HOW MIGHT WE MAKE THE TRANSITION TO THE SIMPLER WAY?
These thoughts are based on a detailed analysis of the disturbing global situation consumer-capitalist society is in and the implications for the form a sustainable and just society must take: (See Note 1.) To summarise briefly, consumer-capitalist society is grossly unsustainable and unjust. We are far beyond levels of production and consumption that can be kept up or spread to all. In this society provides a few with high “living standards” by delivering to them far more than their fair share of world resources. Technical advance cannot solve the problems; the problems cannot be fixed in or by consumer-capitalist society. There must be dramatic reductions in levels of production and consumption and economic output, possibly by 80%. Therefore there must be radical and extreme system and value change.
It follows that the goal must be to transition to The Simpler Way, involving simpler lifestyles, high levels of local economic self-sufficiency, highly cooperative and participatory arrangements, an almost totally new economic system (one that is not driven by market forces or profit, and has no growth), and fundamental value change. Many now realise a sustainable and just society must be mostly made up of small local economies in which people participate collectively to run their economies to meet needs using local resources, and in which the goal is a high quality of life and not monetary wealth. The coming conditions of scarcity will give us no choice about this. (For a detailed discussion see The Alternative Society.)
The required change is therefore enormous. The new communities cannot work well unless we can develop citizens who are eager to focus on contributing to the welfare of a thriving local community, to participate in running its zero-growth economy in cooperative ways, geared to maximising the welfare of all, with no concern to get rich or acquire property or wealth (beyond that low level sufficient for a high quality of life.). If these conditions cannot be met then viable and satisfactory communities highly dependent on their local ecosystems and on mutual assistance cannot function.
The essential transition problem set by this radical view of our situation is how might we begin to generate the crucial new social structures, and more importantly the new world views and values, which largely contradict the forces that have driven Western culture for two hundred years?
SOME IMPLICATIONS FOR THINKING ABOUT THE TRANSITION.
The conditions we are entering, the era of scarcity, rule out most previous thinking about the good society and social transition.
The required society cannot be affluent, highly industrialised, centralised or globalised, and we cannot get to it by violent revolution led by a vanguard party. Governments cannot make the transition for us, firstly because there will be too few resources for governments to run the many local systems needed. More importantly, the new highly self-sufficient and self-governing local societies can only be made to work by the willing effort of local people who understand why The Simpler Way is necessary and who want to live that way and who find it rewarding. Only they will know the local environmental and social conditions and only they can develop the arrangements, networks, trust, enthusiasm, cooperative climate etc. that suit their locality. The panning, deciding, producing, maintaining and administering will have to be carried out by them and these can’t be satisfactory unless people are eager to cooperate, discuss, turn up to working bees, and be conscientious, and unless they have the required vision and values. Our new local systems can only be developed, learned by us, as we grope our way towards taking control of self-sufficient local economies that suit our local conditions. (But vast change at the level of the state will also have to be achieved in Stage 2 of the transition; see below.)
Therefore working for transition here and now has to focus mostly on helping ordinary people to understand the need for The Simpler Way and to move towards its willing acceptance, and towards enthusiastic participation in the long process of learning how best to organise in their own area. The best way for Simpler Way theorists and activists to contribute to this is to join in building the new ways where we live.
There is therefore no value at this point in time in aiming to take state power…
… either via the parliamentary system, or by force and revolution. Even if the Prime Minister and cabinet suddenly came to hold all the right ideas and values, they could not make the required changes – in fact they would be instantly tossed out of office if they tried. The changes can only come from the bottom, via the slow development of the ideas, understandings, and values of ordinary people, and this cannot occur except through a lengthy process in which they work out the new ways from experience in the places where they live.
Therefore trying to get governments or the state to make the necessary changes in a top-down way is a serious mistake. Firstly governments have no choice but to make the present system work, to maximise GDP, trade and investment opportunities, or they will be faced with increasing unemployment, recession and discontent and fierce attack. Almost all voters are fiercely demanding more affluence and growth. The last thing any government they elect could do is enable transition to a system in which there is no growth and far less economic activity.
Secondly it is a mistake to think that the new communities can be established or run by some authority external to the local communities. They can only be built and run by ordinary people where they live, people motivated new ideas and values.
