What are the global effects of anarchist lifestyle choices?
The idea that ‘Another World is Possible’ is a vital motivational force behind most anarchist lifestyles. Despite some claims of individualism, some anarchist lifestyle choices embody a communal approach that seeks to instantiate this ‘other world’ in direct opposition to the individualistic lifestyles that embody the spirit of capitalism. Grassroots activisms, in the form of “small communities of liberation” (Clark 2004:70), are a case in point. In this essay I will briefly revisit the meaning of lifestyle anarchism and argue that some intentional communities with an ecological ideology prefigure an alternative. I will then flip the notion of what is global on its head and argue that examples of anarchist prefiguration have real potential to transform the structural nature of capitalism as any local action is itself linked to, and enacted upon, the global stage.
Lifestyle Anarchism Revisited
Bookchin (1995) argued that merely living an anarchist lifestyle does little to address the structural oppression of capitalism. Bookchin constructed a dichotomy between the social and personal and saw personal or lifestyle choices as an indulgence afforded to the privileged whose focus was purely on “personal improvement, personal achievement, and personal enlightenment” (1995:7). When an anarchist lifestyle constitutes these emphases then it is easy to sympathize with Bookchin’s disdain. Whilst I am in agreement with Bookchin that there is little potential for political change through self-realization alone, his narrow, binary evaluation of lifestyle / social anarchism has been sufficiently challenged with rational arguments elsewhere (Clark 2008; Davis 2010; Wilson 2014a). Suffice to say that the personal must also be political to be anarchistic, a theme I will return to later.
Anarchism is a code of ethics, reaching toward a multispecies, biocentric ontology. It is a verb, a relational way of being in the world based on egalitarian values of mutual aid, co-operation, community, equality, equity, collective stewardship of resources, and the respect for diversity. Furthermore, what constitutes a lifestyle, is a complex system of relationships that include consumption habits, language, ideologies and the general behavior and habits of individuals and sub-cultures (Clark 2008; Portwood-Stacer 2013; Wilson 2014a). Invoking Foucault’s (1991; 1998; Rabinow 1991) concept of power and discipline (power is not just exercised from the top down but also throughout society by individuals and groups within that society) infers that lifestyle choices contain agency. If this agency is exercised using disciplinary techniques embodied in anarchism then this could, in time, begin to break down global capitalist structures through the creation of “new logics, habits, spaces”. (Wilson 2014b: 4). A multitude of resistant and innovative cultures enacted on a local, grassroots level, a hollowing out of the system from within (ibid). Whilst Bookchin’s own philosophy makes immeasurable contributions to potential alternative ways to organize the world politically, it still fails to provide an answer to the question of ‘where does one begin’?
If capitalism relies upon growth, fuelled by competition for its survival then surely one legitimate way to resist capitalism is to engage in a lifestyle that limits its contribution to capitalism. One way to instantiate this kind of lifestyle is to transform our social relationships so that they become reliant upon co-operation as opposed to competition through monetary economics. For this transformation to be as close to egalitarian principles as possible it has to begin at the smallest unit of agency and its equal relationships to all other units of the same size i.e. the individual and its relationship to other individuals. As these relationships are never fixed the concept of prefiguration becomes central. Prefiguration focuses upon processes as opposed to results; embodying the desired world today through the performance of the desired values, actions and social relationships of an individual and any given community. As Portwood-Stacer clearly highlights (2013:98), a man cannot be an advocate for gender equality whilst also perpetuating male privilege, as he would be replicating the very behavior he seeks to invalidate. Citing various definitions Maeckelbergh (2009:66-67) also offers her own insightful definition, “[p]refiguration is a practice through which movement actors create conflation of their ends with their means”. Boggs (1977:101) stated that this could be achieved by the creation of “local, collective small-scale organs of social democracy”. Whilst the concept of prefiguration is arbitrary in itself, when paired with anarchism it instantiates a very real potential for change. I will now look at examples of anarchist prefiguration and how they embody and perform ‘another world’.
