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Reply to Indrajit Samarajiva on the need for an «eco-maoist supervillain»

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In aliis linguis

(Reply to recent post by Indrajit Samarajiva, “Only a supervillain could stop Climate Change“.)

I think your view of the situation is pretty accurate. Most people have little idea how serious it is. But I have a different view of the way we might get through to a satisfactory world, although I think the chances are not at all good. Here’s an indication of my case, detailed in The Simpler Way transition theory.

As you realise, we are into a slide to a mega-collapse, as capitalism self-destructs. It might be the end of civilisation and of a few billion lives. Nothing can be done to stop this, primarily because very few officials, governments, economists, intellectuals or ordinary people understand that the situation is due to a), as you say, having exceeded the limits to growth, and b) the contradictions in capitalism grinding to their inevitable conclusion. There is rapidly increasing discontent with the system now, confused and generating phenomena like Trump and fascism, but also involving a remarkable surge in desire for and establishment of alternative local systems, most evident in the degrowth movement. It’s now a race to see whether these come on fast enough to be sufficiently established before the time the time of great troubles impacts too heavily. There are good reasons to think that these forces will indeed become strong enough in time, enabling enough people and communities to establish enough alternative ways to able to build a sane world when the dust clears.

No good thinking in terms of the coming of a super-Maoist-villain …mainly because that is centralist thinking. It’s the mistake the socialists make, that is thinking that solutions can only come from the leadership at the top and therefore we must fight capitalism to take control of the stare off the ruling class, and then we can make the necessary changes. In all previous revolutions that might have been the case, but not in this one… because of the exceeding of the limits to growth.

The rate of consumption of resources and ecological impact can only be got right down to sustainable levels if most people live in small, highly self-sufficient and self-governing cooperative communities, in which conscientious citizens are content to live very frugally and concern themselves with life goals other than affluence, property, competition and economic growth.

My study of egg supply illustrates this; we found that the dollar and energy cost of a supermarket egg were about 100 times those of an egg from a backyard or village co-op… while enabling all nutrients to be recycled to nearby gardens, thus eliminating the need for a fertilizer industry, and eliminating the need for a sewer system. Similar huge savings would be associated with many other products and inputs e.g., elimination of most need for transport, marketing, warehouses, ships, computers, professionals bureaucracies…

As the time of troubles closes in communities will move in this direction… because they will realise that they must if they are to survive. They will be forced to do so, as states become increasingly incapable of providing for them. Literally millions of people are doing this now mainly in movements in poorer countries such as Ubuntu, Zapatista Campesino, Kurdish movements, and in the richer countries within ecovillage and transition towns movements.

Centralised governments cannot do it; they cannot organise the formation of such communities, mainly because the capitalist class, and all the others, would see such an intention as madness. Significant degrowth means cutting the amount of production and consumption and investment opportunities and factories right down, and the capitalist class will not tolerate that. What are you going to do with the displaced workers? This is the unrecognised degrowth conundrum. And centralised governments cannot possibly make the right decisions in very large numbers of tiny communities. Thus the general socialist vision is quite mistaken; the solution cannot take a centralised form. The solution is classical anarchism, self-governing participatory democracy.

There will still be a role for a state, but it will be tiny with little to do, and with no power, because decisions will be made at the town assembly level. But these state-level changes will only be achieved very late in the revolution as communities gain strength and take functions away from the centre. Socialists and most degrowthers mistakenly think that change at the state level can come early, and then will enable change to be implemented down through society. But this can only be a bottom-up revolution.

The only agent that can save us is not a super-hero or villain, it is the ordinary concerned and thoughtful citizen who has come to see that a) fundamental change is needed and b) it must be to some kind of Simpler Way. It is not obvious that we cannot generate a sufficient number of these to enable the great transition. Our task is simply to work as hard as possible to raise awareness of this Simpler Way perspective. It is a waste of time badgering or pleading with government to make such changes, or trying to take state power. Nothing can be achieved unless there is astronomical change in awareness and values.

Thus strategy also has to be anarchist. It is to prefigure, that is to focus on building now some of the alternatives we want to see in post-revolutionary society… as distinct from trying to take state power by force or by elections. The point of prefiguring is not to build a good society by gradually replacing existing structures and ways, it is to raise awareness, to educate. The community garden for instance is a great device for helping visitors to understand the issues and to see the sense of the new vision. But that will not happen unless the garden and similar ventures are primarily designed and operated as educational devices. Unfortunately at present few of them are.

I think the revolution is going remarkably well. It is rather chaotic and confused, and it might fail, but I’ve been involved in it for fifty years and I can see that we have come a very long way. Large numbers are fed up with capitalism and very large numbers realise the general form that the alternative has to take. What is to be done is obvious; increase the numbers.

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