they try to educate everyone else. Let us suppose that real estate interests go to an assembly meeting in order to sell the community on a particular development or housing project or office complex. Or a manufacturer shows up and holds out alluring promises of more jobs if the community allows him to build a factory there. The libertarian municipalists have to try to stop them by demonstrating in detail the dangers that these proposals pose for their fellow citizens-and in the process, hopefully, they will educate them.Many people, I have to say, have a difficult time seeing libertarian municipalism as process. But I contend that that is exactly what we are dealing with. Libertarian municipalists begin by making everyday demands for justice on specific issues, demands that challenge various capitalist interests such as real estate, construction, and retail interests, and the like. The movement then expands and expands-at the same time that it demands, through popular assemblies, more and more power from the state or the province and the Nation-State for the assemblies. This is a dynamic process that involves an ever greater enlargement of potentially democratic institutions-which, incidentally, no bourgeoisie has ever wanted to give to the people - calling for a charter if there isn't one, or a revision of the charter if there is one. These are all potentially very confrontational issues for grassroots power. The libertarian municipalist movement plays a major role in this process. Without a movement I doubt if the development I've described could continue to its logical conclusion.Then if these developments have occurred throughout a particular region, confederations could begin to be formed. Throughout the process, the movement would be forming a dual power. The transitions would involve confrontations of various kinds all along the way, including direct action, and all of them would be enlarging the democracy within the republic, while continually radicalizing the democracy. Finally we would be confronted with a revolutionary situation, where a direct challenge could be presented against the State.Because ultimately, as this political culture expands and grows, gaining the support of an ever greater number of people, it would have to end in its final "vision" if the movement presses for- ward in a dialectical manner to its maximum demands. It would confront the State power in a significant way. It could hardly "sneak up on" capitalism, or subvert the State from below, or make a gradual transition. It would have to confront capitalism and the State at every step along the way and push them back as far as possible until the confrontation acquires revolutionary proportions. From there on the lived development itself would decide which approaches, measures, or (to use a word I don't like) "tactics" the movement should adopt.I am not describing an easy process. But if it is utopian to fight for the municipalization of the economy and the formation of libertarian confederated municipalities, what alternative do we have today? To build a political party that - judging from the histories of the German Greens, the British Labour Party, and third parties in the United States-is certain to degenerate into part of the State apparatus or simply disappear? What alternative is there to libertarian municipalism? How else are we going to square the demand for the "Commune of communes"-the traditional libertarian slogan of socialists, anarchists, and communists-with our politics? By falling back on our private experiences, going into Taoist meditations, or engaging in sensitivity sessions and encounter groups, as so many lifestyle anarchists desire?What alternative is there? To work with the myth that we can eat away at the capitalist economy by starting cooperatives? In the 1840s and 1850s, Proudhon had a certain basis for thinking this could work, especially in France, before capitalism was very developed, while every grocery store was still a family store, not a supermarket chain. When industry and retailing were still small. But not today. Or are we going to call for the nationalization of the economy? But if we do, we'll only end up reinforcing the State power with economic power. Or maybe we'll call for market social- ism-in my opinion, an oxymoron, as though the market didn't generate its own internal farces that lead to capital concentration. The alternatives are private property, nationalization of property, or municipalization of property. I leave it up to anyone who has any revolutionary sensibility to make his or her decision.
The New SocietyBi: Once we reach a libertarian municipalist society, what if it turns out that civic virtue and direct-democratic institutions aren't enough to keep everyone in the community from acting in their own self-interest? All it might take is a few people trying to aggrandize themselves to spoil the whole communistic nature of the society. Would same kind of strictures have to be instituted that would enforce norms for the society? Would there be any laws in a libertarian municipalist society? Or a constitution?Bo: Before I answer you specifically about the libertarian municipalist society, same historical background would be useful. In prehistory, for an unknown period of time, human society was structured around family groups-tribes and clans-in which blood relationships determined the rights and duties of individuals to each other. Anyone outside a tribe was regarded as a stranger or, to use Marx's very appropriate term, as inorganic - and hence was subject to arbitrary treatment by the tribe.This had many implications for how people conceived of justice. Let us say someone committed a crime-a man from one tribe murdered a man from another tribe. The only way the crime could be expiated and the murderer punished would be if the relatives of the victim decided to take blood vengeance. Of course after a while the amount of bloodshed necessary to make reparation for an abuse was diminished, or a different kind of penalty besides blood was imposed, such as an obligation to hand over a certain number of cattle. The schedule of reparations was worked out at times very elaborately. But the system of justice still depend- ed on vengeance-on the victim or the family taking revenge on the perpetrator.It has been one of humanity's greatest advances, over the course of history, to have moved out of this biologically based system of justice, by which I mean one based on kinship or blood ties and vengeance, into a more rational-but not necessarily completely rational - system of justice. The Eumenides by Aeschylus depicts the Athenians in exactly that situation - where blood vengeance is replaced by reasoned justice: Orestes, who killed his mother, is finally judged not as one who killed a blood relation per se but by a jury on rational, discursive grounds. And he is acquitted, on the