Small Communities of Liberation
When John Clark highlights the need for a dialectical approach to societal transformation he identifies a diverse range of activities that “must take place at many levels simultaneously.” (2008:18). These activities include, “worker co-operatives, consumer co-operatives, land trusts, co-operative housing […] other non-capitalist initiatives – in short, an emerging solidarity economy”. Clark also cites various forms of “cultural expression” such as “liberatory art, music, poetry, theater” as important transformative activities. (ibid.18-19). One form that I want to focus in on in more detail is the “small intentional community” (Clark 2008:19), which in many ways can be understood as a small community of liberation (Clark 2004:70). Whilst humans have formed communities for time immemorial there is something unique in the way the intentional community is situated within the nation state. As anthropologist Susan Love Brown states,
"[t]he intentional community is a phenomenon of the nation-states and an important object of study, because it allows us to observe how human beings living in large heterogeneous societies use community to cope with the exigencies of life". (2002:6).
Since the rise of modern environmentalism many of these communities have formed around an ecological ideology. Often examples of these kinds of communities are not explicit in their anarchist leanings; however they do display anarchist prefigurative practices and behaviours. These practices and behaviours include co-operative ownership of land and horizontal decision-making processes. In the UK many fall into the ‘Low Impact Development’ category implying off-grid lifestyles, severing the reliance on corporate energy suppliers for their energy needs. Other examples of implicitly anarchist behaviors include communal food production and consumption, communal car ownership, taboos around unethical consumption (the kind of which contributes to the profits of large corporations). These communities often,
"embody a highly articulated set of values, ideas, beliefs, images, symbols, ritual and practices. We might say that any microcommunity that possesses such qualities exemplifies a process of social condensation". (Clark 2004:70)
Yorkley Court Community Farm (YCCF) merits a special mention due to the way it was acquired. Yorkley Court farm is a large estate that had no registered owner and had fallen into disrepair (YCCF no date: online). Since 2012 it has been inhabited by a group of individuals who transformed it into a community farm. There ‘aims’ include sustainability in all its manifestations, co-operation, renewable energy and an emphasis on health and well-being. The ethos of the community is both explicitly ecologically and environmentally orientated and implicitly anarchist. Their ‘Agreement of Respect’, published on their website (YCCF no date: online), states, “[t]he basic tenet of the agreement is respect – respect each other (our backgrounds, identities, ideas and bodies) – and respect the space we’ve created together”. It also includes tenents like “[a]ny behaviour – physical or verbal – that demeans, marginalises or dominates others, or perpetuates hierarchies, is not welcome.”
It is also worth noting that YCCF are members of the Landworkers Alliance who are directly challenging capitalist modes of food production by advocating and supporting “small-scale producers and family farms” in the pursuit of sustainable agricultural systems (Landworkers Alliance 2015:online). This pursuit plays into global concerns around food security and seed sovereignty. The Landworkers Alliance is a UK based group who are part of the wider ‘International Peasant Movement’, La Vie Campesina. This movement is a demonstration of the connectivity and global nature of grassroots, local action seeking to address a pressing global issue. Unfortunately a “Forest of Dean entrepreneur” (Qaiser 2015:online) recently filed for the eviction of YCCF, which he won and now the residents are fighting to keep their community. This eviction demonstrates the obstacles involved in realising these kind of projects. It is also a serious blow to the study of these kind of projects as much more time is required to assess how effective they are at sustaining themselves and whether there are wider, global implications involved in their lifestyle choices.
Research into ‘low impact intentional communities’ and their anarchist credentials is still quite limited. Ethnographic evidence is vital in this area of research as it offers invaluable insights into the sustainability and resilience of lifestyles that seek to limit their contribution to, and involvement with capitalism. It also answers Graeber’s call (2004:12), “to look at those who are creating viable alternatives…”. Rhiannon Firth (2012) uses ethnographic methods to examine a number of intentional communities. Whilst the examples Firth examines are not specifically low impact they do represent a variety of communal living experiments. From her observations she notes that, “[w]ays of organizing and using space that differ from dominant models were clearly observable […]. All the communities had a shared kitchen and shared social space…” (ibid.68). Interestingly, members of these communities thought of themselves less as members of a nation state and more as part of a “global citizenship” (ibid.66). Furthermore, they define their needs “not as being provided by the system” but rather through collectively realised, “egalitarian and participatory social relationships” (ibid.64). Through their local activity as global citizens they are enacting the global on a local level. I will now examine what is inferred by the complex relationship between the ‘global’ and the ‘local’ in more detail.
