Book Review: 'Anarchism & Environmental Survival' by Graham Purchase..


The blurb assures us that this will be "one of the most controversial nvironmental books of the 1990s".This seems to me to overstate the case and I doubt that it was! This book is no more nor less than a simple updating of the case for anarchist communism implemented in an ecologically friendly way as stated by anarchist geographers Kropotkin and Reclus all those years ago.

Purchase argues for the use of science and technology but in an extensive and ecologically sensitive fashion by a bio-regionally organised libertarian society.He has many ideas in common with social economist Murray Bookchin though he, rightly I think,blasts Bookchin's latter day dismissal of class struggle.

The book sort of falls between the polemical and academic stools. It's too short and under referenced to be truly academic yet lacks the bite and poetry of good polemic. That said there are some new and fairly fascinating ideas here. One that grabbed me almost immediately was a chapter on micro-livestock, including miniature versions of all the conventional animals we in the West are familiar with (cows, sheep, goats etc)as well as rodents and poultry (e.g. hens and ducks). Instead of intensive cropping or grazing he proposes mixing some crops and animals. Such a scheme would be easy to extend to city plots with hens,ducks or the likes. Animals could be introduced which ignore the crops but root out weeds and insects and fertilise the land on a continuous basis.

Even more surprisingly this view actually leads him to reject vegetarianism in and off itself as a solution to intensive/factory farming. Although he acknowledges ethical and scientific reasons for it in the end he favours some continued use of animals in the fashion above. He is also very good on the widespread anarchist identification with women's rights going way, way back to the eighteenth century and Mary Wollstonecraft.

He tackles the idea of population reduction straight on, quoting Food First (Frances Moore Lappe and Joseph Colins):"the idea that there is not enough food to go round simply does not hold up." He argues that the massively unequal access to resources and land under capitalism are the key causes of global poverty. He puts the argument very well at the end of chapter 5:"To blame an abstract biological notion of natural increase for over populating the world -when it is quite obviously caused by statism, patriarchy, and capitalism -suggest that a starving Somali refugee is as much to blame for starvation as a fat businessman or grossly over paid Western bank official."

So generally a statement of anarchist principals that I would agree with but lacking in detailed well referenced examples. So, for example, he manages to make cursory references to potentially fascinating areas like anarchism and chaos theory but never really develops them. But still a good read for some one very new to the basic rational anarchist ideas first expressed by the likes of Kropotkin and Reclus.

by Conor McLoughlin

¤13 -Available from WSM Book Service

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This edition is No87 published in July 2005