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‘Post-Scarcity Anarchism’ (1971)

Murray Bookchin foresaw the rise of consumerism, and the changing dialogue in society towards a politics of ‘post-scarcity’. ‘Post-Scarcity Anarchism’ is an anthology of Bookchin’s essays around this theme.

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Topped by a statue of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, what remains of Banbury’s Corn Exchange stands as a reminder of the power of Britain's landed elite; who made money by rationing the supply of grain under the Corn Laws.

Front cover of the AK Press edition of ‘Post-Scarcity Anarchism’

‘Post-Scarcity Anarchism’ series:

‘Post Scarcity Anarchism ’, First Edition, 1971. ISBN 9780878670055.

‘Post-Scarcity Anarchism’, The Anarchist Library, 1986 Edition. Free/open copy!

‘Post-Scarcity Anarchism’, AK Press, 2004 Edition. ISBN 9781904859062.

Today, the site of the Corn Exchange is a shopping centre. Inside the shops also seek to extract cash by rationing; except today that isn’t the physical rationing of essential goods. It is based on the marketing of goods psychologically-rendered in short supply by fast fashion, planned obsolescence, and brand identification.

Someone who foresaw this change, and its implication for radical movements, was Murray Bookchin. Bookchin foresaw how consumerism was changing the dialogue in society towards a politics of ‘post-scarcity’.

‘Post-Scarcity Anarchism’ is an anthology of Bookchin’s essays. This print version was produced in 2004 by AK Press; but like all the best anarchist publishers, it’s available for free on-line.

Why then have a paper copy? What if The Internet stopped working; or deliberately blocked Bookchin’s works as ‘subversive’? That contradiction – a monetarily ‘free’ Internet, that is not ‘free’ politically or socially due to its technological nature – represents the heights of what Bookchin talked about:

“A century ago, scarcity had to be endured; today, it has to be enforced – hence the importance of the state in the present era... the social dialectic and the contradictions of capitalism have expanded from the economic to the hierarchical realms of society... from the arena of survival to the arena of life. The dialectic of bureaucratic state capitalism originates in the contradiction between the repressive character of commodity society and the enormous potential freedom opened by technological advance.”

Just as the Feudal state prevented people leaving the parish, and the industrial state tried to repress political organising, today the Internet exists within the contradiction that isolated communication does not create human identification or organisation.

As Bookchin says in the next essay, ‘Ecology and Revolutionary Thought’:

“The notion that man must dominate nature emerges directly from the domination of man by man... But it was not until organic community relations, feudal or peasant in form, dissolved into market relationships that the planet itself was reduced to a resource for exploitation. This centuries-long tendency finds its most exacerbating development in modern capitalism. Owing to its inherently competitive nature, bourgeois society not only pits humans against each other, it also pits the mass of humanity against the natural world. Just as men are converted into commodities, so every aspect of nature is converted into a commodity, a resource to be manufactured and merchandised wantonly. The liberal euphemisms for the processes involved are ‘growth’, ‘industrial society’ and ‘urban blight.’ By whatever language they are described, the phenomena have their roots in the domination of man by man.”

That issue is extended further in the essay, ‘Towards a Liberatory Technology’:

“ is transformed into a force above man, orchestrating his life according to a score contrived by an industrial bureaucracy; not men, I repeat, but a bureaucracy, a social machine... When he becomes an extension of a machine, man ceases to exist for his own sake. Society is ruled by the harsh maxim: ‘production for the sake of production.’ The decline from craftsman to worker, from an active to an increasingly passive personality, is completed by man qua consumer – an economic entity whose tastes, values, thoughts and sensibilities are engineered by bureaucratic ‘teams’ in ‘think tanks’. Man, standardized by machines, is reduced to a machine. Man-the-machine is the bureaucratic ideal.”

One of Bookchin’s most famous essays is ‘Listen Marxist!’. I feel it’s so relevant now, but needs applying to ‘liberals’ too.

As the riches promised to the denizens of liberal consumer society are threatened by climate change, or the breakdown of economic control, a militant ‘extreme centrism’ is emerging that – from environmentalism to gender politics – tries to preserve those entitlements against inevitable systemic collapse. ‘Radical left’ or ‘extreme centre’, doesn’t matter; it is their disconnection from reality, trying to preserve the very system that binds them, that subverts the possibility of change:

“The worker becomes a revolutionary not by becoming more of a worker but by undoing his ‘workerness’. And in this he is not alone; the same applies to the farmer, the student, the clerk, the soldier, the bureaucrat, the professional – and the Marxist. The worker is no less a ‘bourgeois’ than the farmer, student, clerk, soldier, bureaucrat, professional – and Marxist. His ‘workerness’ is the disease he is suffering from, the social affliction telescoped to individual dimensions.”

As Bookchin says I the final essay, ‘Desire and Need’:

“When the entire institutional fabric becomes unstable, when everyone lacks a sense of destiny, be it in job or social affiliations, the lumpen periphery of society tends to become its centre and the ‘déclassés’ [the degraded/decommissioned] begin to chart out the most advanced forms of social and personal consciousness.”

Drawing of Murray Bookchin

We can’t make effective change if that is just a nicer, reformed version of our current enslavement to the technological consuming state. We have to see beyond that, to our ecological foundations as a species, amongst many other species on the Earth, and heal the rift with nature that is destroying the world around us.

Only in that freedom as ecological beings, living within nature, and organising communally together to secure our basic needs, can we liberate ourselves from the destructive power of exploitation. This is why, since his death in 2006, Bookchin’s words are inspiring a new ‘post-Marxist’/‘post-Capitalist’ generation, “to begin to chart out the most advanced forms of social and personal consciousness.”