Thus our strategy must differ profoundly from the classic Left/socialist/Marxist one which focuses on building a political movement that will take over the state which will then reorganise and run things from the centre, perhaps with a heavy hand. That made more sense when the goal seemed to be to shift energy-intensive, centralised and industrialised systems from capitalist control to ”socialist” control.
This is a very different revolution. It cannot succeed unless people in general want to adopt The Simpler Way. The core task for activists at this stage is not to get hold of power; it is working for the adoption of the new ideas and values without which the new systems cannot work. Much later, in stage 2 of the transition, we will have to grapple with the enormous structural changes such as redirecting national economies from profit to need. (See below.) This cannot be done unless there is overwhelming public demand for the changes, and building that support is the goal in stage 1.
This is a central principle in the anarchist view of revolution. Deep and lasting social change cannot take place unless it is driven by the widespread acceptance of new ideas and values among people in general, so that they will then exert great force for the changes and more importantly so that they have the will and energy to run their own local systems in new ways. Anarchism is centrally about people coming together to take control of their own affairs in thoroughly participatory, collective and mutually beneficial ways, with no dependence on officials or politicians or state authorities. It represents a strong belief in the capacity of ordinary people to get together and solve their problems. A most impressive example of this has been given by the Spanish anarchists in the 1930s. (See TSW: The Spanish Anarchists, and TSW: Anarchism.) Initiatives of this general ind are emerging, especially in theimpoverished regions of Europe. (See TSW: The Catalan Integrative Coopertive.)
The contrast between this view of revolution and the Marxist view is marked. The latter assumes that change in the ideas and values of people in general can be attended to later, after the revolutionary group gets state power and rearranges things. The crucial element that the Simpler Way brings to this debate is the fact that in our situation of scarcity satisfactory communities cannot function unless they are run in thoroughly participatory ways. The crucial task has to be therefore to build up the awareness that will lead people to want to shift to the new ways. If that is done, then the restructuring of the macro systems will follow (not necessarily easily or inevitably. (Again see below on Stage 2 of the revolution.)
Nor is working for Green parties to get Green candidates elected the best use of scarce energy.
No politicians can get the necessary radical changes through parliaments, given the dominant ideology. The greens do not see that the task is to change the world view ordinary people hold, and that is not best done by working in the electoral political arena. Green parties and movements are now almost entirely merely reformist; they do not challenge growth, the market system or affluence and they are not calling for radical structural changes away from affluent consumer-capitalist society.
The main target, the main problem group, the basic block to progress, is not the corporations or the capitalist class.
They have their power because people in general grant it to them. The problem group, the key to transition, is people in general. If they came to see how extremely unacceptable consumer-capitalist society is, and to see that The Simpler Way is the path to liberation then the present system would be quickly abandoned. The battle is therefore one of ideology or awareness. We have to help people to see that radical change is necessary and attractive, so that they enthusiastically set about building and running the new local economies.
The core of this revolution is cultural.
This makes the task very extensive and difficult. It is not just about taking control of the economy and political system, either by dictatorship or democratic election. The new society must be run mostly by ordinary people via their local assemblies etc. (as distinct from centralised state bureaucracies). People must become happy to live well on stable and very low levels of monetary income and wealth. This means that there can be no competition (because some would win and take all of the minimal stable amount), no interest in affluence, and indeed no interest in gain. Any of these elements will destroy any chance of a cohesive and effective local community in a world where resources are very scarce and if communities are to thrive top priority must be put on equity, co-operation, and the welfare of others and ecosystems.
Obviously these kinds of ideas and values contradict some of the basic forces that have driven Western society for two hundred years. They define the historically novel revolution we have to work for. If people in general do not have these values this is not a problem when the goal of the revolution is industrialized, centralized, resource-intensive societies delivering affluent lifestyles to all. But in our new situation satisfactory social systems cannot work unless people in general have the right post-consumer society values.
Consider the problem Cuba has today, trying to reduce authoritarian control and repression, and allowing more private enterprise, but knowing that this will enable the energetic and greedy few to go for wealth and jeopardise the arrangements that have served the majority and the poorest well. The worry is that the real revolution required, the necessary change in ideas and values, has probably not been achieved well enough. (The Spanish anarchists in the 1930s achieved it in their regions, and that’s why citizens could run their economy well.)
