“If the periodic stress on strong
central institutions - in tension with the emphasis on
decentralization elsewhere - is removed, then what Naess does begin to outline of
Deep Ecological social arrangements is anarchistic in character.”
Richard Sylvan and David Bennett
The Greening of Ethics: From Human
Chauvinism to Deep-Green Theory (1)
Activists sympathetic to anarchism associate this perspective with concepts and ideas like
the personal freedom to live your own life; direct action; support for the good but not the
comfortable life; hostility to the state and to taking part in the electoral process; hostility to
large centralized organizations; mutual aid and free co-operation through voluntary communal
organizations; social reforms before political reforms; decentralization and some form of
bioregional confederation controlled by and accountable to a citizen base; hostility to
“property” and support for distribution of wealth according to need; a belief that humans are
social and tend naturally towards ‘goodness’ and that governments negate this; support for
the organizational principle that “nothing should be done at a higher level than can be done
at a lower level;” etc. However attractive, these are all social, not ecological, ideas and belief
in them illustrates criticism of the social dysfunctionality of industrial capitalist society and
contemporary civilization. How humans interact with the Earth is both a social and an
ecological question. (I would also say that many of the listed ideas are common to both
radical supporters of deep ecology and of social ecology.) Those with an ecological
understanding see that this same dysfunctional society has led most humans from being
part of Nature, as in animistic societies, to the belief of many that our species is no longer
part of it.
Questions arise as to whether
‘anarchist’ ideas reflect in some way the biological/natural/
universal world out there, and whether these ideas are useful to activists, in their fight
against the industrial mega machine, and for an ecological, organizational, and political
alternative to this Earth-consuming industrial society.
This essay is an examination
of the interrelation of anarchism and ecocentrism. It was
precipitated in part by reading the article “Ecocentric Anarchy” by Daktari, in the 20th
Anniversary Edition of the Earth First! Journal. (2) The article by Daktari concluded by
stating, “For all the internal stress it can bring, eco-anarchy is EF!’s greatest strength
and the best hope for a future ecotopian society.” I felt this article, marking 20 years of
Earth First!, was laying out an apparently uncontested philosophical future, previously
represented in more fragmentary form in past articles. But rather than taking this for granted,
the fundamental question which this essay attempts to address is whether or not anti-
industrial activists who try to follow deep ecology can or should also be raising the anarchist
The deeper green movement builds
on a history of thinkers that have gone before. Of the
major published deep ecology theorists/philosophers that I am aware of, only one, the late
Australian Richard Sylvan (1935-1996), a brilliant and iconoclastic critic, “bad boy” of the
deep ecology philosophical community and advocate of “Deep Green” theory, identified
publicly with anarchism. (3) Sylvan was also associated editorially with the journal
Others, such as the German green philosopher Rudolf
Bahro, called for the setting up of a
network of spiritually-inspired communes as Liberated Zones, as an alternative to the
industrial mega machine. Bahro’s vision was extra-parliamentary, that is, Greens should
focus their organizing outside of parliament. He was called an “ecoanarchist theorist” by
Robyn Eckersley, a green writer and deep ecologist. (4) But Bahro himself, in his last
major book Avoiding Social & Ecological Disaster, did not discuss anarchism except to
say “totalitarianism and anarchism have been far too intimately interwoven with each other.”
He also wrote, of “individualism extreme to the degree of anarchism.” (5)
The late Earth First! organizer
Judi Bari, towards the end of her too short life, was
actively developing a left theoretical position based in deep ecology. She was critical of
right-wing tendencies within this philosophy, but also influenced by Marxism and expressed
support for anarcho-syndicalism (the Wobblies) and ecofeminism. (6)
Robyn Eckersley, in her 1992
book Environmentalism And Political Theory:
Toward An Ecocentric Approach, extensively discussed ecoanarchism, including the
hierarchy-focussed social ecology of Murray Bookchin. (She ultimately comes out against
ecoanarchist political forms of organization as a primary focus and upholds the role of what
is called the “enabling State.”)
A number of other writers who
have influenced green and environmental thinking have
been linked to anarchism, e.g. Ed Abbey, E. F. Schumacher, Kirkpatrick Sale and
Christopher Manes. Some of the members of the internet discussion group “left bio” are
also supporters of anarchism.
