Murray Bookchin

The forms of freedom




This is an extract from a longer text by the same title. The main point concerns the demassification of the individuals through a revolutionary process promoting the formation of people acting as free individuals.

Source: Murray Bookchin, Post-scarcity anarchism, 1971


In envisioning the complete dissolution of the existing society, we cannot get away from the question of power — be it power over our own lives, the "seizure of power," or the dissolution of power. In going from the present to the future, from "here" to "there," we must ask: what is power? Under what conditions is it dissolved? And what does its dissolution mean? How do the forms of freedom, the unmediated relations of social life, emerge from a statified society, a society in which the state of unfreedom is carried to the point of absurdity — to domination for its own sake?

We begin with the historical fact that nearly all the major revolutionary upheavals began spontaneously: witness the three days of "disorder" that preceded the take-over of the Bastille in July 1789, the defense of the artillery in Montmartre that led to the Paris Commune of 1871, the famous "five days" of February 1917 in Petrograd, the uprising of Barcelona in July 1936, the takeover of Budapest and the expulsion of the Russian army in 1956. Nearly all the great revolutions came from below, from the molecular movement of the "masses," their progressive individuation and their explosion — an explosion which invariably took the authoritarian "revolutionists" completely by surprise.

There can be no separation of the revolutionary process from the revolutionary goal. A society based on self-administration must be achieved by means of self-administration. This implies the forging of a self (yes, literally a forging in the revolutionary process) and a mode of administration which the self can possess. If we define "power" as the power of man over man, power can only be destroyed by the very process in which man acquires power over his own life and in which he not only "discovers" himself but, more meaningfully, formulates his selfhood in all its social dimensions.

Freedom, so conceived, cannot be "delivered" to the individual as the "end product" of a “revolution" — much less as a "revolution" achieved by social-philistines who are hypnotized by the trappings of authority and power. The assembly and community cannot be legislated or decreed into existence. To be sure, a revolutionary group can purposively and consciously seek to promote the creation of these forms; but if assembly and community are not allowed to emerge organically, if their growth is not instigated, developed and matured by the social processes at work, they will not be really popular forms. Assembly and community must arise from within the revolutionary process itself; indeed, the revolutionary process must be the formation of assembly and community, and with it, the destruction of power. Assembly and community must become "fighting words," not distant panaceas. They must be created as modes of struggle against the existing society, not as theoretical or programmatic abstractions.

It is hardly possible to stress this point strongly enough. The future assemblies of people in the block, the neighborhood or the district — the revolutionary sections to come — will stand on a higher social level than all the present-day committees, syndicates, parties and clubs adorned by the most resounding "revolutionary" titles. They will be the living nuclei of Utopia in the decomposing body of bourgeois society. Meeting in auditoriums, theaters, courtyards, halls, parks and — like their forerunners, the sections of 1793 — in churches, they will be the arenas of demassification, for the very essence of the revolutionary process is people acting as individuals.


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