The Left has always understood the importance of ideology and consciousness but has badly failed to focus on the task of developing the necessary awareness and values in people in general. They have tended to assume that the necessary consciousness can be developed long after the revolutionary leaders have taken power from the capitalist class. Again vanguard parties using force cannot get us to The Simpler Way; we will only achieve it if ordinary people build new systems in the places where they live, and they will not do that unless large numbers have come to hold the radically new outlook.
It is interesting that Marx assumed that immediately after the revolution in power and control the people would still be driven by desires for individual advancement, wealth and competition. Correcting these could be attended to later. (Avineri 1968.) But Anarchists such as Kropotkin and Bakhounin who wanted to see a revolution to self-governing communities realized that this was not possible unless people understood and desired the ways and values that would make these communities possible. Thus they saw that the initial task is to develop those dispositions, and that there is no point in prioritizing the taking of power or control of the state. (See further below.)This point is central in Simpler Way transition theory and practice; for a long time yet we must focus on encouraging the right ideas and values and if we do that well enough the necessary changes in power and in macro-economic structures will become possible (and probably fairly easily achieved.)
The readiness to radically question consumer society is negligible…
…, and has actually declined over the last thirty years. Affluence has generated increasing preoccupation with the trivia of TV, sport, celebrities, electronic distractions and mindless self-indulgent hedonism. Above all there is a refusal to listen to any challenge to growth and affluence, a failure to even think about the fact that the quest for these is leading to catastrophic ecologically and social breakdown. Governments, media and the general public give no attention to these issues, despite the accumulation of an overwhelming case over the past fifty years. There is no possibility of significant structural change in the near future. We are nowhere near the necessary level of public awareness of the need for it.
We do not have to get rid of consumer-capitalist society before we can begin to build the new society.
Fighting directly against the system is not going to contribute much to fundamental change at this point in time. (Of course at times it is necessary to fight against immediate threats.) The consumer-capitalist system has never been stronger than it is today. The way we think we can beat it in the long run is to ignore it to death, i.e., to turn away from it and start building its replacement and persuading people to come across. The Anarchists see this as working to “Prefigure” the good society here and now within the old, and focusing on development of the required vision in more and more people, and not on getting state power, or fighting capitalism, at this point in time.
There will be no significant change while the supermarket shelves remain well stocked.
Nothing much will change until serious scarcity impacts. The underlying problems are becoming more acute and this will eventually make people more likely to realise that consumer-capitalist society will not provide for them and that there must be a better way. Minds will be concentrated wonderfully when the energy crisis begins to bite. But when the window of opportunity comes it will probably offer only a brief and risky opportunity. If things deteriorate too far too fast there could easily be too much chaos for sense to prevail and for us to organise cooperative local alternative systems.
Therefore the top priorities for anyone concerned about the fate of the planet must be to contribute to…
a) developing radical global consciousness, that is, to help as many people as possible to understand that capitalist-consumer society will not provide for all, is generating fatal problems, cannot be fixed and has to be largely abandoned, and that there is a far better way,
b) ... building elements of The Simpler Way, here and now. In the last 20 years many people around the world have begun to build, live in and experiment with new settlements which enable simpler ways. When the economy runs into serious problems we need to be ready, to have built enough impressive examples of The Simpler Way so that people can see there is a better alternative and can quickly adopt it.
The main reason why we should do this building is not to bring more of the new ways into existence – it is to be in the best possible position to influence the thinking of people.
By working with people on local projects we will be in the best position to discuss and argue, to help people to see that we must eventually go far beyond more community gardens etc. and embrace the radical system change Stage 2 goals. We urgently need to accumulate experience and wisdom on how best to do this awareness raising.
The two stages in this revolution.
At present there is considerable interest in developing localism, most notably in the Transition Towns movement. However there are severe limits to what can be achieved at this level 1. The local economies being build today cannot achieve a significant level of self-sufficiency, or independence from the national and global economies. They will always need many goods and services that they cannot produce for themselves. It is not satisfactory if a town or eco-village functions very self-sufficiently but uses bolts, light switches, tooth brushes, shoes and salt produced in a national or international economy that is unsustainable and unjust. Our ultimate concern must be with the form that a globally sustainable and just economy must take. Unfortunately the wider economic context cannot be made satisfactory unless we achieve the most enormous, radical and difficult changes in national and global structures, functioning, and most importantly, in the underlying world view and culture.