While the relationship between
ecoanarchism and ecocentrism/biocentrism has only
recently become a major concern for myself, this has not been true for others within the
deep ecology movement. Sylvan, in the book he wrote with David Bennett, The Greening
of Ethics: From Human Chauvinism to Deep-Green Theory makes the point: “none
of non-violence, pacifism, and organized anarchism are compulsory fare for
supporters of deep-green theory.” (7)
To call for activists, and for
the public, to rally to the black flag of anarchy, and not
to the deep green or some other flag, is a major ecological, political, economic, and
social statement. It is not something to be undertaken lightly. After all, we are saying that
this is the way forward for all of us, against Earth destruction and for a socially just
society, which deals with the complexities of life today.
Deep ecology provides us with
a non-human-centred philosophical relationship to the
natural world. This is an interdependence of humans with other life forms, on a basis of
equality, with all of Nature - humans are not set apart from Nature. According to deep
ecology, the further people are removed from Nature, the more that humans value
themselves, the more Nature is devalued and/or treated as nothing but a commodity.
Deep ecology says that through a fundamental revolution in consciousness, we can change
existing human relationships of attempted dominance over the natural environment. This
is deep ecology’s profound and unique contribution to our time. But the most appropriate
social, political, cultural, and economic relationships for such a world are yet to be
determined. (There is a spectrum of social and political positions within deep ecology!)
While the reality of a deteriorating
ecology will ultimately force all of us to accept an
Earth-centred value structure, is a belief in anarchism part of the way forward? Is the black
flag the future? The answer given to these questions will steer activists towards certain
political priorities, such as, for example, attempting to use or to boycott the State. A public
discussion on this question is needed within the radical environmental, green, and alternative
Role of the State
For socialists influenced by Marx, capitalism is the main enemy. As Marx and Engels said
in the Communist Manifesto: “The executive of the modern State is but a committee for
managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” Proudhon, who has been described
as the first man to call himself an anarchist, was said by Marx and Engels in the Communist
Manifesto to represent “conservative” or “bourgeois socialism.”
Engels did speak of a future
time, after the dictatorship of the proletariat, when the State
would “wither away”. As the history of the Soviet Union and other ‘actually existing’
communist countries showed, this withering became replaced by a state socialism - actually
a strengthening of the State, personally oppressive and all-encompassing. Lenin, at an early
point of the Bolshevik revolution, advanced what could be an anarchist slogan, “All Power
to the Soviets.” Soon afterwards, direct control by workers was replaced by State control.
The reasons for this are still disputed within the Left.
For anarchists, a defining characteristic
is that the main enemy is the coercive State. For
anarchists, the State equals war and you cannot have one without the other. An anarchist
theory of history would therefore make the State, with its own autonomy, the prime vehicle
of overall social change, not Capital. But this does not mean we can “use” the State from
an anarchist viewpoint. As Alan Carter shows in his 1999 book A Radical Green Political
Theory, States use their powers for the purposes of their own survival. In the process, they
“bear responsibility for the oppression and exploitation of the world’s poor and the
environmental degradation that accompanies this.” (8) The survival interests of the State may
be at variance with the interests of the bourgeois class. Interests such as increasing taxation
revenues (tied to growth economies and increasing supplies of consumer goods, growing
populations, strong militaries, and the personal lifestyle interests of the state regulatory and
political elites, etc.) all go against deep green sustainability.
Both Marxist and anarchist views
(and the utopian socialist ideas of people like William
Morris and Robert Owen) have aspects of the truth, although anarchist views on the State
are much less well known. Left biocentrism as a theoretical tendency sees industrialism, not
Capital or the State, as defining for our time. But both Marxist and anarchist views are
needed for a relevant and contemporary theoretical fusion, although ecoanarchism is much
closer in spirit to ecocentrism than ecomarxism or ecosocialism. (Anarchism is bottom-up
Today, in countries with extremely
destructive ecological footprints, like the United States,
Canada and Western Europe, it is not the State which seems to be the main oppressor for the
citizens, but business and capitalism, through “development” and the all-pervasive promotion
of consumerism which permeates formerly public spaces and the delivery of information. Such
a State seems headed for eventual dissolution, because it is incapable of effectively responding
to the pending ecological collapse, due to the entrenched power of business interests.
