The Unabomber and Kirkpatrick Sale


Interesting that Kirkpatrick Sale's new book would be cited on this list. I'm actually mapping out an essay on computers and socialism that will critique this book and defend a number of concepts in Cockshott and Cottrill's "Toward a New Socialism".

My central ideas: the "second contradiction" between society and nature as described by Jim O'Connor will emerge more and more as a central issue as we slouch toward the 21st century. Early signs: the confused political message of the ranchers described by Jeffery St. Clair in Doug Henwood's recent post reflects clash over land, water, etc. The new, populist resurgence in the USA can be understood in terms of the political economy of the "second contradiction". Rwanda's civil war must be understood against the backdrop of a 50% drop in grain yield through the 1960's.

I am not talking about environmentalism, a bourgeois ideology. I am talking about socialist ecology. The 21st century will demonstrate with terrible force the destructiveness of capitalism. All of the contention in recent years over which system promotes more rapid growth: socialism or capitalism will be re-thought. The "growth" of Walmart, Exxon, GM, etc. is like a cancerous growth that will eventually destroy its host body: the planet earth and its population.

The problem with Sale is the same problem as that of the 19th century Utopians. As blissful (?) as the life of the Amish appears to him, this is not a solution for the billions of people living in cities during the period of late capitalism.

The solution would appear to be in a planned economy that is global in scope. Resources must be balanced against human need. Computers will be instrumental in effecting this change. The original Marxian vision of communism as a global system will be revisited on a grand scale. All socialist politics must embrace this new vision.

Traditional Soviet-styled planned economies and social democracy will not match up to these tasks, since they are based on a national model of growth and development. The end of the cold war has made Soviet-style socialism obsolete. It has also made social democracy, market socialism and other nationally-oriented, unplannned approaches based on capitalism obsolete.

I'll have more to say on this subject but probably not on this list since I am not a trained economist. I will be elaborating on it on the Marxism list and expect to have an interesting discussion there.


Just as the cyber-ink was drying on my critique of Kirkpatrick Sale's neo-Luddism, I pick up the NY Times and discover that the Unabomber's "revolution" is designed to prevent a future in which the human race is at the mercy of intelligent machines created by computer scientists. Out of the chaos, he expresses the hope that a return to "wild nature" might prevail.

This bomber reminds me of the Weathermen from years past. When they gave up hope of persuading the American people of the rightness of their cause, they resorted to terrorism out of frustration. They hoped that their bombs would spark some kind of uprising. The Unabomber is to the green movement as the Weathermen were to the antiwar movement. As the spectacle of mainstream environmentalism's accommodation with capitalist America continues to mount, many "deep ecologists" will lash out in frustration.

What's interesting is that the Unabomber describes himself as an anarchist and expresses hostility to a left, which we may presume to include the Marxist left. The green movement has been deeply saturated with anarchist ideology from the very beginning and its appropriate to say a few words about the politics of "green anarchism".

Green anarchism contains some deeply reactionary tendencies. There is a belief in the Gaea principle which regards the natural world as some kind of self-regulating, perfect mechanism. Homo Sapiens can be seen as almost superfluous or, worse, as intrusive. If humanity does nothing to mend its ways, the natural system will continue without it.

Green anarchists embrace localism. One of them says that each community should exist as "totally separate geographical and social entity. If there is much social mixing between the groups, if people work outside the group, it will weaken the community bond ... xenophobia is the key to the community's success." (R. Hunt, "The Natural Society: a Basis for Green Anarchism") Some welcome the break-up of Eastern "communism" as an expression of bioregionalism and embrace Yugoslavia's dissolution into Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia.

The belief in a "natural order" defies attempts at creating ethical imperatives since there are no "moral values" in nature. Sale says "When [people] look with Gaean eyes and feel a Gaean consciousness, as they can do at the bioregional scale, there is no longer any need to worry about the abstruse effluvia of 'ethical responses' to the world around."

As a corollary, politics in the conventional sense is to be shunned. Green anarchists bypass the class struggle and seek to implement visions of their "new society" in the here-and-now within the framework of capitalist society. They are encouraged by such phenomena as urban dwellers creating, without state aid, green spaces, playgrounds, etc. from waste grounds.

This hostility toward the state is typical of traditional anarchism. Moreover, the green anarchists share with "postmodernist" Marxism a non-class based enthusiasm for the new social movements. Communities of peace activists and feminists who are non- hierarchical, sharing and spontaneous, and who live in harmony with nature represent pockets of the new order. Workers hardly figure in this schema.

They also share with some of our trendier neo-Marxists an inordinate enthusiasm for cooperatives. One describes the recent upsurge of coops as "anarchism in its latest manifestation. Contemporary coops, and the support structure which has grown up around them are subtly imbued with the anarchist spirit." (T. Cahill, "For Anarchism: History, Theory and Practice") It is true that coops have elements which are found in anarchist structures: decentralization, egalitarianism, self-management based on local needs, etc. I for one find it difficult to believe that coops are harbingers of a liberated society. They can be just another self- exploitative device through which capitalism unburdens itself from responsibilities to society.

It is out of this reactionary stew that the Unabomber emerges. As Marxists, we have an alternative to this kind of bankrupt politics. In my next post, I shall sketch out a Marxist alternative to green anarchism.