basis of universal standards of justice based on reason, not punished on the basis of blood vengeance. At this point reason is beginning to supplant custom, and society is beginning to supplant biology.Of course, every biologically conditioned institution is a social institution as well. Human beings are not mere animals any- more. Yet it's very hard to separate the social from the biological at so early a level. But over the course of history there are degrees in which biology has given way to rationality and sociality. The rise of nomos, as the Greeks called it, or law - a rationally derived standard for justice, defining rights and duties - marks one of humanity's greatest ascents out of animality. It's not a culminating advance, but it is a basic advance.I'm certainly not arguing that all laws are rational because they are laws; rather, I am claiming that the concept of nomos itself is rational. Law as a substitute for blood vengeance is a rational advance, even though many specific laws are very irrational. Ancient constitutions like Hammurabi's legal cone accepted slavery, the domination of women by men - a large number of abusive features that would be untenable today and certainly inconceivable in a rational society. But Hammurabi's code did mark an advance out of blind custom, opening a realm of discussion about right and wrong behaviour. And in the case of the Athenian democracy, even more custom was shed and replaced by a reasoned consideration of rights and duties, evils and goods, harmful actions and beneficial actions.A rational society by definition could do no less. In a libertarian municipalist society it would be necessary to fully explicate, on a rational basis, the rights and duties of people, the laws or nomoi of the society, and their modes of self-management. And these nomoi would derive from a rational constitution that the people who lived under it would draw up. That is to gay, society would be constituted rationally, in the sense that the people would literally create a basic framework for it, guided by all the ethical considerations that reason and experience afford.So yes, it would be necessary to have a constitution and to have nomoi that are as democratic, as rational, as flexible, and as creative as possible. To reject such a constitution and the nomoi that elaborate it would be to fall back once again on a system like blood vengeance. Or else we would fall back on arbitrary judgments, based on a mystical belief in an unshakable human nature that is magically benign. Such a view is completely absurd. It rests on the belief that people would always behave benignly toward others and toward their community, that they are inherently good, and that they have been "corrupted" by civilization. Any notion of a fixed human nature, even a benign one, as well as the myth of a "noble savage," is sociobiological nonsense. It renders people's behaviour completely inflexible and denies them one of their most important features, namely creativity, a signal feature of humans, as opposed to the adaptivity typical of animals.So in a libertarian municipalist society, which I identify with a rational society and with libertarian communism, it would be vita! to have a reasoned constitution with reasoned nomoi, one that would prevent authoritarianism and all the other undesirable features in the present society, like private property and the State. It would at the same time offer a positive farm of law, providing reasoned ethical guidelines that are sufficiently flexible to allow for changing situations.Bi: How would these ideas specifically be applied in the development of a libertarian municipalist movement?Bo: I would like to suggest that such a movement itself would have a constitution. In this respect I go against the libertarian opinion that wants a minimum of structure. As I've already said, where you have a minimum amount of structure, you have a maximum amount of arbitrariness. Serious and committed people always want organization; the question is, what kind? The dizzying dissoluteness one encounters among lifestyle anarchists today invariably ends up in mere smoke or in authoritarian manipulation, such as I saw in the antinuclear Clamshell alliance during the 1970s.So the movement would have a constitution, with a preamble to state its larger goals and its character. And then it would specify as clearly as possible, albeit not frozen into inflexibility, how it is to function and, where an explanation is needed, why it is to function that way. The constitution would specify decision-making by majority rule voting, which in my view is indispensable. It would clearly specify how delegates are to be elected and recalled if necessary, and it would distinguish their powers from those of parliamentary-type representatives. It could include an account of municipal democracy and confederation.Once a libertarian municipalist movement is established on the basis of a rational constitution, guided by rational nomoi, how would it go about calling for citizens' assemblies? Here in Burlington, during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the anarchist groups that I worked with were advocating citizens' assemblies in each of the city's six wards. We continued to call for them after a third-party Progressive was elected mayor of the city in 1981. This mayor, Bernard Sanders, seemed not to know what we were talking about, but he was prepared to go along with the idea because it sounded good. So his Progressive administration agreed to create a Neighbourhood Planning Assembly (NPA) in each ward. They weren't authentic citizens' assemblies-they were "planning assemblies," whose purpose was to be responsible for disbursing funds for community development. In terms of policy-making their role was strictly advisory. But at least in Vermont, the power of citizens in an assembly to mandate morally is often very compelling, and for a time-until many of our local anarchists began to fade into private life-they exercised considerable influence.Bi: In Vermont the system of local government and the political system that goes with it is a lot looser and more open than it is in other parts of the United States, not to speak of the world. Here ballot access is relatively easy and election laws are quite relaxed, so it might be easier to get a libertarian municipalist movement going here than in other places. In California, for example, it's much harder for new political groupings to get on the ballot. In France or even Canada the towns and cities are far more creatures of the State than they are here, and they're far more under the State's direct control. Certainly in most places it would be illegal for a citizens' assembly to legislate, as it were, to make policy for the locality. What can a libertarian municipalist movement do under such circumstances?Bo: Yes, the establishment of NP As in Burlington