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Green anarchism, also known as ecological anarchism or eco-anarchism, is an anarchist school of thought that focuses on ecology and environmental issues. It is an anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian form of radical environmentalism, which emphasises social organization, freedom and self-fulfillment.
A green anarchist theory is normally one that extends anarchism beyond a critique of human interactions and includes a critique of the interactions between humans and non-humans as well. Beyond human liberation, green anarchist praxis can extend to some form of non-human, total liberation and an environmentally sustainable anarchist society.
The main tendencies of green anarchism are: social ecology, which argues that environmental issues stem directly from social issues; deep ecology, which critiques anthropocentrism and advocates instead for biocentrism; and anarcho-primitivism, which advocates for the abolition of technology and civilization.
Before the Industrial Revolution, the only occurrences of ecological crisis were small-scale, localised to areas affected by natural disasters, overproduction or war. But as the enclosure of common land increasingly forced dispossessed workers into factories, more wide-reaching ecological damage began to be noticed by radicals of the period.
During the late 19th century, as capitalism and colonialism were reaching their height, political philosophers first began to develop critiques of industrialised society, which had caused a rise in pollution and environmental degradation. In response, these early environmentalists developed a concern for nature and wildlife conservation, soil erosion, deforestation, and natural resource management. Early political approaches to environmentalism were supplemented by the literary naturalism of writers such as Henry David Thoreau, John Muir and Ernest Thompson Seton, whose best-selling works helped to alter the popular perception of nature by rejecting the dualistic "man against nature" conflict.
Ecology in its modern form was developed by Charles Darwin, whose work on evolutionary biology provided a scientific rejection of Christian and Cartesian anthropocentrism, instead emphasising the role of probability and individual agency in the process of evolution.
The ecological roots of anarchism go back to the classical anarchists, such as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Mikhail Bakunin, who both conceived of human nature as the basis for anarchism. Drawing from Charles Darwin's work, Bakunin considered people to be an intrinsic part of their environment. Bakunin rejected Cartesian dualism, denying its anthropocentric and mechanistic separation of humanity from nature. Bakunin's naturalism was developed into an ecological philosophy by the geographers Peter Kropotkin and Éliseé Reclus, who conceived the relationship between human society and nature as a dialectic. Their environmental ethics, which combined social justice with environmental protection, anticipated the green anarchist philosophies of social ecology and bioregionalism.
Kropotkin was among the first environmentalist thinkers to note the connections between industrialisation, environmental degradataion and workers' alienation. In contrast to Marxists, who called for an increase in industrialisation, Kropotkin argued for the localisation of the economy, which he felt would increase people's connection with the land and halt environmental damage. In Fields, Factories and Workshops, Kropotkin advocated for the satisfaction of human needs through horticulture, and the decentralisation and degrowth of industry. He also criticised the division of labour, both between mental and manual labourers, and between the rural peasantry and urban proletariat. In Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, he elaborated on the natural basis for communism.
Reclus himself argued that environmental degradation caused by industrialisation, exemplified to him by mass deforestation in the Pacific Northwest, was characteristic of the "barbarity" of modern civilisation, which he felt subordinated both workers and the environment to the goal of capital accumulation. Reclus was also one of the earliest figures to develop the idea of "total liberation", directly comparing the exploitation of labour with cruelty to animals and thus advocating for both human and animal rights.
Kropotkin and Reclus' synthesis of environmental and social justice formed the foundation for eco-socialism, chiefly associated with libertarian socialists who advocated for a "return to nature", such as Robert Blatchford, William Morris and Henry Salt. They also directly lay the foundations for the development of green anarchism in the 1960s, when it was first taken up by figures within the New Left.
Green anarchism first emerged after the dawn of the Atomic Age, as increasingly centralized governments brought with them a new host of environmental and social issues. By the 1960s, as the threats presented by environmental degradation, industrial agriculture and pollution were becoming more urgent, the first green anarchists turned to decentralisation and diversity as solutions for socio-ecological systems.
Green anarchism as a tendency was pioneered by Murray Bookchin, whose theory of social ecology presented an analysis for the relationship between society and nature. He presented human society as both the cause of and solution to environmental degradation, envisioning the creation of a rational and ecological society through a process of sociocultural evolution. Bookchin saw society itself as a natural product of evolution, which intrinsically tended toward ever-increasing complexity and diversity. While he saw human society as having the potential to become "nature rendered self-conscious", in The Ecology of Freedom, he elaborated that the emergence of hierarchy had given way to an "aberrant" form of society that was both ecologically and socially destructive.
Bookchin considered that the human desire to dominate other humans had preceded the human desire to dominate nature, which itself caused a vicious circle of increasing socio-ecological devastation. As he considered social hierarchy to go against the natural evolutionary principles of complexity and diversity, he resolved that it would have to be abolished in order to resolve ecological crisis. Bookchin thus proposed a decentralised system of direct democracy, centred locally in the municipality, where people themselves could participate in decision making. He envisioned a self-organized system of popular assemblies to replace the state and re-educate individuals into socially and ecologically minded citizens.
During the 1970s, another tendency of green anarchism emerged that stood in contrast to social ecology. Developed by Arne Næss, the theory of deep ecology posited the rejection of anthropocentrism in favour of biocentrism, which recognized the intrinsic value of all life, regardless of its utility to humankind. Unlike Bookchin, theorists of deep ecology considered human society to be incapable of reversing environmental degradation and, as a result, proposed a drastic reduction in world population. The solutions to human overpopulation proposed by deep ecologists included bioregionalism, which advocated the replacement of the nation state with bioregions, as well as a widespread return to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The deep ecological approach was taken up by Earth First!, a group which advocated for direct action against environmentally destructive projects, such as deforestation, and welcomed the mass death caused by disease and famine as a form of population control.
Following deep ecology, the main development in green anarchism was John Zerzan's conception of anarcho-primitivism, which criticised the emergence of technology, agriculture and civilization as the source of all social problems. According to Zerzan, it was the division of labour in agricultural societies that had first given way to the social inequality and alienation which became characteristic of modernity. As such, Zerzan proposed the abolition of technology and science, in order for society to be broken down and humans to return to a hunter-gather lifestyle.
Contemporary writers such as Murray Bookchin and Alan Carter have claimed anarchism to be the only political ideology capable of addressing climate change.
Some green anarchists engage in direct action (not to be confused with ecoterrorism). Organizing themselves through groups like Earth First!, Root Force, or more drastically the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), Earth Liberation Army (ELA) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF), they may take direct action against what they see as systems of oppression, such as the logging industry, the meat and dairy industries, animal testing laboratories, genetic engineering facilities and, more rarely, government institutions.
Eco-anarchist actions have included violent attacks, such as those carried out by cells of the Informal Anarchist Federation (IAF) and Individualists Tending to the Wild (ITS) against nuclear scientists and nanotechnology researchers respectively.