Capitalism exploits people,
both as producers and increasingly as consumers. The State in
fact becomes an extension of business and, moreover, defines and defends property rights.
Business comes to control the society and the life of citizens, and not, as it should be, society
determining economic activity. (9) For the citizen, no television program can be watched, or
newspaper read, which is not accompanied by the promotion of unwanted consumer goods
and services. However, at times defined as national emergencies, (10) the power of the State
can still become all-encompassing for the citizen, and devastating environmentally on “target”
countries, as in the Gulf War and more recently in Kosovo. Yet within this outlined paradigm
in national States, ecocentric and social justice activists, even of anarchist persuasion, seek to
use the State in a social democratic interventionist sense, as a curb against business and
so-called market forces. How can an anarchist philosophy reconcile all this?
How also, for anarchist-driven
organizing, can one reconcile the concept of “small is
beautiful” with the need for deep green interventions on global environmental issues, and for
taking on the transnational corporations? As many environmental activists can attest, “small”
as in local, may not be “beautiful” but reactionary. How also can one reconcile the traditional
anarchist anti-State focus with the anti-globalization struggle, where surely the main target is
a ‘Marxist’ one - Capital? As we have seen in the recent past, free trade facilitating
mechanisms like the NAFTA Tribunal, rule in favour of corporations, that is, Capital - not
national governments. We can see that it is transnational corporations - Capital - who are
the main enemy, not national governments.
Yet, as one anarchist left bio
“Capital would not have had the needed spaces without the blessing of the State. The
state laws are paving the way for transnational capital, bypassing the people’s control.
The corrupted governmental structures bear the main responsibility for the anti-
ecological and anti-social activities of corporations.”
Anarchy means some type of stateless society, that is, a society without government, or
at least extremely limited government. Anarchy is not a justification for self-centredness. There
are many anarchisms, compatible with quite a variety of political arrangements. They span a
range, in economic terms, from capitalism or full privatization to some form of communism or
socialism, that is, no private ownership. Most anarchists are concerned with economic
equalization and social justice, not the private accumulation of wealth. Anarchism can stress
individualism, collectivism, or points in between. Forms of anarchism need not be democratic.
Majority decisions are not accepted by anarchists. Anarcho-syndicalism, that is, anarchist
trade unions (e.g. the Wobblies), seems to imply a commitment to industrial society. Yet
many anarchist writers have developed a critique of industrial civilization. Generally, anarchists
are on the left in the political spectrum.
Anarchism brings considerably
historical anti-communist baggage with it - from the 19th
century within the emerging left working class revolutionary forces, and from the Russian
Revolution and the Spanish Civil War, even if many front line activists who now declare
themselves as “anarchists” seem unaware of this. I do not accept the position of some
anarchist contemporary theoretical spokespersons, that there is nothing positive about
Marxism or communism. I am often struck by mindless anti-communism, really part of a
United States Cold War culture, in some social ecology, anarchist, and Earth First!
Anarchists can potentially be
part of a pluralistic left biocentric constituency, providing
they are committed to deep ecology. The key factor, to be classified as “anarchistic”, seems
to be the exclusion of coercive elements. The Canadian anarchist George Woodcock argued
that contemporary anarchists, rather than seeking revolutionary upheaval, “tend to be
concerned far more with trying to create, in society as it is the infrastructure of a
better and freer society.” (11)
This is how Richard Sylvan outlined
some of the varieties of anarchism:
“There are several recognized varieties of anarchism, among them: individualistic
anarchisms, anarcho-capitalisms, anarcho-communisms, mutualisms, anarcho-
syndicalisms, libertarian socialisms, social anarchisms, and now eco-anarchisms.
These varieties are not particularly well-characterised. They are by no means at all
mutually exclusive. So far even a satisfactory classification is lacking.” (12)
As Sylvan has noted, European
anarchisms are generally “socially oriented” whereas
US anarchisms are “typically highly individualistic.” (13) It would seem that a deep green
society, because of its stress on working within a binding set of limiting core beliefs (14),
must be hostile to an anarchism that stresses individualism.
Well known historical anarchist thinkers such as Kropotkin, Bakunin and Proudhon, like
Marx, Engels and Lenin, shared a human-centred view of material progress as both inevitable
and desirable. Kropotkin, a geographer and naturalist, was very ecologically aware and
perhaps the exception here. He was a scientist and conducted biotic surveys within Russia.
