Monday, 23 November 2020

An Eco-anarchist Revolutionary Strategy

Written by Ted Trainer and Hans Baer and first published at massive

It is with respect to means, or transition strategy, that ecosocialism and my version of ecoanarchism differ most. This is because the kind of society that I argue must replace capitalism differs markedly from that which socialists commonly envisage.

Our previous piece sketched the argument that, in view of the grossly unsustainable state of industrial-affluent-consumer-capitalist society, the revolutionary goal must be a basic social form focused on small scale, highly self-sufficient and self-governing, collectivist and zero-growth communities. They have to be driven by need not profit, and have to abandon a culture focused on individualism, competition and acquisitiveness.

The Simpler Way, and then converting or forcing uncomprehending masses to it. This is hardly worth discussion.

The second path would be via the election to government of a party which had a Simpler Way platform. But that could not happen unless the cultural revolution for a Simpler Way had previously been achieved! If/when it had, changing structures would be a relatively easy consequence of the real revolution. So there’s your focal task here and now, that is, establishing the required worldview, not trying to take state power.

Peter Kropotkin, Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi realized that culture trumps economics and politics. They saw the ultimate revolutionary goal as largely autonomous citizen-run village communities, and these cannot come into existence or function satisfactorily unless their members come to have the required vision, values and dispositions.

Standing Marx on his head

Thus, in a sense, Marx must be stood on his head; the necessary superstructures must be based on a cultural substructure of the right ideas and values. Especially given the current sustainability crisis, the change in ideas and values required for a good society cannot be left until well after the seizure of state power (Marx assumed they could be.) Socialists have the order of revolutionary events around the wrong way.

Important here is the strong case for believing that capitalism is well down the path to self-destruction. The coming disintegration will make it clear that the system will no longer provide for us, and that people will (have to) come across to the emerging local collectivism.

Thus, there is a head-on contradiction here regarding basic strategy. In past revolutions the solution was theoretically simple; take power from the ruling class and then turn up the throttles in the factories to provide more abundance for all.

But now that cannot be the solution. It must be to establish a society with a far smaller gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, without growth, affluence, centralisation, globalisation and, above all, a society driven by radically new ideas, values and dispositions.

Getting this utterly foreign culture sufficiently established is the primary revolutionary task. If and when that’s done, getting rid of what’s left of capitalism will probably be easy and non-violent.

Socialist transition efforts typically go into calling for state-level policy change, such as nationalising key industries, but they do not involve shifting to far simpler localized lifestyles and systems. More importantly, they do not recognize that nothing of much significance can be achieved unless we first bring about widespread and profound change in ideas and values.


What then is to be done? It is to, as anarchists say, prefigure — that is, to focus scarce energies on building aspects of the required alternative here and now.

Socialists usually misunderstand the point of this. It is not based on the assumption that if we just go on adding a community garden here and a poultry co-op there, in time we will have replaced the existing system.

The point of prefiguring is educational: it is to develop illustrative examples of aspects of the new society, and to use these as bases for undermining capitalist ideology. The best way to undermine it is not to fight it head on, but to get people to see: a) that it will not provide for us; and b) how good the ecoanarchist alternative to it could be.

There is now rapidly increasing adoption of this “turning away” and “ignoring capitalism to death” perspective, that is evident among the Zapatistas in Mexico, the Rojavan Kurds, the Transition Towns movement, the global ecovillage network and the 200-million strong campesino movement.

Possibly the most impressive is the Catalan Integral Cooperative, which now involves thousands in building alternative systems, emphatically rejecting having anything to do with the market or the state.

If these initiatives spread they will begin to pressure the existing state apparatus to focus on enabling the towns and suburbs to thrive and will, in time, increasingly push the state aside and transfer more functions into the anarchist political sphere in which federations, delegates and conferences work out proposals to be taken back down to the participatory town assemblies for decision. This would be a process of gradually taking state power.


  1. Well, that never worked, didn't ? Capitalist backed States will never just wither away in a puff of smoke. Bakunin's 1840s ideas have cost millions of lives - 1936 Spanish Civil War - and disillusioned million more young activists from May 68 to Occupy and now EX. And by the way,let's get the facts right: "What is to be done" was Lenin's manifesto upon which the Bolshevik revolutionary party was built.

    1. Yes, it is a Lenin quote, but does that matter? I don't think the vanguard worked either, how many lives did Stalin take?

    2. You missed the point. I was not supporting neither Lenin nor Stalin. Just pointing out "What is to done" was written by Lenin and the fact that Bakunin's anarchism never worked because it deliberately pretends that the State can be ignored and thus mislead its supporters up to nowhere, or worse. The State - capitalist backed or communist - will no wither away and neither can any " vanguard" of the working class overthrow it.

  2. Thank you for publishing this spot-on article by Ted and Hans.

    The following paragraph expresses the only viable path to replacing the existing dominant socio-economic system with an ecoanarchist alternative:

    "The point of prefiguring is educational: it is to develop illustrative examples of aspects of the new society, and to use these as bases for undermining capitalist ideology. The best way to undermine it is not to fight it head on, but to get people to see: a) that it will not provide for us; and b) how good the ecoanarchist alternative to it could be."

    1. Perhaps you could start by convincing me, a British socialist who cannot imagine that living in a village, growing my own food and weaving my own clothes would be an improvement on how I live now.

  3. The link to "massive" at the attribution line does not work.

  4. The "grossly unsustainable state of industrial-affluent-consumer-capitalist society" has driven the rise in human population to its current level. I don't believe that "small scale, highly self-sufficient and self-governing, collectivist and zero-growth communities" would be any more sustainable. They would need a lot more land, to start with. Bear in mind that, since agriculture was invented, humanity has struggled to feed itself, periodic and massive famines causing mass deaths. They are a feature of the Old Testament's account of Joseph in Egypt.

    It's only very recently that such famines have disappeared, food shortages being these days a consequence mainly of deliberate acts such as armed conflict or blockades for political reasons. I can't see a simple means for us to escape the trap we've fallen into. Organic, small-scale, regenerative agricultural methods cannot feed the population, especially with competition from the increasing use of land for renewable energy production. I'd like to see some more informed discussion on what is the most pressing problem of our lives.

  5. What is to prevent the state apparatus from using force or economic coercion against these small scale collectivist towns that would "ignore capitalism to death" during those transitional and educational phases? I can see how it may be viable to fight on the front of culture rather than systemic policy or economic policy, but I can just as easily see then stamped out by those with the levers of power. What would be a good way to safeguard or ensure that those transitions of the cultural fabric away from consumerism and acquisitivism happen unmolested?

  6. The solution which brings both Marxists and anarchists together is "all power to the workers councils" This was the opening shot of the 1917 revolution but quickly failed due to the isolation of the revolution. It is not a case of tiny autonomous communities but proletarian unity, with genuine proletarian democracy (instantly recallable delegates being key). The proletarian dictatorship cannot be a party dictatorship. This was the outcome of the failure of the revolution, not its fruition.