Here is a list of the most basic changes that must be made. These would strike most ordinary people (and all conventional economists) as absurdly extreme and unnecessary, but anyone who wants to dispute them has to deal with the limits to growth case outlined above. Keep in mind that these changes describer an ultimate goal do not have to be made suddenly and would ideally be developed over decades, if we have that long.
These massive and historically unprecedented changes cannot be achieved unless there is enormnously radical action at the level of the state, pursuing totally new policies that flatly contradict the ree market capitalistr ideologyl This list is so staggeringy big and difficult that one must rate our chances of achieving them as close tdo zero. But the previous argument has ben tghat we have no option but to try and that a satisfactory world cannot bner achieberd u nless swe succeed. However there are reasons for thinking that the task is soewhat more tractable than it appears at first sight. The most important of these is that The Simpler Way inoles a far less complicated economy than we have now, and much of it will function automatically, without any need for officials or policies.
Whether you like it or not this means some kind of “socialism”, but it is crucial to stress that there are many highly unacceptable varieties of socialism and the version we have to work for must be thoroughly participatory and not the centralized, authoritarian and bureaucratised form usually assumed. It must be controlled by the participatory local assemblies at the town level, via completely open and accountable processes such as town meetings and referenda, and recallable delegates and bureaucrats who have no power to make policy or decisions. This is non-negotiable. If government does not take this form the new communities will not work; they cannot make the right decisions for themselves or maintain the necessary sense of empowerment and morale unless they control their own situation. The right decisions for your town cannot be made by some centralized bureaucracy.
Thus a quite different political system will be needed, whereby regional and national issues are decided by town assemblies sending delegates to the conferences that work out national policies, and then hold direct votes on their adoption. That is, there must be no policy-making power in the bureaucracies or at the centre of regional, state or national governments. (It should be noted that in my firm view most of the economy could and should take the form of privately owned and run small firms and co-ops…under careful social guidelines and monitoring. See TSW: The New Economy.)
So at a much later point in this revolution we will have to face up to this very difficult Stage 2 task. It will involve terminating growth, market domination and plutocracy, and the extreme wealth and power now in the hands of a very few. They will resist strenuously (but it could be a non-violent transition, if during Stage 1 we build a strong enough demand for these changes.) The main point here is that none of this Stage 2 process is remotely possible unless most people have come to see the need for it and are fiercely determined to achieve it. The task in Stage 1 of this revolution is to build that understanding and demand by working with the growing Transition Towns and similar movements. (See further below.).
Two factors will help us to do this. Firstly we will be greatly assisted by the increasingly serious breakdown of present society, which will jolt people into realizing that consumer-capitalism is not going to provide for them, that it is causing appalling and worsening problems, and that different ways have to be found. Rich world “living standards” will deteriorate due to increasing resource scarcity and the West’s declining ability to take the wealth of the Third World, due to turmoil within the absurdly fragile and debt loaded global financial system which could crash at any moment, and due to rising discontent and social chaos as dwindling states budgets lead to cuts in welfare etc. Governments will try to get their economies going by diverting state resources to the corporate sector at the expense of those at the bottom. The middle class will support repressive measures to protect their property and security, increasing discontent and disorder.
The second factor will be the increasing recognition within local communities of the need for restructuring of the wider economy they cannot avoid depending on.
The dependence of the local on the national will bring about control of the national by the local.
As local economic self-sufficiency develops communities will become more aware of their limits, especially their need for inputs from the global economy. Towns will need chicken wire, polypipe, 12 volt pumps, shovels, which they cannot produce in their towns. This will prompt the realization that the wider national economy must be massively restructured so that its function becomes providing all towns and suburbs with the inputs they need. This is the crucial mechanism that will generate the mass pressure for transition to a very different kind of national economy and a very different kind of “state”, i.e., one that isunder the control of local assemblies. It can only come into existence after a long period in which local economies develop. The order of events here is crucial; change at the level of the state cannot come first, and it is the development of localism which will build support for change at the wider level. (Discussed further below re “eco-anarchism”.)
This means that the last thing we want is a sudden collapse of the economy. If that happens all is lost because our capacity to build the new communities depends on being able to get crucial inputs from the existing economy for the purpose. It will be an extremely difficult and uncertain process like stepping from a sinking boat onto another being built from planks taken from the one going down. We can’t built the new without drawing from the old one, but that will damage the old one because the more that people move out of the old economy the lower demand and economic activity within it will become and the more it will lurch into depression, paralysis and chaos. Will firms producing chicken wire and watering cans be able to survive as sales of most of their output decrease markedly? Will we be able to create enough alternative settlements and sources of livelihood as the numbers coming across from the shrinking old economy rise?