As he said: “Gradually the sense of man’s oneness with nature, both animate and
inanimate - the poetry of nature - became the philosophy of my life.” (15) An important
issue raised by Kropotkin, was that anarchist organizational forms should mimic what he saw
as the fundamental co-operation within a species, in opposition to a Darwinian struggle for
As one member of the Left Bio
discussion group commented, regarding Kropotkin’s
book Mutual Aid:
“The premise is that the most sociable and cooperative species tend to survive and
multiply better. I believe this book is considered one of the foundations of anarchistic
thought, since without restraints on freedom organisms will tend towards sociable,
cooperative behaviour, to optimize survival. As a belief system this might provide a
kind of organic democracy and a shared willingness to respect, empathize and
accommodate other humans and other species.” (16)
The Russian-American anarchist
Emma Goldman called the magazine she founded in the
USA, Mother Earth. She considered Thoreau the “precursor of anarchism in the United
States.” (17) Her autobiography, while personally inspiring, is however not particularly
Contrary to anarchist thinking,
there cannot be very definite lessons drawn from Nature,
in how humans should organize themselves. Partly, this is because of the inference routinely
made from projecting human societies onto Nature, e.g. competition or cooperation. And
partly, this is because most humans lack both the knowledge and wisdom to understand fully
the organization of the natural world, and to draw the appropriate lessons for ourselves. (It
has been argued that competition ‘fits’ capitalism, and cooperation ‘fits’ socialism/
communism/anarchism.) All of us can, however, see how to minimize human impacts, and
here deep ecology and social ecology can both contribute.
Alan Carter, who has recently
outlined a theoretically sophisticated, anarchist-inspired
critique of the State, defines radical green theory in a manner which is quite anthropocentric,
excluding other species, the Earth itself, and needed reductions in human populations:
“...the various aspects of radical green political theory - decentralization, participatory
democracy, egalitarianism, self-sufficiency, alternative technology, pacifism and
These kinds of social and organizational
arrangements seem people-friendly, and can be
supported from a social justice perspective. Carter argues in his book for a green anarcho-
communist society. He also considers future generations, that we have a responsibility to
those who come after us. (We cannot have a genuine human democracy in a particular
country, if the country’s standard of living rests on the exploitation of other countries.)
Compared to Marxism, in these areas anarchism has much to contribute. However, such
arrangements totally ignore the rest of non-human life - Earth’s great diversity of organisms,
and the Earth itself.
The Earth and its non-human
inhabitants do not have “standing” under anthropocentric
law. Human decision-making, democracy, etc., must be set in the context of the Earth and
its continuity. These interests, to which humans must be subordinate, have to have dominant
representation in any human social arrangements. Democracy must be Earth-centred and
people-centred. Humans must live within sustainable means, where “sustainable” includes the
interests of all other species. The overall and ultimate ethical community then, is not the human
community, but the ecological community. Anarchism and anarchist thinking does not seem to
address this. Carter for example, speaks of the speciesism of human society. Because of this,
he considers it “dubious” to defend other than human persons. He also comments, “a concern
for future humans seems to imply the preservation of as many species as possible.” (19)
A recent discussion took place
on the internet group Left Bio about what “democracy”
means in an ecocentric and socially just society: One suggestion was that,
“In any public discussion (among humans, of course) of the definition, theory or
practice of biocentric/ecocentric ethics (including discussion of a left bio definition
of democracy) human beings would need to be appointed/delegated to speak for
the larger functioning whole and its parts (in addition to those speaking for
Present day reality is that no politician speaks for the Earth.
Social Ecology, Anarchism and Deep Ecology
Many movement activists, both in the radical environmental movement and in the social
justice and anti-globalization movements, now seem to declare themselves to be anarchists.
Social ecology also raises the anarchist banner, even though in the mid-eighties its founder
Murray Bookchin (and also George Bradford of the anarchist newspaper Fifth Estate),
bitterly attacked deep ecology (21), which most Earth Firsters support. Bookchin, despite
his important theoretical contributions, has become a symbol of intolerance. (More recent
published writings of Bradford, seem to indicate some rapprochement with deep ecology.
Other social ecology theorists critical of Bookchin, like John Clarke, also seem close in spirit
to deep ecology.)
