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(en) Civilisation, Primitivism and anarchism

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>(http://struggle.ws/new.html)
Date Sat, 12 Jun 2004 09:30:14 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
News about and of interest to anarchists
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Over the last decade a generalized critique of civilization has been
made by a number of authors, mostly based in the USA. Some of these
have chosen to identify as anarchists although the more general
self-identification is primitivist. There overall argument is that
'civilisation' itself is the problem that results in our failure to
live rewarding lives. The struggle for change is thus a struggle
against civilization and for an earth where technology has been eliminated.
This is an interesting argument that has some merits as an
intellectual exercise. But the problem is that some of its
adherents have used primitivism as a base from which to attack
all other proposals for changing society. Facing this challenge
anarchists need to first look to see if primitivism offers any sort of
realistic alternative to the world as it is.

Our starting point is that the expression 'life is hard' can always
receive the reply that 'it is better than the alternative'. This
provides a good general test of all critiques of the world 'as it is',
including anarchism. Which is to ask if a better alternative is

Even if we can't point to the 'better alternative', critiques of the
world 'as it is' can have a certain intellectual value. But after the
disaster of the 20th century when so-called alternatives like
Leninism created long lasting dictatorships that killed millions,
the question 'is your alternative any better then what exists?' has
to be put to anyone advocating change.

The primitivist critique of anarchism is based around the claim to
have discovered a contradiction between liberty and mass society.
In other words they see it as impossible for any society that
involves groups much larger than a village to be a free society. If
this was true it would make the anarchist proposal of a world of
'free federations of towns, cities and countryside' impossible.
Such federations and population centers are obviously a form of
mass society/civilisation.

However the anarchist movement has been answering this very
so-called contradiction since its origins. Back in the 19th century
liberal defenders of the state pointed to such a contradiction in
order to justify the need for one set of men to rule over another.
Michael Bakunin answered this in 1871 in his essay on 'The
Paris Commune and the Idea of the State"[1].

"It is said that the harmony and universal solidarity of
individuals with society can never be attained in practice because
their interests, being antagonistic, can never be reconciled. To
this objection I reply that if these interest have never as yet come
to mutual accord, it was because the State has sacrificed the
interests of the majority for the benefit of a privileged minority.
That is why this famous incompatibility, this conflict of personal
interests with those of society, is nothing but a fraud, a political
lie, born of the theological lie which invented the doctrine of
original sin in order to dishonor man and destroy his self-respect.
.... We are convinced that all the wealth of man's intellectual,
moral, and material development, as well as his apparent
independence, is the product of his life in society. Outside
society, not only would he not be a free man, he would not even
become genuinely human, a being conscious of himself, the only
being who thinks and speaks. Only the combination of
intelligence and collective labor was able to force man out of that
savage and brutish state which constituted his original nature, or
rather the starting point for his further development. We are
profoundly convinced that the entire life of men - their interests,
tendencies, needs, illusions, even stupidities, as well as every bit
of violence, injustice, and seemingly voluntary activity - merely
represent the result of inevitable societal forces. People cannot
reject the idea of mutual independence, nor can they deny the
reciprocal influence and uniformity exhibiting the manifestations
of external nature."

What level of technology

Most primitivists evade the question of what level of technology
they wish to return to by hiding behind the claim that they are not
arguing for a return to anything, on the contrary they want to go
forward. With that in mind a reasonable summary of their
position is that certain technologies are acceptable up to the level
of small village society sustained by hunting and gathering. The
problems for primitivists start with the development of agriculture
and mass society.

