Saturday, March 06, 2010

Social Ecology / Communalism: A Reinvigorated Cause

Editorial: A Reinvigorated Cause

Eirik Eiglad (a founder of the Communalism journal and a long time member of the Scandinavian social ecology organization Demokratisk Alternativ. Contact him at for permission to run this editorial column from the first issue, both here and on the BlueGreenEarth & SocialEcologyInstitute(Europe) websites.

Our enormous cities today are conglomerations of concrete and steel that devour the world’s natural resources and degrade and impoverish its people. In a sustainable society, common sense tells us, they cannot remain as they are. Just a few decades ago ecological activists were fighting for a vision of a decentralized society based on humanly scaled, ecologically friendly technologies and a participatory, grassroots democracy. As Brian Tokar highlights in “Utopia or Apocalypse,” they advanced decentralization and fundamental social change. But the ecological agenda has since been abandoned in favor of environmental activism that is mainly concerned with lobbying national and international governments to gain piecemeal reforms.

Communalism, we are seeking to reinvigorate and build on this earlier vision. Inspired by radical social theorist Murray Bookchin, we argue that to create an ecological society, we need a new social ecological politics. We need to break up the megalopolis into small-scale communities, decentralizing our cities both physically and politically. We need to tailor urban life to its natural surroundings and apply ecological solutions locally and regionally. We need to establish local political processes where communities and individuals can make decisions on the matters concerning their lives and society’s relationship to nature. Ecological cities, as Janet Biehl argues, would be humanly scaled networks of self-managing communities that share and cooperate on economic, political, and cultural matters.

Contrary to common belief, a decentralized society would not be one in which we all move to the countryside, milk goats in the morning, and do handicrafts in the evening. On the contrary, as Jonathan Korsár shows in "Rebuilding Our Cities," a decentralized economy and energy system would be one in which people would still travel by rail, still work on their computers, and still enjoy all the cultural pleasures civilization has to offer.

As we embark on this endeavor, we are in need of theory, and it is the aim of Communalism to provide it. To push society in a progressive direction, we will provide analyses of the present crisis and offer a utopian vision of a better future. And so that the new decentralist movement can to learn from the failures and successes of past movements, we will offer an understanding of their history.
It is our firm belief that the decentralist cause has new significance in the era of global capitalism. It is our aim to put it at the forefront of ecological struggles.

Eirik is also author of The Anti-Jewish Riots in Oslo


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