Bookchin, who is the dominant
social ecology theorist, believes that an anarchist society is
a “precondition” for a society based on ecological principles. This view is itself derived from a
more fundamental position of Bookchin that: “...the very concept of dominating nature stems
from the domination of human by human...” (22) For deep ecology supporters however,
humans do not have an ontological privileged status as evolutionary stewards. They are not,
as Bookchin claims, “nature rendered self-conscious.” (23) The social ecology bottom line
implies that ultimately social issues come first. As Robyn Eckersley points out, some
hierarchical societies, such as feudalism, some monastic communities, and some preliterate
societies, lived in relative harmony with the natural world. Also, as the Left Biocentrism
Primer notes, the ecological crisis cannot claim social hierarchy as its ultimate cause: “Left
biocentrism believes that an egalitarian, non-sexist, non-discriminating society, a
highly desirable goal, can still be exploitive towards the Earth.” (24)
Some Other Considerations
Unlike Marxism, anarchism does not seem to have an agreed-upon theoretical doctrine,
but only loosely clustered ideas. (Murray Bookchin has developed an extensively theoretical
position, which draws from anarchist ideas.) Yet although human-centred, organizationally
and from a lifestyle perspective, many anarchist ideas seem to have contemporary relevance
to many ecocentric and social justice activists. One can also find examples of historical and
more contemporary anarchists giving positions contradicting each other, such as: about taking
sides in the First and Second World Wars in support of their national governments; about
accepting government honours and political positions; about advocating both violence
(“propaganda of the deed”) and non-violence as anarchist positions, etc.
Anarchism, unlike Marxism, never
came to “power” in a societal context, so it has not been
discredited or tarnished by “success.” Anarchists did put some of their ideas into practice in
rural and industrial areas, at the local level, in the Spanish Civil War, in Catalonia, Aragon,
and Andalusia. Bakunin’s ideas were particularly influential among Spanish anarchists. For
example: “The new world would be won only after the last king had been strangled in
the guts of the last priest” (25) and “There are not several religions of the ruling class;
there is one, the religion of property.” (26)
Anarchism today has a new social
base. Historically, it appealed to peasants and workers,
but today anarchism’s main appeal seems to be to educated, ecologically and socially aware
(and alienated) young people in industrialized countries. Today’s anarchists are in the new
social movements, not the labour movement.
Social Environmentalism and Earth First!
The slogan Earth First! is quite brilliant, because it expresses what everyone’s priority
should be. Large numbers of people were inspired by this slogan to come forward and make
personal sacrifices for non-human life forms. But people can make contributions to the defence
of biodiversity, wildlife or wilderness, and yet not be theoretically aware. In general (there are
some exceptions), today the Earth First! Journal does not pay much attention to theoretical
issues within deep ecology, what the actual spectrum of positions are, and what this means for
the direction of a revolutionary movement against industrial civilization.
The article by Daktari, “Ecocentric
Anarchy”, has a microscopic analysis focussed on the
EF! Journal. It does not deal with any of the larger issues or produce the evidence for why
ecoanarchism is necessary for an “ecotopian society.” I also do not believe it to be true that
the radical environmentalism of Earth Firsters is based upon their alleged anarchist beliefs.
Anarchist ideas are mainly an add-on.
There was an extended and lively
critical discussion on anarchy in 1986-87, in the
EF! Journal, involving a number of writers and letters to the editor. One important focus of
discussion was whether or not there was a necessity for a State to combat ecological
destruction and social disorder - i.e. to protect humans, versus the anarchist dissent from such
a position. Dave Foreman and John Davis were then with the paper, and theoretical
discussions played a large role in the EF! Journal. Today a simplified anarchy is promoted as
a fait accompli.
The EF! Journal has shown
little interest in examining what a left position within deep
ecology entails and what its contradictions are. The theoretical fusion that Judi Bari was
engaged in, for example, has not been seriously examined. Similarly for the work done by left
biocentrists. The work of people like Andrew McLaughlin, Richard Sylvan and Rudolf Bahro
is unknown to most Earth Firsters. Instead of such a theoretical discussion, there has been a
persistent flirtation with social ecology and anarchism, as if this would solve the non-ecological
questions. Coalitions with others are fine only if the defence of the natural world remains the
first priority. Deep ecology has to work out its own trajectory, not just “add on” anarchism or
social ecology. Even in adding on anarchism, while there is much to admire in it, there are
many contradictions which a serious, ecocentric revolutionary movement needs to examine.