Of course civilization is a rather general term, as is technology.
Few of these primitivists have taken this argument to its logical
conclusion. One who has is John Zerzan who identifies the root
of the problem in the evolution of language and abstract thought.
This is a logical end point for the primitivist rejection of mass

For the purposes of this article I'm taking as a starting point that
the form of future society that primitivists argue for would be
broadly similar in technological terms to that which existed
around 12,000 years ago on earth, at the dawn of the agricultural
revolution. By this I do not claim that they want to 'go back',
something that is in any case impossible. But rather that if you
seek to go forward by getting rid of all the technology of the
agricultural revolution and beyond what results will look quite like
pre-agricultural society of 10,000 BC. As this is the only example
we have of such a society in operation it seems reasonable to use
it to evaluate the primitivist claims.
A question of numbers

Hunter-gatherers live off the food they can hunt or gather, hence
the name. Animals can be hunted or trapped while fruits, nuts,
greens and roots are gathered. Before about 12,000 years ago
every human on the planet lived as a hunter gather. Today only a
tiny number of people do, in isolated and marginal regions of the
planet including deserts, artic tundra and jungle. Some of these
groups like the Acre have only had contact with the rest of the
planet in recent decades(2), others like the Inuit(3) have had
contact for long periods of time and so have adopted technologies
beyond those developed locally. These later groups are very much
part of the global civilization and have contributed to the
development of new technologies in this civilization.

In marginal ecosystems hunter-gathering often represents the
only feasible way of producing food. The desert is too dry for
sustained agriculture and the artic too cold. The only other
possibility is pastoralism, the reliance on semi-domesticated
animals as a food source. For instance in the Scandinavian artic
the Sami(4) control the movement of huge reindeer herds to
provide a regular food source.

Hunter gathers survive on the food they hunt and gather. This
requires very low population densities as population growth is
limited by the need to avoid over hunting. Too much gathering of
food plants can also serve to reduce the number of plants that are
available in the future. This is the core problem with the
primitivist idea that the whole planet could live as hunter gathers,
there is not nearly enough food produced in natural ecosystems
for even a fraction of the current population of the world to do so.

It should be obvious that the amount of calories available to
humans as food in an acre of oak forest will be a lot lower then
the amount of calories available to humans in an acre of corn.
Agriculture provides far, far more useful calories per acre then
hunter gathering in the same acre would. That is because we
have spent 12,000 years selecting plants and improving
agricultural techniques so that per acre we cram in lots of
productive plants that put their energy into producing plant parts
that are food for us rather then plant parts that are not food for us.
Compare any cultivated grain with its wild relative and you will
see an illustration of this, the cultivated form will have much
bigger grains and a much larger proportion of grain to stalk and
foliage. We have chosen plants that produce a high ratio of edible

In other words a pine tree may be as good or better then a lettuce
at capturing the solar energy that falls on it. But with the lettuce a
huge percentage of the captured energy goes into food (around
75%). With pine tree none of the energy produces food we can
eat. Compare the amount of food to be found in a nearby
woodland with the amount you can grow in a couple of square
meters of garden cultivated in even an organic low energy fashion
and you'll see why agriculture is a must have for the population of
the planet. An acre of organically grown potato can yield 15,000
lbs of food(5). A a square that is 70 yards wide and 70 yards long
measures just over an acre.

The estimated population of human on the earth before the
advent of agriculture (10,000 BC) varies with some estimates as
low as 250,000 (6) Other estimates for the pre-agricultural hunter
gather population are more generous, in the range of 6 to 10
million.(7). The earth's current population is nearing 6,000

This 6,000 million are almost all supported by agriculture. They
could not be supported by hunter gathering, indeed it is suggested
that even the 10 million hunter gathers who may have existed
before agriculture may have been a non sustainable number.
Evidence for this can be seen in the Pleistocene overkill(8), a
period from 12,000 to 10,000 BC in which 200 genera of large
mammals went extinct. In the Americas in this period over 80%
of the population of large mammals became extinct.(9) That this
was due to over hunting is one controversial hypothesis. If correct
than the advent of agriculture (and civilisation) may even have
then due to the absence of large game which forced hunter
gathers to 'settle down' and find other ways of obtaining food.

Certainly in recorded history the same over hunting has been
observed with the arrival of man on isolated Polynesian islands.
Over hunting caused the extinction of the Dodo in Mauretania
and the Moa in New Zealand not to mention many less famous
Living in the bog in winter

Another way of looking at the fact that primitivism cannot
support all of the people of the planet is more anecdotal and uses
Ireland (where I live) as an example. Left to itself the Irish
countryside would consist mostly of mature oak forest with some
hazel scrub and bogs. Go into an oak forest and see how much
food you can gather - if you know your stuff there is some.
Acorns, fruit on brambles in clearings, some wild garlic,
strawberries, edible fungi, wild honey, and the meat from animals
like deer, squirrel, wild goat and pigeon that can be hunted. But
this is much, much, much fewer calories then the same area
cultivated as wheat or potatoes would yield. There is simply not
enough land in Ireland to support 5 million, the current
population of the island, as hunter gatherers.

