The dismantling of "actually existing socialism" does not reflect the "triumph" of capitalism, as celebrated by its ideological supporters. Nor, of course, does it justify in any way a social system which, in its present universality, condemns to misery the vast majority of the world population and threatens the planet with an ecological catastrophe. Further more, it does not herald the historical victory of Western socialist statism over socialist statism in the East, as the ideologues of the latter have hastened to declare. Social democracy - in the form of a comprehensive welfare state, a state commitment to secure full employment and a redistribution of income and wealth in favour of the weaker social groups - is dead and has been replaced by the present social-liberal "soup", which has little relation to the socialist ideals of the old social-democrats. Therefore, what the dismantling of "actually existing socialism", and the parallel collapse of social-democracy, have shown, is the final disintegration of socialist statism. This is the historical tradition which, following its victory over the alternative form of socialism, libertarian socialism (a product of the autonomy tradition), more than a century ago, has since dominated the anti-capitalist struggle. So, if one hundred years ago, the issue was "socialism or barbarism?", today, the crucial issue easily takes the form "autonomy or barbarism?"
In an attempt to contribute to an interpretation of the present historical moment, this issue will examine, from different -as always- angles within the radical left and Green problematique, some of the issues that the above crucial question puts forward.
Murray Bookchin opens the discussion with a powerful critique of marxism and traditional socialism, not only in relation to its overtly economistic focus but, also, with respect to its strictly statist nature. In the same context, recent theories, propagated today by modern statists in the ecological and socialist movements, about a "minimal" state or an autonomous "civil society", are shown to be not only a-historical and blatantly ignorant of the dialectic of the state and the market but also conditioned by a concept of politics, which is completely alien to true Politics, in the classical Greek meaning of the word.
Takis Fotopoulos attempts to trace the common causes of the collapse of socialist statism ("actually existing socialism" and social democracy) as well as of the failure of capitalism in the concentration of economic power. Concentration, in turn, and ecological destruction, are shown to be the inevitable consequences, and, also, the fundamental preconditions, of the growth economy, which, historically, takes the form of either a capitalist growth economy or a socialist one. In both cases, the end is the same but the means are different and it is the much lower degree of compatibility between ends and means in the socialist case, than in the capitalist one, which has already led to the eclipse of the former. Thus, social and individual autonomy, in the form of direct and economic democracy based on sound ecological foundations, emerges as the only way out of today's multi- dimensional crisis, which leads, in an accelerative way, to barbarism.
However, if, at the economic level, concentration of economic power is the inevitable consequence of the market economy, as well as the precondition for the reproduction of the growth economy, at the political level, as Costas Kavoulakos shows, concentration of political power is its necessary functional complement. Setting the views of Habermas and Castoriadis in the form of a "debate" on democracy, the author questions the supposed "realism" of the civil society project (which, in the last instance, amounts to the reproduction, with some "democratic injections", of today's institutional framework i.e. the state, the parties and the market economy), in comparison to the supposedly utopian character of the radical autonomy project.
For John Ely, the 1990s appear to be dominated by a "civil society" discourse which, while it asks the right questions about democracy, provides the wrong answer. A critique of the statist assumptions of this discourse from the perspective of the city-state may therefore expose the statist bias of the civil society concept. In this context, Ely's contribution provides a mighty critique of the civil-societarians' attempt to reconcile the Habermasian social democracy, which, in the last instance, rests on a liberal conception of politics, with the radical republica- nism of Castoriadis and Arendt. Supporters of the fashionable (at least among European eco-socialists), "civil society" idea may therefore find hard to dispute the author's conclusion that "the concept of 'civil society' serves the debate over Green politics to support Social Democratic and Realist biases towards a liberal concept of politics. It colonizes a political with a statist concept. It systematically turns libertarian ideas into liberal ones".
But, if in John Ely's view the main problem for the radical left remains that of the convergence between the socialist tradition on the one hand and radical republicanism on the other - and confederal municipalism has a significant contribution to make in this context, by providing the basis for a universal practice and ideal of citizenship - for Andre Gunder Frank, the problem is whether real world socialism is at all possible. Thus, the author, starting from the assumption that today's world system has a history of at least 5000 years, and continuing with a comprehensive analysis of the economic policies of "actually existing socialism" (which are shown to be identical to the policies of the other countries in the South) he concludes that, as long as competition is the basic "fact of life", then neither "socialism in one country" is possible, nor a "world socialism" would differ sifgnificantly from present world capitalism. However, although this conclusion is true, as long as competition continues to be the basic fact of life, it raises further fundamental questions. The first question is whether the competition, before the emergence of the system of the market economy, was comparable to today's competition - from the point of view of its significance with respect to the economic process (production, consumption, distribution, price formation etc) - so that we may be able to talk about the "same" system. The second question, which is derived from the first, is what (apart from some kind of theory of social evolution that he seems to reject) precludes the creation, in the future, of a new type of economy, that would transcend both the market economy and socialist statism.
Finally, we close this discussion on socialism and ecology with a broad exchange of views between James O' Connor and Takis Fotopoulos on some of the issues raised in this issue. As it is obvious from this debate, the main point of issue between the tradition of socialist statism and the autonomy tradition focuses today on the crucial question whether the way out of the present multi-dimensional crisis should be seen from within the present institutional framework of the state, the representative democracy and the market economy, (i.e. through the "democratiza- tion of the state", in the context of an autonomous civil society etc), or, from without.
Takis Fotopoulos, Editor