Just as there is a spectrum of positions within deep ecology, the same is true for anarchism.
The theoretical tendency which
is undermining Earth First! can be called “social
environmentalism.” (27) Essentially, social justice is upheld over environmental justice. Social
ecology, anarchist, and eco-feminist beliefs feed this position. Negative language is used to
promote social environmentalism, e.g. “white”, “privilege”, “white male”, likely to soften up
ecocentric activists and make them feel guilty about something they cannot change, that is,
their social origins. This is a psychological ploy to put ecocentric activists on the defensive
and make them uncritical of social environmentalism. With social environmentalism, aboriginal
interests are prioritized over wildlife and wilderness/park/old growth interests.
Of course, human social interests
are important, but they must be secondary to Earth
preservation. My position on the events leading up to the eventual split in Earth First!, which
resulted in Foreman, Davis and quite a number of others disassociating themselves from the
EF! Journal, is given in a 1990 letter “Points of Consideration re The Earth First!
Debate.” (28) I did not see this as the triumph of anarchism in the EF! Journal, as does
Daktari. I said that social justice was only possible in a context of ecological justice, that the
United States was the contemporary imperial world power and, “what this means for the
soul and practice of Earth First! has to be a major concern, not dismissed as leftist
Contemporary Implications and Conclusion
“The ability to govern without overt coercion depends largely on the ability of those in
power to exploit systems of belief that the larger population shares.” - Gramsci (30)
This bulletin has been an examination
of anarchism in regard to what should be its place
within deep ecology and the theoretical tendency left biocentrism. What should be the system
of beliefs of radical deep ecology supporters? My limited examination of anarchism has made
me much more sympathetic than when I started out. Yet the anarchism I am supportive of is
collectivist, not based on the supremacy of the individual. My support is not for property-
oriented individualistic anarchism, which has some social base in the United States. As one left
bio pointed out, “Certainly some of the right wing individualistic anarchists of today are
really libertarians who would/do endorse unfettered capitalism as the only road to
Left biocentrism has been influenced
by two thinkers who have been described as anarchists:
Richard Sylvan and Rudolf Bahro. Therefore left biocentrism (and by extension deep ecology)
needs to see anarchism as contributing to its theoretical exploration. Support for anarchism
should be considered a non-antagonistic contradiction among left biocentrists. This is already
reality within the internet group Left Bio.
However, ecoanarchism is a
concept which is more often a slogan, conveying an attitude of
opposition to industrial society, rather than something which has been theoretically worked
through and judged relevant for our frightening times. Part of its appeal is that it does seem to
speak to the “individualism” of activists in the United States and Canada. As I noted in a
comment on anarchism to Richard Sylvan back in 1987, while I support the small scale,
decentralized, basic democracy leanings of anarchism, anarchic individualism makes for a
bias against the need for a collectivist, ecocentric organization, with its necessary accountable
and delegated authority.
This essay also argued that
“democracy”, as discussed within the anarchist tradition, needs
a deep ecology transfusion, so that it is expanded to include not just humans, but the Earth’s
great diversity of organisms and the Earth itself. For humans, democracy is not only morally
just, but necessary for the widest possible discussion and contention of ideas. For left
biocentrists, there are some limiting core beliefs, which are prerequisites for a deep green
Some of the contradictions within
anarchism have been pointed out. There is a friendly, but
substantive critique from our side of the barricades. I do not believe we can say with certainty
what the new organizational forms need to be for the future post-industrial Earth-centred
society, or that anarchism mimics in some way how the natural world is organized. There is also
the baggage that anarchism carries, both among the non-anarchist left, and more importantly,
among the public at large, where anarchy is mistakenly equated with chaos and disorder.
I do think we have to treat
the existing institutions with disdain and work to create alternative
structures within industrial society. (31) Anarchist thinking contributes to this. Anarchism also
helps us understand that we cannot fundamentally change the State by marching through its
institutions. The green electoral road is therefore a cul de sac. Deep ecopolitics needs to be
entirely different from existing green electoral reformism.
