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Letters

Living outside capitalism?

Dear Editors

In talking about freeganism (Socialist Standard, October), much of the media has focused on food and lifestyle, which is what plays best in a society obsessed by spectacle. Most freegans I know are very politically motivated, which some of the articles touch on. Many of us are involved in grassroots and direct action projects, and I'd say a lot of our work would fall into the "deep ecology" category.

Although the NYC-based group started as an offshoot of an anarchist collective called the Activism Center at Wetlands Preserve, there is no party line among freegans, As of 2003 many people across the world already thought of themselves as freegans; the freegan.info website gathered lots of existing info and resources on the subject. Some of us are primitivists, many others are not. There are freegans who are animal rights activists, liberal ecologists, Christians, and various flavors of leftists.

But we are united in our desire to boycott capitalism and its products to the greatest extent we can. Most of us believe that global industrialism, and its drive towards an ever multiplying glut of unneeded commodities, does great harm to all living things. We don't believe humans have a right to all of the world's resources, even if we shared them equally among us. We do not see socialist governments doing a better job with it - look at what's happening in China, for example.

We realize that our practice is seen as extreme, but we don't think turning one's back on mass consumer culture has to be a marginal activity. We're seeing lots of people inspired to reduce their consumption - take a look at the book Not Buying It, the internet support groups called The Compact, writing by Colin Beavan (aka No Impact Man), the "freegan experiment" recently undertaken by journalist Raina Kelley in Newsweek, a very mainstream US magazine. Even without political analysis or motivation, we think the consistent practice of not-buying, refusing to let your relations and life be mediated by commodities, is powerful in itself, and leads people to see the world differently.

And yes, we use the internet, we use phones, many of us have jobs, many of us pay rent or own our homes, some of us own motorized vehicles. These are clear contradictions. Our goal is to live outside of capitalism to as great an extent possible, but as you note, capitalism is very much the dominant force. Like many activists before us, our aim is to create a new world in the shell of the old.

Here's to dialogue among those of us working for social change!

Madeline Nelson for freegan.info

Reply:

If you want to try and “boycott” and “live outside of” capitalism, that’s up to you. We don’t think it’s very practical or a way of ending capitalism. Capitalism can only be done away with by the conscious political action of a majority of the population with a view to making the world’s resources the common heritage of all. In such a socialist world the wastes of capitalism (advertising, packaging, consumerism as well as armaments and everything to do with buying and selling) would be eliminated and the overall consumption of resources per head reduced while still allowing people to consume better food, housing, health care, and the other things needed (desperately needed in many parts of the world) for a decent life.

We are not “primitivists” and reject the idea that it is industrial production as such that has caused the problem of wasted resources; this is caused by the misuse of industrialism in the cause of profit. Industrial production is in fact essential if the reasonable needs of the world’s population are to be met. It’s the same with “globalization”: there is nothing wrong with a more united world; the problem is capitalist financial globalization.

We don’t think China is socialist, so what’s happening there is irrelevant as an argument against socialism. The Chinese government is a capitalist government (a “socialist government” is a contradiction in terms) presiding over the development of capitalism there with all its attendant problems – Editors.