Typically hunter gathers live at a population density of 1 per 10
square km. (Irelands present population density is around 500 per
10 square km or 500 times this). By extending this standard
calculation from elsewhere on the planet the number that could
be supported in Ireland would be less then 70,000. Probably a lot
less as only 20% of Ireland is arable land. Blanket bog or Burren
karst provide little in the way of food useful for humans. In winter
there would be very little food to be gathered (perhaps small
caches of nuts hidden by squirrels and some wild honey) and that
even 70,000 people living off hunting would eradicate the large
mammals (deer, wild goat) very quickly. The coastal areas and
larger rivers and lakes would be the main source of hunting and
some gathering in the form of shellfish and edible seaweed.

But being generous and assuming that somehow Ireland could
sustain 70,000 hunter gatherers we discover we need to 'reduce'
the population by some 4,930,000. Or 98.6%. The actual
archaeological estimates for the population of Ireland before the
arrival of agriculture is around 7,000 people.

The idea that a certain amount of land can support a certain
amount of people according to how it is (or in this case is not)
cultivated is referred to as its 'carrying capacity'. This can be
estimated for the earth as a whole. One modern calculation for
hunter gathers actually give you 100 million as the maximum
figure but just how much of a maximum this is becomes clear
when you realize that using similar methods gives 30 billion as
the maximum farming figure.(10) That would be six times the
worlds current population!

But let's take this figure of 100 million as the maximum rather
then the historical maximum of 10 million. This is generous
estimate, well above that of those primitivists who have dared to
address this issue. For instance Miss Ann Thropy writing in the
US Earth First! magazine estimated, "Ecotopia would be a planet
with about 50 million people who are hunting and gathering for
subsistence." (11)

The earth population today is around 6000 million. A return to a
'primitive' earth therefore requires that some 5900 million people
disappear. Something has to happen to 98% of the world's
population in order for the 100 million survivors to have even the
slightest hope of a sustainable primitive utopia.
Dirty tricks?

At this point some primitivist writers like John Moore cry foul,
dismissing the suggestion "that the population levels envisaged
by anarcho-primitivists would have to be achieved by mass
die-offs or nazi-style death camps. These are just smear tactics.
The commitment of anarcho-primitivists to the abolition of all
power relations, including the State with all its administrative and
military apparatus, and any kind of party or organization, means
that such orchestrated slaughter remains an impossibility as well
as just plain horrendous."(12)

The problem for John is that these 'smear tactics' are based not
only on the logical requirements of a primitivist world but are also
explicitly acknowledged by other primitivists. Miss Ann Thropy's
50 million has already been quoted. Another primitivist FAQ
claims "Drastic population reductions are going to happen
whether we do it voluntarily or not. It would be better, for obvious
reasons to do all this gradually and voluntarily, but if we don't the
human population is going to be cut anyway."(13)

The Coalition Against Civilization write "We need to be realistic
about what would happen were we to enter a post-civilized world.
One basic write-off is that a lot of people would die upon civil
collapse. While being a hard thing to argue to a moralistic person,
we shouldn't pretend this wouldn't be the case"(14)

More recently Derrick Jensen in an interview from Issue #6 of
The 'A' Word Magazine[15] said civilization "needs to be actively
fought against, but I don't think that we can bring it down. What
we can do is assist the natural world to bring it down..... I want
civilization brought down and I want it brought down now." We
have seen above what the consequences of 'bringing down'
civilization are.

In short there is no shortage of primitivists who recognize that the
primitive world they desire would require "mass die-offs". I've not
come across any who advocate "nazi-style death camps" but
perhaps John just threw this in to muddy the water. Primitivists
like John Moore can therefore refuse to confront this question of
die off by upping the emotional ante and by accusing those who
point the need for die-off out as carrying out 'smear tactics'. It's
up to him to explain either how 6 billion can be fed or to admit
that primitivism is no more then an intellectual mind game.

