Lo Spiegone Internazionale: an interview with Debbie Bookchin

During the first day of the Festival “Internazionale a Ferrara”, we had the chance to meet Debbie Bookchin, an American journalist and writer, daughter of the famous anarchical philosopher Murray Bookchin. Bookchin helped us understand what Green-Anarchism is and what it means to be an anarchist in the contemporary USA.

Could you explain the link between Anarchism and Environmentalism?

Yes. I think that it’s extremely important for people to understand that we really will not solve our ecological and environmental problems until we solve our social problems. The environmental crisis we face right now is directly linked not only to Capitalism because of its grow-or-die ethos, which means that it must continuously consume resources in order to make us better consumers and exploit the planet, but it is also integrally linked to the way we think about nature and that is different to the way we think about each other. Anarchism, because it is an anti-state philosophy understands that states that have a monopoly on violence, that are hierarchical, that are patriarchal, that serve Capitalism are also completely therefore detrimental to the environment. And so as we think about how to solve the ecological crisis we really have to rethink what it means to do politics and we have to rethink our whole relationship with the state and ultimately we have to realize that the state is an outmoded concept, that it must be done away with and we must empower people on a local level.

What does it mean to be an anarchist in this new digital era?

Okay. I’m not an expert on the digital era, although I think that what has happened with social media is that it has certainly allowed these ideas to flourish in a really wonderful way because we now can make direct contact with people instead of having to go through the traditional media. I think that today what it means to be an anarchist is to understand our own political history and the revolutionary past and to really rethink what kind of structures can we build that will be able to really institutionalize change. So we have to do more than protest, we have to think creatively about building a new structure. And that is one of the things that’s exciting about what the Kurds are doing: they are trying to take politics and make a whole new system that lets people get involved. I would like to see anarchists develop also into what my father called ‘Communalists’, which is to say that we begin to get really involved in political institutions on a local level, so that we can make change and transformation that lasts.

In your opinion, is it right to say that the elite, the infamous 1%, is currently living in its own anarchical way, at the same time undermining Anarchism among the 99%?

They’re certainly doing that, you’re right. I hate to use the word ‘anarchical’, I would use the word ‘chaos’. They live within a certain chaos of possibility for them. Yes, they are, and I think that one of the problems is that, as I said earlier, the representative democracy just isn’t working for the 99%. Our society, what we consider typical representative democracy where you go to the polls, you vote for somebody, you hope maybe that they’ll do the right thing, but nobody is really empowered that way on a local level, and so what it means is that basically, it’s a democracy for the few, not for the many. And that’s not a real democracy. So I think that this form of representative democracy has run its course, the same way you think, like, we no longer have kings in most countries. It has run its course. It’s time to do something new and different, and what I mean with that ‘new and different thing’ and how it relates to Anarchism, is that it means that people have to be empowered as individuals. They have to represent themselves in community meetings, in local assemblies, and then delegate people to the next level. When you delegate somebody, that’s different than just voting for somebody who says ‘I will represent you’, and delegating somebody who is recallable, accountable, this kind of person who communicates for the assembly, and this is the kind of system that the Kurds have been building in Rojava, and that could be a great example for us.

How would you explain the Green Anarchism School of Thought to the youngest generation?

Well, when I think of Green Anarchism, I think of what my father Murray Bookchin called ‘Social Ecology‘, and that’s a system, it’s a set of ideas that both critiques the current society, but that also offers a reconstructive view. And I would like to see young anarchists do more than critique society, but also become involved in a reconstruction of society, which is to say to really get involved in communities and get involved even in local government. I know that for many anarchists that’s impossible, they say: ‘no, we don’t want to get involved’, but I think that after 50 years of staying outside the institutions we can no longer afford to do that way, we have to get involved at least on a local level. So in that sense, you know, the integration and that thought of social ecology, of ecology as providing a model of how you can have awareness, but that works in a horizontal way, so that people are empowered, I think that’s an important model. And I would actually say, you know for people who are interested in this, there’s a great book, ‘La prossima rivoluzione’, that my father wrote that just came out in Italian a year ago or so and expands in a lot of these ideas.

What do you think about the link that could be created between Social Ecology and the DSA, do you think there is or it could be a connection between them?

I think, you know, my feeling is that we have to try as much as possible to work together, that we have to try and find common areas of work and the Green Anarchism can absolutely sort of incorporate the Democratic Socialists of America approach and there has to be dialogue. And I think that one of the things that’s exciting to me is that in the United States of America right now there’s a group called ‘Symbiosis Revolution‘, that is trying to bring together exactly all of these different groups. And they just had a congress in Detroit and they’re saying: ‘we need to find a way to take our values and really bring them out to a broader audience of people in our local communities by working on things like anti-development and working pro-immigration, and then sort of teach people and part of the problem is, really, education, to really educate people, you know, to educate them about the ecological movement, to educate them about human rights, and to educate them about how we can become empowered together. So I think I’m very optimistic right now that these groups that are coming together and sort of working more closely with each other even though some may be a little more socialists, some may be a little bit more anarchists.

Do you think there will be a role to play by the anarchical association to build a new public sphere, a new public, in terms of social awareness and activism?

I mean, different anarchists in the United States have different priorities and think differently: some of them are more into sort of protest and some of them are doing other work, and that’s fine, everybody can do their work as they like, but we should all be speaking to each other and we should all be educating each other and we should be working in a face to face way and having study groups and learning our history, really. And Hannah Arendt said that local assemblies were the lost treasure of the revolutionary movement and I really think that this concept has to be explored more fully; I really think that we have to reinvent what politics means and has to become, even though we live in a digital world and there are a lot of things you can do with referendum online, there’s this very important place, I think, for face to face, like what we used to call ‘affinity groups’ and expanding that idea into a sort of a town meeting concept where we work together and create assemblies and our communities. So people can begin to experience what it feels to be really empowered.

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