But we will probably not get to Stage 2 for a long time. The main implication is that here and now it is a mistake to concern ourselves with directly fighting against the system or trying to get control of the state. What matters is developing the widespread awareness that will in time lead to demand for Stage 2 changes, and this is best done by plunging into the kinds of activities going on in Transition Towns … in order to try to get people there to see that eventually we must deal with the Stage 2 problem. The revolution cannot get anywhere until there is widespread demand for it so our task for a long time yet will be to build that radically critical support, and the argument here is that the best arena in which to work for that is within current localism initiatives. (There are other things to do, especially writing and distributing critical analyses.)
Thus this transition strategy being argued here is best thought of as an “eco-anarchist” strategy. The limits to growth analysis shows that the alternative society has to be an anarchist society, run via totally participatory local processes, and therefore that it cannot be imposed top-down. In the historically unique situation coming, an era of intense resource scarcity, only small communities can build and run sustainable settlements. The Simpler Way strategy involves what the anarchists refer to as “prefiguring”, that is starting to build aspects of the new settlements here and how within the system to be replaced. It recognizes that nothing can be achieved unless people come to understand and share the vision and then do the building. Thus top-down power is useless either for building the new society or for developing this vision.
These elements sharply distinguish eco-anarchism from eco-socialism, and from the view of transition that just about all green people take. Both eco-socialists and greens assume that the crucial factor is getting control of the state into the hands of the advocates of the new ways, who will then implement those ways. But there would be no possibility of a green movement or a red movement achieving election of a new government committed to The Simpler way … unless most people had previously come to hold that vision … and if that came to be the people would have started building the alternatives long before the election.
In addition just possessing state power would not make it possible for the new government to implement The Simpler Way in towns and suburbs, because that could only be done by the people who live there. Tolstoy and Kropotkin saw that if the goal is to establish self-governing villages then trying to take state power is a mistake because state power would be useless for that purpose while people lack the vision to run their own communities. They saw that the work to be done is to build the outlook that would lead people to want to run their own local communities.
At this point the socialist is likely to say there are tasks beyond the small communities, such as management of a valley’s water resources, that must be organized at a state level. These are valid points and the anarchist vision deals with them via state-level “bureaucracies” that are fully under the control of town assemblies, but that is to do with goals, i.e., how the new society will run; it doesn’t help us with this problem of the transition/revolutionary process.
A more serious criticism from the socialist is “... being in control of the state will enable the new ways to be introduced and facilitated. Control of the state will make it possible for us to work on that shift in mass consciousness.” Let us consider the confused logic here. There are only two ways that the control of a state intending to implement The Simpler Way could come about. The first is via some kind of coup whereby power is seized by a vanguard party which has that goal. This is not worth much discussion. The second path would be via the election to government of a party with a Simpler Way platform. But that could not happen unless the (cultural) revolution to enthusiasm for a simpler way had previously been won! We could not get control of a state that is committed to Simper Way principles unless there had been an election in which most people voted for a party with that platform. But that couldn’t happen unless most people had previously come to endorse The Simpler Way … and if that had happened they would have been building the new local economies long before the election! Thus getting control of a state committed to the new ways will be a consequence of the revolution, the core of the revolution being the advent of the new world view and values. And having got control of the state …there would be little or no consciousness raising left to do.
Thus again it is a mistake for us now to focus on getting control of the state; what we must concentrate on is working within localist initiatives in order to raise the radical consciousness that will eventually enable achievement of the Stage 2 state level goals. Again TSW argument is that there is no better arena in which to do this work than among people who have at least begun to move in the direction of the required new communities.
The most promising development to work within is the Transition Towns Movement.
If we make it to a sustainable and just world it can only be through a movement of the general kind being labeled “The Transition Towns Movement”. But much has to be done to get this movement to go beyond its presently theory-less reformist aims and outlook. The things being done now within the Transition Towns movement will not solve the big global problems. They are mostly only reforms within consumer-capitalist society and are no threat to it. The movement is not about replacing consumer-capitalist society; it is about opting out of it or surviving surrounded by it, making the town more “resilient”. For instance it does not have the goal of getting rid of the growth economy, preventing the market from determining our fate, or taking control of its local economy. Global problems cannot be solved unless these goals are eventually achieved. Some of its participants say these are their ultimate goals, but the movement has no theory of how the nice local and green things being done today are supposed to eventually lead to a post-consumer-capitalist society.