The Global and Local Dichotomy
When asking ourselves what are the global effects of anarchist lifestyle choices it is important to first unpick what is meant by the global and the local. Viewing them as binary opposites does little to represent the reality of the many lifestyles and relationships of the global citizenship. Deconstructing these ‘concept metaphors’ (Moore 2004) results in the need for a revision in the ontology of identity and space. It is true that every single human is living in a geographically defined ‘local’ space but it is also true that each human is a global citizen and so to define actions as purely local implies that the global is an abstract isolated object that exists ‘out there’. As Moore (2004:71) points out, it is widely agreed that whatever the global is it is not a homogenized unit. The global is everywhere and exists in the relationships that all 7 billion humans are engaged in all the time. Just by taking a cursory glance at where our clothes are made, or where our bananas are grown supports this hypothesis. Furthermore, the line between nation-state and global corporation has become increasingly difficult to define (Ferguson & Gupta 2002) adding to the ambiguity of national identities and the exact location of hegemony.
By applying I.R. theory through the lens of a feminist epistemology may help in our ontological understanding of the global and the local. Reflecting the feminist slogan ‘the personal is the political’ Hutchings (1994:160) identifies a “complex dialectical interrelation” between the local and the global. Or as Hutchings terms it, “The Personal Is International”. Hutchings challenges the traditional masculine epistemology of ‘international relations’ with its monopoly on rationality and its claim to be objective and empirical when dividing the ‘subject’ and the ‘object’. Further, Hutchings claims that knowledge is only possible through the dissolution of this constructed binary and that international relationships are substantiated by all the subjective relationships that exist and are continually enacted on a personal level. There is no ‘external’ out there; the knower and the known, the subject and the object are engaged in a continual feedback loop where the boundaries are never clear or fixed.
This feedback loop is evident when examining the plight of some indigenous peoples and how they have cleverly positioned themselves in relation to global issues. As Kearney (1995) highlights, “[n]umerous indigenous groups have been able to reframe their disadvantageous relationships with the nation-states that encompass them by redefining their projects in the global space of environmentalism and human rights”. This has led to the support of many indigenous groups by the international human rights movement that in turn puts pressure on the nation state in question to change its policies (ibid). Furthermore, local cultures are capable of being responsive and reflexive to global processes and “resist them and shape them for their own purposes.” (Moore 2004:71). The global and the local as specified ‘objects’ are never fixed, never achieved and never arrived at. Instead the world consists of “a complex set of interconnections and processes through which meanings, goods and people flow, coalesce and diverge” (Moore 2004:78).
Whilst the anarchist lifestyle choices I have highlighted in this essay exemplify their potential it is very difficult to assess their actual global effects. The difficulties lie in the fact that the passing of an extended period of time is necessary to properly determine the success of prefigurative anarchism and the longevity and influence of these ‘small communities of liberation’. I have shown that lifestyle anarchism can instantiate far more than the merely superficial, personal lifestyle choices that are based on purely individual motives. When lifestyle choices are embodied in anarchist prefiguration they have the very real potential to challenge the structural nature of capitalism. By challenging our fixed understanding of what the local and the global is I have suggested that the global citizenship is enacted at the local level through a multitude of interconnected relationships and that this is where we might begin to realize ‘another world’.
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YCCF (Yorkley Court Community Farm). No date. [online]. Accessed on 7th March 2015 from https://yorkleycourt.wordpress.com/
 This slogan originated in the 1990s out of the World Social Forum (Harvey 2009:online). See Maeckelbergh’s (2009) ethnography for further insights into the World Social Forum.
 Bookchin himself went through a series of “personal enlightenments” in his lifelong development of social ecology.
 Anarchism has its roots in anti-statism discourse. This is, essentially, against the centralization of power and decision making. There is too much complexity in any discourse around decentralization for me to attend to here. Suffice to say that whilst I concur with a move toward decentralization and the dissolution of central government it is crucial that it goes hand in hand with the criteria I have stated for it to be anarchistic. I think it is also important to quote Kropotkin (1939:233) with regards to ethics who stated “It is especially in the domain of ethics that the dominating importance of the mutual-aid principle appears in full. That mutual aid is the real foundation of our ethical conceptions seems evident enough.”
 “LID is development which, by virtue of its low or benign environmental impact, may be allowed in locations where conventional development is not permitted.” (Fairlie 2009:online). There are many examples of these communities across the UK. However, for this publication I have chosen to protect their identity due to the instability of their continued planning decisions and the negative association the label anarchism could bring to their cause.