Building the new in the shell of the old

The Sandinista revolution thirty years ago may well have been the last of its kind. The revolutions that have mattered since have been less interested in seizing and becoming the state than circumventing it to go straight to becoming other people doing other things without state permission.

Rebecca Solnit, in The Nation, says the Revolution has already occured, giving examples:

“In the United States the most obvious realm in which this has transpired is food and farming. Organic, urban, community-assisted and guerrilla agriculture are still small parts of the picture, but effective ones–a revolt against what transnational corporate food and capitalism generally produce. This revolt is taking place in the vast open space of Detroit, in the inner-city farms of West Oakland, in the victory gardens and public-housing of Alemany Farm in San Francisco, in Growing Power in Milwaukee and many other places around the country. These are blows against alienation, poor health, hunger and other woes fought with shovels and seeds, not guns. At its best, tending one’s garden leads to tending one’s community and policy, and ultimately becomes a way of entering the public sphere rather than withdrawing from it.

“Do we have a plan, people?” Ehrenreich and Fletcher ask. We have thousands of them, being carried out quite spectacularly over the past few decades, for gardens and childcare co-ops and bicycle lanes and farmers’ markets and countless ways of doing things differently and better. The underlying vision is neither state socialist nor corporate capitalist, but something humane, local and accountable–anarchist, basically, as in direct democracy.

The revolution exists in little bits everywhere, but not much has been done to connect its dots. We need to say that there are alternatives being realized all around us and theorize the underlying ideals and possibilities. But we need to start from the confidence that the revolution has been with us for a while and is succeeding in bits and pieces. Enlarged and clarified, it could answer a lot of the urgent needs the depression brings.

If anarchists and neoliberals had one thing in common, it was an interest in shrinking the state that socialists hoped would solve things. Right now nothing but that state exists on a scale to drag us back out of what the corporations and international markets dragged us into, but one of the questions for the long term is about scale. Small isn’t always beautiful, but big beyond accountability or comprehension got crazy as well as ugly.”

4 Comments Building the new in the shell of the old

  1. AvatarEronarn

    Utterly insipid commentary. With the prospect of ecological collapse brought on by agriculture’s excesses something we may face within our lifetimes, this counts as a revolution? What kind of revolution takes “the past few decades” to amount to a niche hobby and a collection of buzzwords equally seized by industry?

  2. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    I agree that something is missing in the story told in this way. And that story is in my view that the myriad new forms of self-organization do actually point to a new system of organizing the world, provided it is seen in conjunction with the emergence of peer production.

  3. Kevin CarsonKevin Carson

    Another thing missing from the story is that “the past few decades” have been the last hurrah of an economic model based on extensive addition of government-subsidized inputs, and of government as the outlet of last resort for surplus capital and output.

    These forms of counter-organization have been relegated to niche hobbies because they’ve been competing with an artificially subsidized system. Peak Oil, the fiscal crisis of the state, the culmination of the crises of overinvestment and underconsumption, the growing crisis of realization in the immaterial realm–all these things mean the handwriting is on the wall for that system. The “niche hobbies” are the building blocks of the new system, much like the rural villas (sixth century “resilient communities”) were the building block of the successor system when the Roman Empire collapsed in the West.

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