This is the general fault in the green movement, the failure to deal with the distinction between system reform and system replacement. Many good local, green and alternative practices are being developed now, such as farmers’ markets, local agriculture, recycling co-ops, etc. However these are almost entirely reformist. They do not come from any vision that recognises the need to scrap and replace the core structures of growth and affluence society, phase out most industry, and to take control of local economies away from market forces and eventually realign the state to providing necessities. Unless things like this are eventually done the many (desirable) green initiatives occurring will not and cannot achieve significant social change.
The reformist nature of these movements is understandable and inevitable, and are a very welcome beginning. When people first become concerned to develop more sustainable ways of course they start by supporting things like Permaculture and farmers’ markets. This is very healthy, but it is far from sufficient. It is inevitable that at first people will think only about reforms and not see that the fundamental structures of the system have to be scrapped.
It is also a serious mistake to assume, as many do, that the things happening now within movements like Transitions Towns will in time add up to or lead to the big radical structural changes called for above. But just building more community gardens etc. cannot lead to the establishment of a post capitalist zero- growth economy. That goal can’t be achieved unless it becomes clearly and widely understood as necessary and unless a lot of work over time goes into designing and developing the alternative economy. If all you do is build more community gardens all you will end up with will be a consumer-capitalist society heading for disaster with more community gardens in it.
Change will be rapid when it comes.
The problems in consumer-capitalist society are intensifying. Resource scarcities are likely to produce price rises in coming years, impoverishing many and producing social disorder. More or less instantaneous financial collapse is possible at any time. Many trends accelerate each other; e.g., declining ore grades increase energy demand. Mason discusses the way multiplying interactions might generate the “2030 spike”. Randers thinks it will be after 2050.
The breakdown of consumer-capitalist society will tend to force us towards mostly small, local economies…
… whether we like it or not. As existing economies increasingly fail to provide for people this will tend to push people towards localism, shifting down from high consumption, being more self sufficient and cooperating. Local farms, firms and jobs etc. will tend to emerge as petroleum dwindles and transport and travel become too costly, and as globalised systems fail to keep the supermarket shelves well stocked. But these desirable effects are not inevitable and could be overwhelmed by breakdown.
It could be a very peaceful revolution…
… if we can get enough people to see the sense of moving to The Simpler Way. The rich and the corporations will not be able to prevent us if enough of us decide to ignore them and to build our own local systems. The corporations and banks will probably soon be grappling with the breakdown of their systems and will not have the resources to block the initiatives people will be taking up in thousands of towns and suburbs. They can’t run armies and secret police forces very well without lots of oil.
At this point in time our chances of a successful transition would seem to be very poor.
Very few people have any idea of what is required, hardly anyone wants to even think about the need for transition to The Simpler Way, because it contradicts the most cherished values in modern Western Culture…and time is running out. Despite the efforts of a few over 50 years to draw attention to these issues the mainstream still refuses to think about them.
The best way to maintain morale and enthusiasm…
… is to work together with like-minded friends to build elements of the Simpler Way. This strategy is not only the best way to contribute to the revolution, it enables us here and now to practise and enjoy elements of the post-revolutionary society.
OUTLINE OF A PRACTICAL STRATEGY.
Following are the steps we could start to take immediately, within our existing towns and suburbs.
Form a Community Development Collective.
Even a tiny group can come together to form itself into a Community Development Collective (hereafter referred to as CDC.) Ideally the CDC will eventually develop into a mechanism for the participatory self-government of the town or suburb, but at first it might involve only a handful of individuals seeking to do a few humble things.
Set up a community garden and workshop.
The CDC's initial goal is to identify and organise some of the locality’s unused productive resources of skill, energy, experience and good will so that people can start to produce for themselves some of the basic goods and services they need. The most promising first step is to establish a community garden and workshop, especially to involve low income receivers in the cooperative production of food and other items for their own use.