My expectation is that just about everyone when confronted with
this requirement of mass death will conclude that 'primitivism'
offers nothing to fight for. A very few, like the survivalists
confronted by the threat of nuclear war in the 1980's ,might
conclude that all this is inevitable and start planning how their
loved ones will survive when others die. But this later group has
moved far, far beyond any understanding of anarchism as I
understand it. So the 'anarcho' prefix such primitivists try to
claim has to be rejected.

Most primitivists run away from the requirement for mass death
in one of two ways. The more cuddly ones decide that primitivism
is not a program for a different way of running the world. Rather it
exists as a critique of civilization and not an alternative to it. This
is fair enough and there is a value in re-examining the basic
assumptions of civilization . But in that case primitivism is no
substitute for the anarchist struggle for liberation, which involves
adopting technology to our needs rather then rejecting it. The
problem is that primitivists like to attack the very methods of
mass organization that are necessary for overthrowing capitalism.
Reasonable enough if you believe you have an alternative to
anarchism but rather damaging if all you have is an interesting

Other primitivists however take the Cassandra path, telling us
they are merely prophets of an inevitable doom. They don't desire
the death of 5,900 million they just point out it cannot be
prevented. This is worth examing in some detail precisely
because it is so disempowering. What after all is the use of
fighting for a fair society today if tomorrow or the day after 98% if
us are going to die and everything we have built crumble to dust?
Are we all doomed?

Primitivists are not the only ones to use the rhetoric of
catastrophe to panic people into accepting their political
proposals. Reformists such as George Monbiot, use similar 'we
are all doomed' arguments to try and stampede people into
support for reformism and world government. In the last decade's
acceptance that the world is somehow doomed has become part
of mainstream culture, first as the cold war and then as looming
environmental disaster. George Bush and Tony Blair created a
panic over Weapons of Mass Destruction to give cover to their
invasion of Iraq. The need to examine and dismantle such panics
is clear.

The most convincing form the 'end of civilisation' panic takes is
the idea of a looming resource crisis that will make life as we
know it impossible. And the best resource to focus on for those
who wish to make this argument is oil. Everything we produce,
including food, is dependant on massive energy inputs and 40%
of the worlds energy use is generated from oil.

The primitivist version of this argument goes something like this,
'everyone knows that in X number of year the oil will run out, this
will mean civilization will grind to a halt, and this will mean lots
of people will die. So we might as well embrace the inevitable'.
The oil running out argument is the primitivist equivalent of the
orthodox Marxist 'final economic crisis that results in the
overthrowal of capitalism'. And, just like the orthodox Marxists,
primitivists always argue this final crisis is always just around the

When looked at in any detail this argument evaporates and it
becomes clear that neither capitalism nor civilization face a final
crisis because of the oil running out. This is not because oil
supplies are inexhaustible, indeed we may be reaching the peak
of oil production today in 1994. But far from being the end of
capitalism or civilization this is an opportunity for profit and
restructuring. Capitalism, however reluctantly, is gearing up to
make profits out of developing alternative energy sources on the
one hand and on the other of accessing plentiful but more
destructive to extract fossil fuel supplies. The second path of
course makes global warming and other forms of pollution a lot
worse but that's not likely to stop the global capitalist class.

It is not just primitivists who have become mesmerized by the oil
crisis so I intend to deal with this in a separate essay. But in
summary, while oil will become more expensive over the decades
the process to develop substitutes for it is already underway.
Denmark for instance intends to produce 50% of its energy needs
from wind farms by 2030 and Danish companies are already
making vast amounts of money because they are the leading
producers of wind turbines. The switch over from oil is likely to
provide an opportunity to make profits for capitalism rather then
representing some form of final crisis.

