Were we wrong? – Murray Bookchin

To develop more fully the contrast between status societies and class societies, it is necessary to reject altogether the idea that capitalism as a society of classes could have emerged organically within the “womb” of feudalism, a society of orders. Capitalism’s uniqueness must be seen in the light that traditional society as a whole — oriented around family and status — sheds upon it. No precapitalist world was equipped to deal with the formidable social and cultural irresponsibility that an uncontrolled market economy would foster. One does not have to accept the canons of laissez-faire to recognize that a market lacking any ethical, cultural, and institutional constraints would have horrified people even in the commercial world of the Renaissance, with its nuanced standards for commerce. The identification of the market with capitalism, in fact, results only from a highly specious reworking of historical fact. Markets existed for ages in many different forms, but they were carefully integrated into larger, more demanding, and socially more legitimate communities that structured life around orders, largely united by kinship and craft ties. These elements of early tribalism and village societies never disappeared completely from the precapitalist world. It was precisely capitalism, the uncontrolled market, that became society, or, more precisely, began to eat away at society as a cancer, a malignancy that threatened the very existence of the social bond itself. It is only in the 20th century, especially in post-WWII America that capitalism emerged from its position as a predominant force in society to become a substitute for society, corroding all familial and kinship ties — and reducing the population as a whole to buyers and sellers in a universal, ever-expanding marketplace.

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In any case, this much is clear: We must acknowledge the permanent, retrogressive nature of capitalism from its very inception. We must see it as a saprophytic system that is by definition asocial, and recognize it as a mechanism that will die on its own only like a cancer that destroys its host. We have to understand that the economic interpretation of history and society is the extension of the bourgeois spirit into the totality of the hum an condition. Capitalism will not decay. It will either destroy society as we have known it, and possibly much of the biosphere along with it, or it will be corroded, weakened, and hollowed out by libertarian traditions. It would be difficult to explain why the “ Fourth World” has offered such massive resistance to the “ blessings” of industrialism unless we invoke the power of strong traditions, entrenched lifeways, deeply held values, beliefs and custom s. It would be difficult to explain why the Barcelona proletarian-peasants burned money and disdained every lure of opulence after the city fell into their hands without invoking the moral power of their libertarian beliefs — a sensibility that was to often stand in sharp contrast to the pragmatic mentality of their leaders.

The only revolutionary era on which we can premise any future for radical change is the one that lies behind us. No cycle of socialist or anarchist revolution will follow the so-called “bourgeois” cycle initiated some three centuries ago. The arsenal of our time has developed so far beyond the classical insurrectionary models on which traditional radical theory has been fixated as to make unthinkable the recurrence of another Spain or Russia. Indeed, no creative discussion of a radical politics can even begin without acknowledging the change this simple technical fact has introduced into the “art of insurrection” — to use Trotsky’s words.

By the same token, the only agent on which we can premise future radical change emerges from the melding of traditional groups into a public sphere, a body politic, a community imbued with a sense of cultural and spiritual continuity and renewal. This community, however, is constituted only in the ever-present act of an ever-dynamic effort of public and self-assertion that yields a sharp sense of selfhood. Collectivity thus melds with individuality to produce rounded hum an beings in a rounded society. Direct action assumes the form of direct democracy: the participatory form s of freedom that rest on face-to-face assemblies, rotation of public functions, and, where possible, consensus.

Source: Were we wrong? – Murray Bookchin

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