Why some of us identify as “Neither Left nor Right”

The reality we live within is a folly (and insanity) of hypertrophies and unsustainabilities.

Hypertrophies: The institutions and technologies are way beyond anything that might be recognized as human-scale . . . too big and too complex for any of us (outside of the 1%) to feel a sense of ownership or control. Nation-states and megalopolises have decimated local community life. Modern governments are too remote to be “of, by, and for the people.” The globalized economy is an insanity of dependencies, “capital flows,” exploitations of far-flung resources and cheap labor.

Such conditions are neither socially nor ecologically sustainable. The trajectories of “development” are ruinous, but during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the left viewed them as progressive. In the Communist Manifesto we read:

“[Modern development] has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization of rivers — what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?”

Marx said that the “development of the productive forces” could be the “material basis” for an ultimate “highest stage” of history — socialism — a classless society based on egalitarian abundance and democratic control. The delusion that history is headed in a progressive direction has characterized the left ever since.

It’s good and righteous that the left has valued egalitarianism, democracy, social justice, demilitarization, cooperative commonwealth. But after a hundred years of aspiration and failure (mid-nineteenth century to mid-twentieth) a re-thinking was in order. A whole new social-change literature — “neither left nor right” — sprung up in the wake of the ferment of the Sixties from green-communitarian, deep ecologist, bioregionalist, eco-anarchist theorists: Lewis Mumford, Edward Goldsmith, David Watson, Riane Eisler, Paul Goodman, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Rudolf Bahro, Daniel Quinn, Fredy Perlman, Kirkpatrick Sale, Ted Trainer.

Here’s a good example (Theodore Roszak writing about E. F. Schumacher):

“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. It is the tradition we might call anarchism, if we mean by that much abused word a libertarian 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. The 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 the nemesis of anarchism, whether the bigness is that of public or private bureaucracies, because from bigness comes impersonality, insensitivity, and a lust to concentrate abstract power. Hence, Schumacher’s title, Small Is Beautiful. He might just as well have said “small is free, efficient, creative, enjoyable, enduring” — for such is the anarchist faith.

“Reaching backward, this tradition embraces communal, handicraft, tribal, gild, and village lifestyles as old as the neolithic cultures. In that sense, it is not an ideology at all, but a wisdom gathered from historical experience. In our own time, it has reemerged spontaneously in the communitarian experiments and honest craftsmanship of the counterculture, where we find so many desperate and often resourceful efforts among young dropouts to make do in simple, free, and self respecting ways amid the criminal waste and managerial congestion. How strange that this renewed interest in ancient ways of livelihood and community should reappear even as our operations researchers begin to conceive their most ambitious dreams of cybernated glory. And yet how appropriate. For if there is to be a humanly tolerable world on this dark side of the emergent technocratic world system, it will surely have to flower from this still fragile renaissance of organic husbandry, communal households, and do it yourself technics whose first faint outlines we can trace through the pages of publications like the Whole Earth Catalog and the Mother Earth News. And if that renaissance is to have an economist to make its case before the world, E. F. Schumacher is the man. Already his brilliant essay “Buddhist Economics” has become a much read and often reprinted staple of the underground press. It would be no exaggeration to call him the Keynes of postindustrial society, by which I mean (and Schumacher means) a society that has left behind its lethal obsession with those very megasystems of production and distribution which Keynes tried so hard to make manageable.”

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Steven Welzer

The editor of Green Horizon Magazine, Steve has been a movement activist for many years (he was an original co-editor of DSA’s “Ecosocialist Review”).