There may well be an energy crisis as oil starts to rise in price and
alternative technologies are not yet capable of filling the 40% of
energy generation filled by oil. This will cause oil and therefore
energy prices to soar but this will be a crisis for the poor of the
world and not for the wealthy some of whom will even profit from
it. A severe energy crisis could trigger a global economic
downturn but again it is the world's workers that suffer the most
in such times. There is a good argument that the world's elite are
already preparing for such a situation, many of the recent US
wars make sense in terms of securing future oil supplies for US

Capitalism is quite capable of surviving very destructive crisis.
World War 2 saw many of the major cities of Europe destroyed
and most of the industry of central Europe flattened. (By
bombers, by war, by retreating Germans and then torn up and
shipped east by advancing Russians). Millions of European
workers died as a result both in the war years and in the years that
followed. But capitalism not only survived, it flourished as
starvation allowed wages to be driven down and profits soared.
What if?

However it is worth doing a little mental exercise on this idea of
the oil running out. If indeed there was no alternative what might
happen? Would a primitivist utopia emerge even at the bitter price
of 5,900 million people dying?

No. The primitivists seem to forget that we live in a class society.
The population of the earth is divided into a few people with vast
resources and power and the rest of us. It is not a case of equal
access to resources, rather of quite incredible unequal access.
Those who fell victim to the mass die off would not include
Rubert Murdoch, Bill Gates or George Bush because these
people have the money and power to monopolise remaining
supplies for themselves.

Instead the first to die in huge number would be the population of
the poorer mega cities on the planet. Cairo and Alexandria in
Egypt have a population of around 20 million between them.
Egypt is dependent both on food imports and on the very
intensive agriculture of the Nile valley and the oasis. Except for
the tiny wealthy elite those 20 million urban dwellers would have
nowhere to go and there is no more land to be worked. Current
high yields are in part dependent on high inputs of cheap energy.

The mass deaths of millions of people is not something that
destroys capitalism. Indeed at periods of history it has been seen
as quite natural and even desirable for the modernization of
capital. The potato famine of the 1840's that reduced the
population of Ireland by 30% was seen as desirable by many
advocates of free trade.(16) So was the 1943/4 famine in British
ruled Bengal in which four million died(17). For the capitalist
class such mass deaths, particularly in colonies afford
opportunities to restructure the economy in ways that would
otherwise be resisted.

The real result of an 'end of energy' crisis would see our rulers
stock piling what energy sources remained and using them to
power the helicopter gunships that would be used to control those
of us fortunate enough to be selected to toil for them in the
biofuel fields. The unlucky majority would just be kept where
they are and allowed to die off. More of the 'Matrix' then utopia in
other words.

The other point to be made here is that destruction can serve to
regenerate capitalism. Like it or not large scale destruction allows
some capitalist to make a lot of money. Think of the Iraq war.
The destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure may be a disaster for
the people of Iraq buts it's a profit making bonanza for
Halliburton and co[18]. Not coincidentally the Iraq war, is helping
the US A, where the largest corporations are based, gain control
of the parts of the planet where much future and current oil
production takes place.

We can extend our intellectual exercise still further. Let us
pretend that some anarchists are magically transported from the
Earth to some Earth like planet elsewhere. And we are dumped
there without any technology at all. The few primitivists amongst
us might head off to run with the deer but a fair percentage would
sit down and set about trying to create an anarchist civilisation.
Many of the skills we could bring might not be that useful
(programming without computers is of little use) but between us
we'd have a good basic knowledge of agriculture, engineering,
hydraulics and physics. Next time the primitivists wandered
through the area we settled they'd find a landscape of farms and

We'd at least have wheeled carts and possibly draft animals if any
of the large game were suitable for domestication. We'd send out
parties looking for obvious sources of coal and iron and if we
found these we'd mine and transport them. If not we'd be felling a
lot of lumber to turn into charcoal to extract whatever iron or
copper we could from what could be found. The furnace and the
smelter would also be found on that landscape. We have some
medical knowledge, most importantly an understanding of germs
and medical hygiene so we'd have both basic water purification
and sewage removal systems.

