Then, Now, and How looks back on the past century from the vantage point of 2118. We have much to be satisfied with. Today our planet is slowly returning to health. Humans have adjusted to a more extreme and chaotic climate. We have achieved a sustainable exchange with the rest of nature, we eat, we live in relative safety, we (mostly) get along with each other. In the process of restoring the environment, we have learned to cooperate and live together peacefully, respecting other people, other species, other orders. There is a rough equality among us across the planet. No one piles up riches and no one starves.
We rule ourselves through autonomous councils, assemblies and associations, federated at local, regional and planetary levels. The only absolutes are human rights and the protection of nature. Among us there are as many different ways of organizing work and daily life as there are cultural traditions, political doctrines and even temperaments. People who are dissatisfied in one agricultural community or urban society have only to go work and live in another, more to their taste, and nowadays many people change place often, simply out of a love of adventure and to see the world.
It is hard to remember that a mere hundred years ago, the planet was rapidly dissolving into chaos and destruction, with vast inequality, oppression and exploitation, endless wars and civil wars, a ruined environment and the impending threats of nuclear extermination and climate catastrophe. Today, the young people of the 22nd century are growing up without direct knowledge of how we got from there to here, without parents, grandparents and neighbors who survived through the tremendous upheavals of the 21st century. It is for them that we historians have put together this story about who we are and where we came from.
Although the radical planetary emergence of the last century put an end to capitalist predation before its multiple catastrophic consequences totally overwhelmed the planet, it was a close call.
The survivors of the economic crises, ecological disasters, wars and revolutions of the 21st Century had inherited a scarred and battered earth. Half the world’s people were thirsty and lacked water for hygiene and agriculture. Millions had been flooded out of their coastal towns and cities. The total incapacity and indifference of capitalist governments during the long years of crisis had eventually led people to take matters into their own hands. Desperate landless peasants on every continent had organized mass land invasions in defiance of law and owner violence. Cooperation among peasants for construction of wells, irrigation projects, the use of animals and machinery had made the land more productive. Local exchange networks brought food to local producers in towns towns and villages. Regional and eventually planetary mutual aid networks arose to meet their practical needs.
Mass displacement and mass unemployement had thrown people back on their own resources. Panics in the world’s stock markets, the bursting of bubbles of unpayable debt, the closing of banks and the the collapse of credit shattered the globalised system of for-profit mass-production mass consumption. Moreover, the scarcity of oil made it unprofitable to maintain globalized chains of production where materials are shipped to another continent to be worked up by cheap labor and then shipped again to a third (richer) continent to be assembled and sold at a fat profit. In any case, with massive global unemployment, who had money to buy?
Many businesses and workplaces were simply abandoned by their bankrupt owners, who were unable to pay the taxes owing on their property. This proved to be an opportunity for their unemployed former workforce. Often employees, although technically out of work, would get together to protect the machinery and equipment of ‘their’ workplace from vandals or the scrap-dealer, in the hope of better times. Others would pass by to meet and discuss. Many experienced workers felt they knew how to run the operation as well as if not better than the bosses, who never got their hands dirty. Why not try? Better than hanging around feeling useless.
And so, bit by bit, workplaced by workplace, town by town and country by country, wherever the deepening crisis had created similar conditions, workers got together and organised occupations, takeovers, tax-auction buyouts and went back to work – this time for themseves – and their customers. And in many cases, their customers were other worker-run enterprises: self-organised workers in garment factories became the customers of workers in a textile cooperative, whose customers were transportation workers in need of clothes who could deliver the textiles. Out of acts of individual barter, more complex networks of non-commercial exchange and distribution developed.