Of the Left, to transition the Left 
My last post said: We feel ourselves to be essentially “of the left” owing to our valuation of egalitarianism, anti-militarism, feminism, justice, extended democracy, ecology, respect for diversity.
In this post I have to say:
And yet . . .
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The early great Green thinker Edward Goldsmith did not consider himself to be a leftist. The early great Green thinker Kirkpatrick Sale got disenchanted with the Green politics movement when leftists (via the Left Green Network under Murray Bookchin and Howie Hawkins) became predominant during the latter part of the 1980s.
Leftists might say that the historical advocacy of egalitarianism, anti-militarism, feminism, justice, extended democracy, and respect for diversity during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was the ideological bedrock — and then the Greens came along during the 1960s and 1970s to add an additional dimension: an appreciation for ecology and community.
The concept of rejuvenating community life includes the idea that over-concentration of wealth has been accompanied by over-centralization of power. The Marxist left had never talked about decentralization. The Greens pointed out why it’s needed. The Marxist left had always talked about national economic planning. The Greens framed the discussion about economic relations in a whole new way: Community-based Economics.
So Left Greens and eco-socialists, examining the failures of “first phase socialism” (the misery of Stalinism, the authoritarianism of Leninism, the inadequacies of Social Democracy) had the idea that the left just needed some tweaking. That tweaking was the contribution of the Greens: recognition of the issue of scale as an independent and important factor.
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Kirk Sale said something different — as a basis for recommending that the Greens stick with their original slogan: “Neither Left nor Right, but out in front.” He said scale is not just an additional factor; scale is the most critical factor.
What’s wrecking the biosphere can be attributed to the scale of human population, production, consumption, pollution, and depletion. While it’s fine to advocate for egalitarianism, anti-militarism, feminism, justice, extended democracy, and respect for diversity, it’s not fine to be naive about human beings and their lifeways.
Kirk Sale said the left tends to be naive in that respect. Get over it. The most important thing to be done is the downscaling.
Socialists are naive to expect or even to advocate for a universal transition to socialized property relations. If we have respect for cultural diversity, surely that implies diversity among communities in regard to economic relations.
Side note regarding universals: Personally, I do hope that after the long wandering through civilization a generalized consensus among humanity will emerge in terms of universal affirmation of some overarching values. I hope lessons can be learned that some things are too toxic to be countenanced.
Like: certain chemical pollutants. Like: over-use of antibiotics. Like: weapons of mass destruction. In a decentralized Green world, if a group or tribe or rogue gang was seen to develop such, the nonviolent response among all others should be sanctioning and shunning.
Nation-state empires that try to engage in aggressive expansionism should be anathema — as a universal principle of human social existence. The kind of economic empires that currently dominate our globalized industrial-capitalist system should also be anathema.
But not local, community-based private enterprises.
E. F. Schumacher’s work belongs to that subterranean tradition of organic and decentralist economics whose major spokesmen include Prince Kropotkin, Gustav Landauer, Tolstoy, William Morris, Gandhi, Lewis Mumford, Paul Goodman, and Murray Bookchin. Their vision is of a political economy that distinguishes itself from orthodox socialism and capitalism by insisting that the scale of organization must be treated as an independent and primary problem. This tradition, while closely affiliated with socialist values, nonetheless prefers mixed to “pure” economic systems. It is therefore hospitable to many forms of free enterprise and private ownership, provided always that the size of private enterprise is not so large as to divorce ownership from personal involvement [and community oversight], which is, of course, now the rule in most of the world’s administered capitalisms. Bigness is its nemesis, whether the bigness is that of private or public bureaucracies [i.e., capitalist or socialist], because from bigness comes impersonality, insensitivity, and a lust to concentrate abstract power. Hence, Schumacher’s title, Small Is Beautiful.
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Project forward to 2500 and envision the achievement of a Green world consisting of thousands of humanly-scaled bioregional commonwealths. The leftist social activist of our time would want them all to be progressively righteous: egalitarian, democratic, just, ecological, nonviolent, feminist, sustainable, etc.
Well, again, fine to strive for progressive ideals within your own community; fine to advocate sanctioning and shunning other groups whose practices are otherwise. But . . . keep in mind the importance and the full implications of respect for cultural diversity.
[the following from Kirk Sale’s 1983 E. F. Schumacher Society Annual Lecture]
I must add here a note that may be painful for leftist social changers having a progressive vision: Bioregional diversity means exactly that. It does not mean that every region, every polity or commonwealth, will build upon the values of democracy, equality, liberty, freedom, justice, and other suchlike desiderata. It means rather that truly autonomous bioregions will likely go their own separate ways and end up with quite disparate values, beliefs, standards, and customs; diverse economic and political systems — some direct democracies, some representative democracies, yet, also, undoubtedly, all kinds of aristocracies, oligarchies, theocracies, principalities, margravates, duchies, and palatinates as well.
We must cultivate systems which allow people to be people in all their variety, to be wrong upon occasion and errant and bad and even evil, to commit the crimes that as near as we know have always been committed — hostility, brutality, subjugation— and yet systems in which all social and civil structures will work to minimize such errancies and, what is even more important, hold them within strict bounds should they occur.
Bioregionalism, properly conceived, is such a construct, for it provides a scale at which misconduct is likely to be mitigated because bonds of community are strong, and material and social needs for the most part fulfilled; a scale at which the consequences of individual and regional actions are visible and unconcealable, and violence can be seen to be a transgression against the environment and its people in defiance of basic ecological common sense; a scale at which even error and iniquity, should they happen, will not do irreparable damage beyond the narrow regional limits and will not send their poisons coursing through the veins of entire continents and the world itself. Bioregionalism, properly conceived, not merely tolerates but thrives upon the diversities of human behavior and the varieties of political and social arrangements those give rise to, even if at times they may stem from the baser rather than the more noble motives.