State-organized societies, whatever
their economic configurations, do not seem to be
ecologically sustainable in the long term. Anarchism helps us see this. Yet for left biocentrists, it
is a class-influenced industrial society, not the State or Capital, which is the main target of our
We do need to remember that
political categories like the “market” and the “State” are not
tied to any particular economic formation such as capitalism. Thus Richard Sylvan, a deep
ecology anarchist, spoke of supporting “regulated markets without capitalism.” (32) It is
the increasing high-speed complexity of current industrialized societies, with their global
interlinkages and the globalization of Capital, which suggest that a single-minded anarchist
focus on opposition to the State, belongs to a time past.
I believe that anarchism should
be part of the “left” in left biocentrism. Anarchists can be
left biocentrists and deep ecology supporters. But it would be wrong to say the future society
will definitely be ecoanarchist in organization, and that an ecocentric consciousness requires
this. It should remain as an open question. In this way, anarchists and non-anarchists can join
socialists, non-socialists and others, in helping define what a deep and pluralistic left biocentrism
should be for our times, and creatively respond to the unfolding future.
1. Richard Sylvan and David Bennett, The Greening of Ethics: From Human Chauvinism
to Deep-Green Theory, (Cambridge, UK: The White Horse Press, 1994), p. 128.
2. Daktari, “Ecocentric Anarchy” in the
Earth First! Journal, Samhain 2000. I identify
with and for many years have considered myself part of Earth First! Over the years, I have
written a number of articles for this paper.
3. See in particular the essay by Richard Sylvan “Anarchism”,
in Robert Goodwin and Philip
Pettit, A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy, (Oxford, UK, Blackwell
Publishers, 1993), pp. 215-243.
4. Robyn Eckersley, Environmentalism and Political
Theory: Toward an Ecocentric
Approach, (Albany, US: State University of New York Press, 1992), pp. 77 and 150.
5. Rudolf Bahro, Avoiding Social & Ecological
Disaster: The Politics of World
Transformation, (Bath, UK: Gateway Books, 1994), p. 256.
6. See her essay “Revolutionary Ecology: Biocentrism
& Deep Ecology”, available at
http://www.judibari.org/revolutionary-ecology.html Judi Bari sent me an early draft of her
essay in 1995 and asked me to comment on it. My response in a letter dated Feb. 12, 1995,
stressed our essential agreement on the centrality of deep ecology and its revolutionary
essence, and that we were on the same road, noted that I was already plagiarizing her article
in talks, but raised a number of friendly criticisms of her paper. Judi was struggling with the
same kind of theoretical questions from within deep ecology, with an overall Left viewpoint as
myself, but had not broken free of “workerism” or the influence of anarcho-syndicalism on her
new thinking. She did not see that loggers and fishers have a stake in industrial society and
cannot be a revolutionary social base. I raised in my letter that deep ecology goes beyond what
she called ancient native wisdom, which is ultimately human-centred - but can be characterized
perhaps as “deep stewardship”. I also criticized her position on ecofeminism and said I did not
think this was the same as ecocentrism. We needed a general theory, I wrote to Judi, that was
not gender-rooted and ultimately splitting.
7. Sylvan and Bennett, ibid., p. 152. I first
contacted Richard Sylvan in 1987 and in a letter
dated July 30th, this is how I described my feelings about anarchism, with which Richard
identified: “I’m not an anarchist. Much of what anarchism stands for I can support -
emphasis on small scale, decentralization, basic democracy etc. But I find there is a bias
against organization, among conscious followers of anarchism. This makes it difficult to
divide up work, sustain an organization etc. I don’t have any trouble delegating
authority, providing the person/group is competent, accountable and trustworthy.
However, anarchism has a history, although one would never know this from reading
the various green publications. I do not support the anti-communism of anarchist
'leaders.' Personally, I have always felt that anarchism ... appeals to the lack of discipline
of intellectuals and their unwillingness to work under a collective. One of the many
problems of the green/deep ecology movement is that the full theoretical/organizational
implications of an anarchist position are not discussed, but simply taken for granted.”
8. Alan Carter, A Radical Green Theory, (London
and New York, Routledge, 1999),
9. In Nova Scotia, for example, what the forestry industry
or the oil and gas industry want, the
provincial government usually provides, unless it is felt the State would be brought too publicly
into disrepute. (There is also a revolving door, for State regulatory officials who, often on
‘retirement’, move into influential positions with the businesses they were formerly regulating.)
