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Anarchism: Practical De-centralization

The article below is from the February 6th, 1975 issue of the underground newspaper Free Flowing.  Thanks to R S for transcribing these articles.

By Central Iowa Anarchists

People often have the notion that anarchists seek to do away with any organization of society.  This, however, is a mistaken notion.  Anarchism doesn’t stand for no organization, merely a different type of organization.  It would have society organized on an equalitarian, de-centralized, and self-managed basis.

In previous historical periods when even the most technologically advanced nations were still grappling with the problems of material scarcity, the anarchist ideal of an equalitarian society often merely reduced itself to equality of poverty.  This would almost invariably bring about the deep-seated tendencies to restore a new system of privilege.  However, with the continual improvement and refinement of technology, the immense productive forces of modern capitalism have brought us to the brink of a post-scarcity world, and laid the material basis for an equalitarian society.

Now it is necessary to take a look at the material basis for a de-centralized society.  Obviously, the present highly specialized tools of production could be scaled down for use in smaller, de-centralized production facilities.  Beyond this, however, more and more possibilities and practical proposals are emerging for a de-centralist technology.

Time and space considerations won’t allow for a detailed description and/or listing of the many possibilities for a technology scaled down to human needs.  However, a general trend toward smaller, more efficient tools can be seen.  For example, in communications, the electronics industry has seen a gradual trend toward miniaturization.  Early computers that once weighed as much as thirty tons, have gradually been replaced by vastly miniaturized and this process of miniaturization has affected every other electronic device from radios and TVs to tape recorders and record players.

In industrial production also, there has been a trend toward smaller and more streamlined tools.  For example, huge blast and open hearth furnaces used in the production of steel can now be replaced by smaller electric furnaces that are capable of producing excellent pig iron and steel.  Moreover, new milling processes such as a planetary mill designed by one T. Sendzimir has further reduced the size and complexity necessary for stell producing complexes.

One of the current problems faced by society is that of obtaining the necessary energy required for production.  The present “energy crises” has graphically pointed out that the fossil fuels we rely on for our energy needs are finite and will sooner or later run out.  The resulting search for alternate energy sources has turned up a number of viably alternatives that could significantly reduce our dependence of fossil fuels.

Solar energy is currently one of the most discussed alternatives, and an increasing amount of research is being directed into this area.  Already, however, research has yielded many practical results.  Solar stoves, ovens, and water heaters have been developed and put into use in many parts of the world.  Research has also shown that solar energy could be put into use producing moderate amounts of electricity, heating homes, and even in producing enough heat for industrial furnaces.

Solar energy devices, however, are most effective when used in the “solar belt,” that is, those latitudes within forty degrees north and south of the equator.  Solar energy could then easily be used to benefit large portions of the Third World that are located within this area.  In areas outside the “solar belt,” either more sophisticated solar energy devices will be necessary, or solar energy can be used in conjunction with conventional energy sources.  Even in these areas, a large portion of our energy needs could be met by solar energy, thus significantly reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.

A possible source of electric power for coastal areas can be found in the ocean’s tides.  Water can be trapped in natural or human-made basins along the coast during high tide, and released through turbines at low tide.  A number of places exist where tides are high enough to produce electric power in large quantities. This method has already successfully been put into practice in France near the mouth of the Rance River at St. Malo.

In many parts of the world, wind could also be used to produce electricity.  Several wind generators have already successfully been put into use in the U.S. For example, a 1250 kilowatt generator near Rutland, Vermont successfully fed alternating current into the lines of the Central Vermont Public Service Company until a parts shortage during World War II made it difficult to keep the installation in repair.  Since then, larger and more efficient wind generators have been developed.  For instance, in England, an exhaustive three year study found that the newer wind turbines could generate several million kilowatts annually.

The common objection to most of the above-mentioned alternatives is that they can’t deliver the huge amounts of energy and consumer goods demanded by present day society.  This is, of course, true: they can’t meet the demands of a highly centralized society organized on the principle of production for the sake of production, and consumption for the sake of consumption.  However, they are superbly suited for a de-centralized, ecology conscious society where good are produced for their durability and recycled when they’re no longer needed.  That is, a society where production is geared for people rather than profit.

The energy crisis is only the collision of the capitalist system with environmental realities.  To big capitalism, the necessity for small communities may be a disaster.  But small communities have always been necessary for a humane social existence,: small communities that produce much of their own food and material needs, where children can see daily the processes which make their world work, find their own vocations perhaps, and certainly have a better chance of growing into society as contributing, effective, creative citizens.

The problem with the solutions put forward by most bourgeois planners is that they only substitute one lethal problem for another.  In their determination not to significantly alter the socio-economic system, they essentially give us the choice of either continuing as we have been and dying as the result of an ecological disaster, or reverting to massive amounts of nuclear power and dying of radiation poisoning (if we don’t die as the result of nuclear war first).  And this points out, most graphically, the other half of the social dialectic previously mentioned, that is, the system that has brought humanity to the brink of a post-scarcity world has also brought humanity to the brink of oblivion.  There are now only two alternatives left, life or death.

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Categories: Anarchism
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