This article seeks to establish common ground between ‘sides’ which would often wholly clash with one another, as victims of the false left-right dichotomy. Instead, Localists promote a pragmatic approach, to value ideas on their merit sui generis.
To be less vague than the title itself, throughout this article I hope to more specifically offer a brief critique of the ideas of (Anarcho-)Syndicalism & similar forms of libertarian socialism in favour of Localism – themselves both preferable to centralised forms of Marxist theory – or offer a clear differentiation between these two perspectives; because at the very least, I imagine those who consider themselves Syndicalists, Anarchists, etc. would find themselves much more at home under Localism than Liberalism even if they did not agree with all elements. I imagine the opposite to be equally the case for many Localists. This is not an anti-Marxist piece. In fact, I hope to effectively argue that Localism is arguably in some ways more accurate to Marx’s ideal of a post-class society, and shares other similarities with other so-called ‘leftist’ beliefs. This may be shocking to many Localists who come from a background of small C conservatism or otherwise, as anything attributed to Marx is often seen as paying homage to the likes of Lenin and his Jacobin, centralising disciples. However, this could not be further from the truth. I implore all readers to consider the writings below and offer fair judgement regardless of their prior biases. This is because this article also hopes to swing at the jaw of the left-right dichotomy, hoping to build a bridge to politics based on rationality – not ideology.
To move on to the summary of the ideological differences between these two political stances, I think it fair to first consider the similarities between the two systems. This is not only to avoid this being an entirely biased ‘bash’ of non-Localist principles but to further serve as a means by which we all can expand our understanding of political ideas (even those with which we may disagree). In key, the similarity is the belief of a bottom-up form of (con)federalism wherein people may organise in mutual aid towards a collective betterment of society at both a local and national scale, as opposed to the imposition of power from the top-down. Additionally, both perspectives highly value decentralisation – the idea that power and economics should both be handled not at the state level, but in plurality. There is also the evident critique of liberalism in its inability to provide the egalitarianism and freedom it espouses, as well as capitalism, for all its flaws which deserve more than an article in their own right; such as – which the Localist Manifesto simply put – “has reduced people to economic units, and created vast, unjustifiable wealth inequalities, becoming significantly more totalitarian in the process”.
The key divide comes primarily from the way in which these two beliefs argue that society should be structured, as well as in the prioritisation of individualism. To first address the former point, Syndicalists would argue for a society ordered based around labour unions – upon the unity of workers between different modes and areas of production coming together in collective. By moving power away from the existing liberal political elite towards decentralised economic structures (labour unions) we are still maintaining the fixation on production & economics in society. This, without delving into the deep and very contested analysis of Marx’s Capital, does not result in the abolition of the labouring class. It instead mirrors the result of the likes of Lenin in making a society of ‘workers’. Localists, however, refute society’s hyper-fixation of economics and production. Instead, we believe that societies should be organised based on a broadly communitarian level as opposed to perpetuating and ‘culturalising’ existing class divides. It is in the key interest of communities to not divide themselves in terms of labour, but to unite in common locality & mutual interest.
Many anarchists, syndicalists, and more broadly speaking, libertarians, espouse individualism in contrast to the centralising forces of global capitalism & state communism. Individualism, however, is not the answer to these forces. From both a Marxist perspective and a non/anti-Marxist perspective, individualism prevents the ability of communities to think collectively in order to oppose larger evils (globalism, consumerism, capitalism, etc). To quote the Localist manifesto; “the larger community must be prioritised over one’s own individual interests. This is the highest form of liberty, as understood by the ancient Greeks. Individualism has caused many (as well as collectivism) to be simply subservient to their nation-state, rather than seeing their community as an organic group within the state but not of the state”. It was this ability to prioritise the interests of the collective community that defended Catalonia, the CNT and FAI, from fascism, not individualism (the CNT-FAI or the Anarcho-Syndicalist Union & the Iberian Anarchist Federation, were groups that formed a united front against Franco in the Spanish Civil War). The forces of individualism and collectivism are both absolutist in nature in many systems, with capitalism’s constant fear of collectivisation in a desire to prevent collective consciousness against the reduction of individuals into consumers, and state-Marxism (or Fascism) and its desire to create a wholly collective conscious free from individual thought or descent against the state apparatus. Collectivism is not the only contrary force to individualism, instead, we must think of society on a communitarian scale – considering our collective identities and concerns without binding ourselves to the will of the state apparatus as seen under fascism, or state-communism.
The conflicting elements of the so-called left and right are deeply rooted and play into their own ideological assumptions of the nature of humanity, the role of the state and much else. These are often based on an entirely ideological lens, not in the sense of ideology as to refer to a category of political thought, but in its critical sense as referred to as by people such as Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek – referring to the subjective philosophical lens by which we view the world which distorts its reality. The film They Live provides an apt simplification of this idea for those who are unfamiliar. The idea of human nature is a key concept by which we can understand this. The aforementioned concept of mutual-aid is something that is often critiqued by those on the ‘right’ as a utopian and idealistic concept which is unfathomable in application due to their belief in Darwinian ideas of the fallen man, and brokenness – the thought that greed, competition (the broader ‘will to power’) is the natural order of the world. The reality is that these are true in tandem. Humanity is not a singular force of good or evil, and whilst our natural vices may guide the lives of some, this is not a universal truth. Furthermore, mutual aid and the ideals of ultimate goodness within humanity which have been betrayed by modernity is not an inappropriate utopia unless it is viewed as one – it should not be viewed as a rule, but an ideal not out of reach to which all should strive and to which many have already accomplished.
These arguments are far more complicated than possible to represent in a concise article format, however, this article should have provided a clear example of ways in which ideas can both have overlap and conflict – in order not to both consider the merit of Localism itself but to open broader understanding of the falsehood of the left-right dichotomy. Ideas should not be branded with broad brushstrokes by which we can predetermine their value, instead, we should consider elements of any worldview on their own individual merit. To those who come from a newly Localist – or otherwise traditionally aligned – perspective who might be averse to Marxist ideas, I hope this has been a foot in the door to a broader consideration of unfamiliar ideas which you may have confounded into a self-imposed taboo. For those who come from a more traditional Marxist perspective, I appreciate the lack of depth in terms of specific critique, however, I hope this encourages further reading into Localism as an alternative to libertarian forms of Socialism.
Disclaimer: Articles on this website are written from the perspectives of various Localists, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Local Matters. Our contributors come from a wide array of varying political backgrounds, and we believe that cooperation across the political spectrum is essential.