10. In Canada the War Measures Act was applied in both
World Wars but also in October
1970 in Quebec, when a state of “apprehended insurrection” was declared to exist by the
federal government and hundreds in the alternative and Quebec nationalist movement were
11. George Woodcock, Anarchism and Anarchists, (Quarry Press, 1992), p. 124.
12. Sylvan, “Anarchism”, p. 231.
13. Sylvan, “Anarchism”, p. 231.
14. See “Debate: A Commentary on Andrew Dobson’s
Green Political Thought” by
D. Orton, in Socialist Studies Bulletin, Number 61, July-September 2000. In this
Commentary, I outline a partial list of ten core beliefs for dark green sustainability e.g.
opposing all increased economic growth policies, dismantling industrial society, major
reductions in human populations, an end to consumerism, etc.
15. George Woodcock and Ivan Avakumovic, Peter Kropotkin:
From Prince To Rebel,
(Montreal, Black Rose Books, 1990), p. 34.
16. Comment by a participant in the internet discussion group Left Bio.
17. Emma Goldman, Living My Life, (1931), p. 585.
18. Carter, ibid., p. 251.
19. Carter, ibid., p. 332.
20. Comment by a participant in the internet discussion group Left Bio.
21. For example, Murray Bookchin dismisses Woody Guthrie
as a “Communist Party centralist”
and uses the expression “Iron Curtain” is his reactionary attack on deep ecology, “Social
Ecology Versus ‘Deep Ecology’”, printed in Green Perspectives, Numbers 4 and 5,
Summer 1987. Or see the vicious anti-communism in the anarchist publication the Fifth Estate,
where the Bolsheviks are described as “the party of the firing squad”, Fall 1987 issue, Vol. 22,
No. 3. This is the same issue which contains George Bradford’s, long-winded, “know-it-all”,
human-centred, and ultimately reactionary attack, “How Deep Is Deep Ecology?”
22. Murray Bookchin, Toward An Ecological Society,
(Montreal, Black Rose Books,
1980), p. 76.
23. See Murray Bookchin, “Social Ecology Versus ‘Deep Ecology’”, p. 10.
24. This is part of Point “8” of the Left Biocentrism Primer.
25. See Hugh Thomas, The
Spanish Civil War, Third Edition, (Aylesbury, UK and New
York, Pelican Books, 1977), p. 62. The fundamental conflict between anarchists and
communists in Spain, were differences over whether to immediately implement the anarchist
social revolution or, to postpone this in the interest of building the widest coalition possible,
and a disciplined army, to defeat Franco and the generals who were in revolt against the
Republican government. As the Soviet Union became the overwhelming weapons supplier to
the Republicans, with Germany and Italy supplying the fascists in Spain, plus the alleged
“neutrality” of the bourgeois democracies, communist influence grew rapidly and anarchist
support declined. Forces outside of Spain, and the approaching Second World War, clearly
severely impacted the struggle within Spain.
26. Guy A. Aldred, Bakunin’s Writings, (US, Kraus Reprint Co., 1972), p. 18.
27. For a discussion of social environmentalism, see
Green Web Bulletin #50, “Social
Environmentalism and Native Relations”, June 1996.
28. See, letter to the editor by D. Orton, “Points
of Consideration re The Earth First!
Debate”, Earth First! Journal, Dec. 21, 1990, Vol. XI, No. 11.
29. Orton, ibid.
30. Gramsci as quoted by Sylvan in “Anarchism”, p. 236.
31. The problem with alternative structures is to see
that they do not end up being
incorporated into the existing industrial paradigm or tolerated in some kind of mutual
acceptance. An alternative structure has to undermine not strengthen the existing social
32. Sylvan in “Anarchism”, p. 236.
Acknowledgements: I am indebted to the internet
discussion group “Left Bio,” where many
discussions have taken place over a period of almost four years. Insights from such discussions
are part of this bulletin. I would also like to particularly thank the approximately ten left bios
who read a first draft and provided thoughtful comments. A number of their insights have been
incorporated into the final text.
Green Web, R.R. #3, Saltsprings, Nova Scotia, Canada, BOK 1PO
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