We'd understand the importance of knowledge so we'd have an
education system for our children and at least the beginnings of a
long-term store of knowledge (books). We could probably find the
ingredients for gunpowder, which are quite common, which
would give us the blasting technology need for large-scale mining
and construction. If there was any marble nearby we could make
concrete, which is a much better building material then wood or

Technology did not come from the gods. It was not imposed on
man by a mysterious outside force. Rather it is something we
developed and continue to develop. Even if you could turn the
clock back it would just start ticking again. John Zerzan seems to
be the only primitivists capable of acknowledging this and he
retreats to the position of seeing language and abstract thought as
the problem. He is both right and ludicrous at the same time. His
vision of utopia requires not only the death of the mass of the
worlds population but would require the genetically engineered
lobotomy of those who survive and their off spring! Not of course
something he advocates but a logical end point of his argument.
Why argue against it?

So why spend so much space demolishing such a fragile ideology
as primitivism. One reason is the embarrassing connection with
anarchism some primitivists seek to claim. More importantly
primitivism both by implication and often in its calls wants its
followers to reject rationalism for mysticism and oneness with
nature. The are not the first irrational ecological movement to do
so, a good third of the German Nazi party came from forest
worshipping blood and soil movements that sprung up in
Germany in the aftermath of world war one.

This is not an empty danger. Within primitivism a
self-proclaimed irrational wing has developed that if not yet
advocating "nazi-style death camps" has openly celebrated the
deaths and murder of large numbers of people as a first step.

In December 1997 the US publication Earth First wrote that "the
AIDS epidemic, rather than being a scourge, is a welcome
development in the inevitable reduction of human
population."(19) Around the same period in Britain Steve Booth,
one of the editors of a magazine called 'Green Anarchist ', wrote

"The Oklahoma bombers had the right idea. The pity was that
they did not blast any more government offices. Even so, they did
all they could and now there are at least 200 government
automatons that are no longer capable of oppression.

The Tokyo sarin cult had the right idea. The pity was that in
testing the gas a year prior to the attack, they gave themselves
away. They were not secretive enough. They had the technology
to produce the gas but the method of delivery was ineffective.
One day the groups will be totally secretive and their methods of
fumigation will be completely effective."(20)

This is where you end up when you celebrate spirituality over
rationality. When the hope of 'running with deer' overcomes the
need to deal with the problem of making a revolution on a planet
of 6 billion people. The ideas above have only reactionary
conclusions. Their logic is elitist and hierarchical , little more that
a semi-secular version of gods chosen people laying waste to the
unbelievers. It certainly has nothing in common with anarchism.
We need more not less technology

Which brings us back to the start. Civilisation comes with many,
many problems but it is better than the alternative. The challenge
for anarchists is in transforming civilization to a form that is
without hierarchy, or imbalances of power or wealth. This is not a
new challenge, it has always been the challenge of anarchism as
shown by the lengthy Bakunin quote at the start of this essay.

To do this we need modern technology to clean our water, pump
away and process our waste and inoculate or cure people of the
diseases of high population density. With only 10 million people
on the earth you can shit in the woods providing you keep moving
on. With 6 billion those who shit in the woods are shitting in the
water they and those around them will have to drink. According
to the UN "each year, more than 2.2 million people die from
water and sanitation related diseases, many of them children".
Close to one billion urban dwellers have no access to sustainable
sanitation. Data for "43 African cities .... shows that 83 percent of
the population do not have toilets connected to sewers"(21).

The challenge then is not simply the construction of a civilization
that keeps everyone's standards of living at the level they are now.
The challenge is raising just about everyone's standard of living
but doing so in a manner that is reasonably sustainable. Only the
further development of technology coupled to a revolution that
eliminates inequality across the planet can deliver this.

It is unfortunate that some anarchists who live in the most
developed, most wealthy and most technological nations of the
world prefer to play with primitivism than getting down to
thinking about how we can really change the world. The global
transformation required will make all previous revolutions fade
into insignificance.

The major problem is not simply that capitalism has been happy
to leave a huge proportion of the world's population in poverty.
The problem is also that development has been aimed at creating
consumers for future products rather then providing what people

Transport provides the simplest example. A variety of forms of
mass transport exist that can move huge numbers of people from
place to place at great speed. Yet in the last decade capitalism has
concentrated on the form that uses the greatest resources per
traveler both in terms of what goes into making it and what is
required to keep it running. This is the individual car.

