“An importan political principle now emerges — one that applies to the production of use-values for the sustenance of life, and also to the production of ways beyond capital. The potential for the given to contain the lineaments of what is to be may be called prefiguration…
The prefigurative praxes that are to overcome capital in an ecosocialist way are at once very remote and exactly at hand. They are remote insofar as the entire regime of capital stands in the way of their realization; and they are at hand insofar as a movement toward the future exists embedded in every point of the social organism where a need arises… If everything has a prefigurative potential, then prefiguration will be scattered over the entire, disorderly surface of the world… This is a blessing, because it signifies that there is no privileged agent of ecosocialist transformation, but it also imposes a great responsibility. For as they now exist, instances of ecocentric production are scattered and mainly entrapped like irritants in the pores of capital. The task is to free them and connect them, so that their inherent potential may be realized.” – Joel Kovel, The Enemy of Nature, p240-241
Prefiguration is a fancy word that means to try to live and think like the future, right now. It means that we do not have to wait until we have a perfect world to start creating the kind of society that we want. We can start right now, by creating alternative schools, offices, hospitals, factories, homes, senior centers, etc. To prefigure is to experiment with the kind of society we would need in order to be sustainable and caring. It means we should build cooperatives and other institutions that “show” people what ecosocialism is, rather than just “telling” them. The very existence of an ecosocialist farm, school, hospital, senior center, museum, park, etc, is proof that ecosocialism is possible. Prefiguration is making ecosocialism possible here and now in order to demonstrate to our neighbors and friends how exactly we can live differently. That we can grow food ourselves, that work can be fulfilling and life-affirming rather than dreadful drudgery, that school can be a place of wonder and learning instead of rules and dullness, that we can produce by ourselves for ourselves without bosses.
To prefigure is also to return to what is truly immortal in humanity — our limitless imagination:
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
(Auguries of Innocence, by William Blake)