The CDC should then look for other areas in which further cooperative production to meet local needs could be organised. A promising early possibility would be bread baking. Once or twice a week a cooperative working bee might produce most of the bread etc. the group needs, again perhaps selling some to outsiders for cash. Another early possibility would be the repair of furniture, bicycles and appliances. The workshop could become a shop where surpluses are for sale. Scavenging from the locality, especially on council waste collection days, will provide furniture, appliances, bicycle parts and toys to be repaired and materials for use in the workshop. Other possible areas of activity would be cooperative house repair and maintenance, nursery production, herbs, poultry, honey, preserving and bottling fruits and vegetables, toy making, making slippers, sandals, hats, bags and baskets, car repair and the “gleaning” of local surplus fruit from private back yards.
Later the CDC would explore somewhat more complicated fields in which it could organise productive activity, such as aquaculture based on tanks, simple house building and repairing, planting fast growing trees for fuel wood, insulating houses, recycling and planting "edible landscapes" on public land.
These activities would also provide important intangible benefits, such as the experience of community and worthwhile activity. The involvement of local people who are not on low incomes would be important, especially gardeners, handymen and retired people. Ideally the garden and workshop would become a lively community centre with information, recycling, and meeting and leisure functions. Specific times in the week should be set when all would try to gather at the site for the working bees, followed by a meal, discussions, entertainment and social activities.
Some of the cooperatives would tally work time contributions and pay for these from later produce or income. This is in effect to create our own money, enabling economic activity among the poorest people who have little or no official/normal money. This is the first step to an economy in which all participants can contribute time in many different productive ventures, earning the right to acquire many different products our cooperatives and firms are producing, even though they might have no normal job or money. Some of the most viable CDC activities could become small firms run by a family or cooperative.
What we have done at this point is establish a radically new economy, one geared to need not profit, one that is cooperative and caring, independent of market forces, and under our own local participatory social control. We now have the power to set up the enterprises we need, provide jobs and livelihoods, decide what will be invested in and developed, and to lend or give wealth and capital, for instance to organise working bees to build a shed for the new beekeeper. Our enterprises might be nowhere near as “efficient” or dollar-cheap as those the corporations can provide, but this is not important; what matters is that we can provide for ourselves, securely. Note that the world view and values in this economy are not to do with making profits, getting rich or becoming a tycoon. They are about enabling all to have a livelihood, to make a valued contribution, and to have a stable sufficient share of the goods and services we are producing. It is about us making sure all are provided for.
The significance of this step is immense. We have ceased to make reforms within the old society, we have started to establish the new economy to replace the old one.
Connect with the normal/old economy -- stimulate the town’s internal economy.
The next step must be to enable people in this new sector to trade with the normal/old firms that exist within the locality. Right from the start we can sell small amounts of our produce to people in the town, which also gives us a great opportunity to explain the project. But more importantly the CDC must find out what things our new sector can start providing to some of the old sector firms in the town. For instance in the case of restaurants the answer is vegetables from the CDC’s cooperative garden.
We would not set up firms that compete with the existing small firms in the town. There is no net benefit in us setting up a bakery that wins all the scarce bread sales opportunities and therefore just puts people in the existing bakery out of work. But we would compete against the supermarket where we could, because our goal is to replace its imports. Our focus must be on creating sales and jobs in a new economy involving those people previously excluded from economic activity. However this will not be possible unless the CDC finds items it can sell to the old firms or to people in the town.
It is in the interests of the old firms to join us enthusiastically, because this will enable them to increase their sales and their real incomes. They will be able to start selling to that large group of people previously not able to purchase more.
Organise town working bees.
The development of the garden and workshop would have taken place through cooperative working bees. Before long the CDC should organise voluntary neighbourhood or town working bees, perhaps occasional at first but eventually occurring at set times aimed at developing the locality in ways that will make it more sustainable, e.g., planting fruit and nut trees in local parks, or building simple premises for new little firms. These can have powerful awareness raising effects within the town.
Organise committees …
…to research, monitor, organise, e.g., how to grow various things well, raise poultry and fish, graft fruit trees, run good little firms, buy in bulk, deal with water, wastes, liase with council, organise our financial affairs, provide for our self-education, monitor our quality of life, cohesion, and problems.
Start developing commons …
…throughout the neighbourhood, such as sheds, tools, clay pits, patches for herbs, bamboo, fruit trees and timber. Some of these can be on private blocks, church land or council property. The working bees get the jobs done.
