The anarchism of the Bookchins says politics should be a moral calling: rational, communal, creative & free
Great interview with Natalie Bookchin, daughter of the social anarchist Murray Bookchin, on what her father meant by “municipalism”. It’s the phrase-de-jour for radical urbanists and city activists, but in Bookchin’s language a completely new definition of politics - what Bookchin senior called, in his later years, “libertarian municipalism”.
Here Natalie explains further:
For my father, municipalist politics was about much more than bringing a progressive agenda to city hall. For him it was very much an educational process, in which during the practice of meeting or ‘communing’ we develop the character that enables us to restore politics to its original definition, as a moral calling based on rationality, community, creativity, and free association.
At a time when human rights, democracy, and the public good are under attack by increasingly nationalistic, authoritarian centralised state governments, it seems more important than ever to engage in face-to-face meetings with our neighbours, to reclaim the public sphere for the exercise of empathy, understanding of our commonalities, authentic citizenship, and freedom.
People become involved and stay engaged when they see results in their communities. They want to see change on their doorsteps – whether better housing and schools or improved air quality – and municipalism offers people a means for addressing those issues. The next step is to tie those issues to bigger ones like racial justice, ecological degradation, and capitalism, but everything starts with the community.
We have been conned into the idea that politics is going into a voting booth once every two, four or five years and pressing a button. Municipalist politics allows us to reclaim this very essential part of being human, to become transformed into new human beings through its practice and to in turn transform society.
Municipalism seeks to change the very nature of politics as something that people do for themselves, rather than something that is done for them, or more often to them.
I don’t think that libertarian municipalism and the feminisation of politics are antithetical to institutionalisation or leadership. There will always be leaders, people who are better-informed or rhetorically gifted.
And libertarian municipalism is actually calling for the institutionalisation of political power in the form of bottom up, directly democratic neighborhood assemblies; this is what distinguishes municipalism from other progressive movements.
The important element is that politics and political institutions be transparent and accountable. Specifically, a municipalist politics demands that those elected to City Councils view themselves as delegates of the local assembly and are 100 per cent accountable to their assemblies; they are recallable if they fail to represent the wishes of those who have placed them in a position of power. It requires that they abide by a code of ethics, and that they rotate.
This transparency is designed to transform politics into something that everyone can do and that is fundamentally based on assembly forms of organisation.