Across large areas of the most developed parts of the globe this is
pretty much the only way to get around in an efficient manner.
The car has created the sprawling mega city of which Los
Angeles is perhaps the most infamous example. There a city has
been created whose urban layout makes individual car ownership
almost compulsory.

This form of transport is simply not a solution for most of the
world's population. And it's not simply that most people cannot
afford a car at the moment. The resources consumed in the
construction of the 3 billion odd cars needed for every adult
inhabitant of the globe are simply not available. Nor are the
resources (petrol) to run these 3 billion cars available.

So taking hold of existing technologies and developing new ones
cannot simply mean carrying on capitalist production (or
production methods) under a red and black flag. Just as a future
anarchist society would seek to abolish the boring monotonous
work of the assembly line so it would need to radically change the
nature of the products that are produced. At a simple level in
terms of transport this would perhaps begin with greatly reducing
the production of cars and greatly increasing the production of
bicycles, motorbikes, trains, buses, trucks and mini-buses.

I'm neither a 'transport expert' nor a worker in the transport
industry so I can do no more then guess at what these changes
might be. But we should be aware that outside of the west the
need for transport is often solved in far less individualistic ways.
Only the wealthy can afford a car but the mass of the population
can often move almost as quickly from one location to another
making use not only of bus and rail but also of systems of long
distance collective taxis and mini-buses that run between towns
whenever they are full.

This is the challenge for anarchism. Not simply to overthrow the
existing capitalist world order but also to see the birth of a new
world. A world that is at least capable of delivering the same
access to goods, transport, healthcare and education as is
accessible to the 'middle class' in Scandinavian countries today.

It is that new society that will decide what new technologies are
needed and how to adopt existing technologies to the challenge of
a new world. It is quite likely that some technologies, if not
discarded, will be very much downgraded. It's hard to believe we
would happily decide to build new nuclear power stations for
instance. GMOs would need to prove something beyond the
possibility of GMO's meaning greater profits and monopolies for
corporations, not least that the benefit was greater than the

As long as capitalism exists it will continue to reek environmental
havoc as it chases profits. It will only effectively respond to the
energy crisis once that becomes profitable and because there will
be a lag of many years before oil can be replaced this might mean
worsening poverty and death for many or the poorer people in the
world. But we cannot fix these problems by dreaming of some
lost golden age when the world's population was low enough to
support hunter gathering. We can only sort it out by building the
sort of mass movements that can not only overthrow capitalism
but also introduce a libertarian society. And on the way we need
to find ways to halt and even reverse some of the worst of the
environmental threats capitalism is generating.

Primitivism is a pipe dream - it offers no way forwards in the
struggle for a free society. Often its adherents end up
undermining that struggle by attacking the very things, like mass
organization, that are a requirement to win it. Those primitivists
who are serious about changing the world need to re-examine
what they are fighting for.

Andrew Flood
May 11 2004

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1 http://flag.blackened.net/daver/anarchism/bakunin/paris.html


3 http://www.heritage.nf.ca/aboriginal/inuit.html




7 http://qrc.depaul.edu/lheneghan/ENV102/env102Lecture8.htm


9 http://qrc.depaul.edu/lheneghan/ENV102/env102Lecture8.htm


(sorry for the long URL but the page is not directly accessible)

11 "Miss Ann Thropy," Earth First! Dec. 22, 1987, cited at

12 http://www.eco-action.org/dt/primer.html A Primitivist Primer
By John Moore

13 http///www.eco-action.org/spellbreaker/faq.html

14 the Practical Anarcho-Primitivist: actualizing the implications
of a critique -Coalition Against Civilization, online at

15 Issue #6 of The 'A' Word Magazine, this interview online at

16 http://struggle.ws/ws95/famine45.html

17 http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/ockham/stories/s19040.htm

18 For a reasoned critique of collapism from a Green anarchist
perspective see

19 Earth First!, Dec. 22, 1987, cited at

20 Green Anarchist, number 51, page 11, a defense of these
remarks was published in Number 52. The author Steve Booth
was a GA editor (and the treasurer) at the time

21 http://www.unhabitat.org/global_water.asp

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