was the result of a concurrence of grassroots movements with a fairly sympathetic civic administration. I can foresee situations in which such a concurrence as we had here would not occur-indeed, where a city hall would stridently oppose the formation of quasi-legal citizens' assemblies, let alone one with legal powers that would override those of the city council. Or where the city charter or town charter cannot yet be changed to give greater power to citizens' assemblies. In such cases it makes complete sense for the movement just to establish citizens' assemblies that have only moral authority-and in fact that was all the power the Burlington assemblies had anyway.A libertarian municipalist movement would initiate citizens' assemblies, without necessarily gaining the consent of a city council but hopefully with sufficient support from the citizens in the specific neighborhood or ward or town. Or if assemblies already exist, the movement could to call for their recognition as legal bodies empowered to pass ordinances and laws - in other words nomoi. At the same time, needless to say, the movement would run candidates who would consistently demand the formation of these assemblies and/or their empowerment.In the past, it was not unusual, in periods when institutions were fairly authoritarian, for moral institutions to begin to emerge. In medieval times many towns, without having any legal authority to do so, formed assemblies and created institutions that opposed those of the feudal lords or bishops who literally owned the city. The ateneo movement, which grew up in Spain under Franco, may be another example - it may well have played a role in diminishing the power of the Francoist State toward the end of Franco's life.In any case, once a libertarian municipalist movement initiates extralegal assemblies, it's crucial that they be institutionalized, even if only on paper. What the movement should not do is call assemblies on an ad hoc basis, merely to discuss a specific issue, then drift away when the issue fades from public interest. What I'm saying is that if a libertarian municipalist movement is going to initiate assemblies, it's not enough for it simply to call a meeting of the people, like a "town meeting," as they wrongly call them in New York City, to discuss or publicize a specific issue, and then let the existence of such assemblies drift away.Rather, the assembly must be institutionalized-this is crucial-and it must have a distinct structure. It must meet regularly, whether it be once a month or once every few weeks or once a quarter. It must have a constitution, one that establishes residency requirements and all the necessary regulations that give it definition. It must have a name. It must have a moderator or facilitator, and at the very least, it must have a coordinating committee. It must have a system of communications - if possible, it should publish a periodical. During the course of its meetings it should have an agenda, one carefully prepared with the participation of community members. If there are a sufficient number of people, the assembly could elect various commissions to study issues and make recommendations.If it's not clearly institutionalized, the assembly will become, to use the term ironically, a "floating signifier" - merely an obfuscatory semblance of what it might be. Lacking definition and institutionalization, it would merely be a forum and would not be taken seriously. Nor, in my opinion, would it conform with a libertarian municipalist social and political agenda. Libertarian municipalism seeks to exacerbate the tension between municipalities and the State, to become an oppositional dual power that will, under propitious conditions, abolish the State for a confederal system of social administration.The assembly may very well turn into a genuine expression of opinion so emphatic that it reflects the community and recreates its political culture, or at least significantly modifies it. Assemblies may multiply, ultimately obliging city councils to recognize them and give them legal power.All of this is a process, a development, one that will require a long struggle. Libertarian municipalism is not merely a strategy or a body of tactics, even though I've been obliged to use these terms in a limited way because we have yet to invent a language that expresses the features of a rational society. Nor is it a society that can be brought into existence by turning on a light switch. It's a rich idea, one that flows out of history itself. And fulfilling it will require dedication. It requires commitment, idealism, and rationality.I can say this much: I completely agree with Marx that capitalism is a system that must necessarily tear down this society by virtue of its guiding principle of production for the sake of production, growth for the sake of growth. Libertarian municipalism must not be compromised with reformist or lesser-evil notions, like creating another third party or engaging in "independent politics" within the framework of the Nation-State. Every compromise, especially a politics based on lesser evils, invariably leads to the greatest evils. It was through a series of lesser evils, the ones presented to Germans during the Weimar Republic, that Hitler came to power. Hindenburg, the last and least of all the evils, who was elected president in 1932, proceeded to appoint Hitler chancellor in 1933, bringing fascism to Germany, while the Social Democrats kept voting for one lesser evil after another until they got the worst of evils.One has only to look at Statecraft today for more examples. In the United States, a President Bush or Dole would have had far more difficulty in dismantling the welfare system than did the "lesser evil" Bill Clinton. All the potential opposition that might have risen up to block that vicious act, even to protest against it, was politically blotted up by Clinton, whom liberals had long considered the "lesser evil" to a Republican president. So "lesser-evilism" has clearly become a formula for capitulation.I don't know if such a social structure as I've tried to describe will come into being. It might not. I'm writing an essay on ethics now, and the opening line is: "Humanity is too intelligent not to live in a rational society. It remains to be seen whether it is intelligent enough to achieve one." I can only count on the emergence, sooner or later, of enough people who have the character, the insight, and the idealism, as people have long had on the left, to carry through this approach. But if such a movement does not emerge, one thing can be said with absolute certainty: Capitalism is not simply going to produce economic injustices. Given its law of accumulation, its grow-or-die imperative that sterns from com- petition in the marketplace itself, it will definitely tear down social life. There can be no compromise with this social order.