Organise a market day …
…mainly to sell CDC produce and products. These enable many people who do not operate firms or work full time for wages to gain an income by selling items they produce in small volume through home gardens, craft activity or family produce. The market day could also be a means whereby items bought in bulk, such a flour, can be “retailed” to our partricipants.
Later start working on replacing imports
…to the town or suburb. The proportion of the town or suburb's consumption that is met by imported goods is typically very high. When goods are produced somewhere else and imported this means that the jobs that were involved in their production are not located in the town, and it means that money is flowing out of the town. The CDC should explore what items the town is most likely to be able to start producing to replace imports. Food is the most obvious item. Other possibilities are fire wood, and house insulation as a replacement for imported energy, and timber from woodlots and earth for building, and especially entertainment and leisure (concerts, plays, picnics, talks, festivals.)
Work on reducing the need for money in the first place.
The CDC must constantly focus attention on the importance of living simply, making things ourselves, home gardening, repairing, sharing and re-using. The fewer goods people consume the less that the town will have to import or provide. The more simple their demands are the more likely that these can be met from local resources. The more we do without or make for ourselves the less money we need to earn in order to buy things. Every dollar we can cut from our expenditure the less the town needs to produce for export.
Start to develop your educational systems …
…focusing on helping each other to learn the many basic practical skills involved in gardening, making things, cooking, house repair, crafts, pottery, basket making, woodwork, sewing, preserving, sandal making, weaving, leatherwork, blacksmithing, consensus decision making,running cooperatives and good meetings. Get older people to teach us how to bake a dinner, knit, darn, get cuttings to grow. No need for professionals; we just organise discussion groups, talks, visits to thriving home gardens. etc. List the local skilled people willing to give advice or run classes. List sources of materials, especially those free from the commons such as bamboo clumps and clay pits. Develop recipes for nutritious but cheap meals mainly using plants (and weeds) that grow well locally. Organise field days and visits, and bring in experts, to increase our knowledge and skills.
Leisure, entertainment, celebrations, festivals and culture.
Develop ways of providing local entertainment, especially including regular concerts, dances, visiting artists, drama groups, craft and produce shows, art galleries, picnic days, celebrations, rituals and festivals. We would organise our own news services, such as occasional bulletins gleaning material from global sources on sustainability and quality of life themes. Eventually the main news media will be local radio stations.
Form a town bank (or credit union) and business incubator …
…creating the power to set up the kinds of firms the town needs. For example we can lend capital, and working bee labour to develop premises for the boot repairer, whether or not it is profitable. We would debate and vote on the bank’s rules and elect our own board. The business incubator helps new firms to get going. Both institutions assist old firms in the town that are failing (as oil scarcity hits transport and imported goods) to shift to production of needed items. Thus we would eventually take control over town’s economic development, eliminating unemployment and creating the firms we need, and ensuring that everyone has a secure livelihood and valued contribution.
Develop collective spirit.
Emphasise cooperation, sharing, helping, solidarity, feeling of mutual support and security. Synergism multiplies good effects and brings out the best in all. (Competitive individualism brings out the worst.) This is no threat to individual freedoms – we just need to make the good of all the top priority.
The research and educational functions of the CDC.
The CDC must constantly study the local situation, working out what needs exist, what resources we have, and how to organise better ways. The most important functions for the CDC are to do with the education of people within the wider locality. After all the main point of the exercise is to bring people to understand the need for and the rewards offered by the new ways. All our activities such as working bees and market days provide opportunities for increasing awareness within the surrounding region.
Above all the goal must be to help people move towards Stage 2, i.e., to understand a) that there has to be vast and radical system change because a society based on affluence, growth, competition and market forces cannot solve our problems, b) the Simpler Way defuses the problems while liberating us for a much higher quality of life, c) we cannot build thriving highly self-sufficient local communities unless we eventually radically remake the national and international economies, and d) we must move towards this by working to get state and national governments and economies to shift their focus to assisting towns and regions to thrive.
In other words it is important that the main long term goal of the CDC is developing the realization that the enormous Stage 2 changes must we taken on.
The approach outlined is positive and immediate. It is not about destroying before we can start to build. It enables living in and enjoying the new ways, to some extent, here and now, long before the old system has been transcended. There is nothing to stop us starting this work immediately. Above all, given our global situation, what other action strategy makes as much sense? Is any other more likely to get us to The Simpler Way?