Murray Bookchin

Murray Bookchin
Full name Murray Bookchin
Born January 14, 1921
New York City, New York
Died July 30, 2006 (aged 85)
Burlington, Vermont
Era 20th / 21st-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School founder of social ecology
Main interests Social ecology, libertarian municipalism, social hierarchy, dialectics, post-scarcity anarchism, libertarian socialism, communalism, ethics, environmental sustainability, conservationism, history of popular revolutionary movements
Notable ideas social ecology, libertarian municipalism, dialectical naturalism

Murray Bookchin (January 14, 1921 – July 30, 2006)[4] was an American libertarian socialist social philosopher, environmentalist/conservationist, speaker, and writer. For much of his life he called himself an anarchist, although as early as 1995 he privately renounced his identification with the anarchist movement.[5] A pioneer in the ecology movement,[6] Bookchin was the founder of the social ecology movement within libertarian socialist and ecological thought. He was the author of two dozen books on politics, philosophy, history, and urban affairs as well as ecology.

Bookchin was an anti-capitalist and vocal advocate of the decentralisation as well as partial deindustrialization and deurbanization of society. His writings on libertarian municipalism, a theory of face-to-face, grassroots democracy, had an influence on the Green movement and anti-capitalist direct action groups such as Reclaim the Streets. He was a staunch critic of biocentric philosophies such as deep ecology and of the biologically deterministic beliefs of sociobiology, and his criticisms of "new age" Greens such as Charlene Spretnak contributed to the divisions that affected the North American Green movement in the 1990s.


[edit] Life and writings

Bookchin was born in New York City to the Russian Jewish immigrants[7] Nathan Bookchin and Rose (Kaluskaya) Bookchin, and was imbued with Marxist ideas from his youth. He joined the Young Pioneers, the communist youth organization, at the age of nine.[8] He worked in factories and became an organizer for the Congress of Industrial Organizations. In the late 1930s, he broke with Stalinism and gravitated toward Trotskyism, working with a group publishing the periodical Contemporary Issues. Then, gradually becoming disillusioned with the coercion he saw as inherent in conventional Marxism-Leninism, he became an anarchist,[9] helping to found the Libertarian League in New York in the 1950s. Through the 1950s and 1960s, Bookchin worked in a number of working class situations – including a stint as a railroad stevedore. He began teaching in the late 1960s at the Free University, a counter-cultural 1960s-era institution based in Manhattan. This led to a tenured position at Ramapo College in Mahwah, New Jersey. At the same time in 1971, he co-founded the Institute for Social Ecology at Goddard College in Vermont.

His book Our Synthetic Environment was published under the pseudonym Lewis Herber, six months before Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.[10] The book described a broad range of environmental ills but received little attention because of his political radicalism. His groundbreaking essay "Ecology and Revolutionary Thought" introduced ecology as a concept for radical politics. Other essays from the 1960s pioneered innovative ideas about ecological technologies. Lecturing all over the United States, he helped popularize the concept of ecology to the counterculture. His widely republished 1969 essay Listen, Marxist! warned Students for a Democratic Society (in vain) against its takeover by a Marxist group. These and other influential 1960s essays are anthologized in Post Scarcity Anarchism. In 1982, Bookchin's The Ecology of Freedom was published, and had a profound impact on the emerging ecology movement, both in the United States and abroad. He was active in the antinuclear Clamshell Alliance in New England, and his lectures in Germany influenced some of the founders of the German Greens. In From Urbanization to Cities (originally published as The Rise of Urbanization and the Decline of Citizenship), Bookchin traced the democratic traditions that influenced his political philosophy and defines the implementation of the libertarian municipalism concept. A much smaller work, The Politics of Social Ecology, written by his partner of 20 years, Janet Biehl, briefly summarizes these ideas. In 1999, Bookchin broke with anarchic individualism and placed his ideas into the framework of locally based communalism, although he continued to retain his ideas about the necessary decentralization and localization of human populations, power/money/influence, agriculture, manufacturing, etc.

In addition to his political writings, Bookchin wrote extensively on his philosophical ideas, which he called dialectical naturalism.[11] The dialectical writings of Hegel, which articulate a developmental philosophy of change and growth, seemed to him to lend themselves to an organic, even ecological approach.[12] Although Hegel "exercised a considerable influence" on Bookchin, the latter was not, in any sense, a Hegelian.[13] His later philosophical writings emphasize humanism, rationality, and the ideals of the Enlightenment.[14] His last major published work was The Third Revolution, a four-volume history of the libertarian impulse in European and American revolutionary movements.

Upon his retirement from Ramapo, he moved from Hoboken, New Jersey to Vermont and devoted his time to writing and lecturing around the world. He continued to teach at the ISE until 2004. Bookchin died of heart failure on July 30, 2006 at his home in Burlington, Vermont at the age of 85.[15]

[edit] Thought

[edit] Social ecology

In the essay –What is Social Ecology?– Bookchin summarizes the meaning of social ecology as follows:

Social ecology is based on the conviction that nearly all of our present ecological problems originate in deep-seated social problems. It follows, from this view, that these ecological problems cannot be understood, let alone solved, without a careful understanding of our existing society and the irrationalities that dominate it. To make this point more concrete: economic, ethnic, cultural, and gender conflicts, among many others, lie at the core of the most serious ecological dislocations we face today–apart, to be sure, from those that are produced by natural catastrophes.[16]

Bookchin's writings on social ecology spanned over 40 years.

[edit] Social anarchism

Bookchin criticized some modern currents of anarchism to which he referred as lifestyle anarchism and which in his view promoted individual gratification instead of revolutionary social change. These included the critique of technology and anti-civilizational views of anarcho-primitivism.[17] The publication of "Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism" in 1996, was startling to anarchists, as Bookchin had not been involved with anarchists for some 15 years, a period in which he attempted, ultimately without success, to influence radical environmentalists such as the Clamshell Alliance, and then the Green movement. In that book, he vilified what he called "lifestyle anarchism," a category which swept in individualist anarchists, hedonist anarchists, anarcho-primitivists, anarcha-feminists, gay anarchists, situatonist-influenced anarchists, punk "fuck shit up" anarchists, and post-left anarchists. He denounced their alleged indifference to class struggle.

But Bookchin had dismissed class struggle as passe in his first anarchist book, "Post-Scarcity Anarchism," and in the next one, "Toward an Ecological Society." Anarchists still read these books, and also "The Spanish Anarchists," which is still the best history of the Spanish anarchists up to the revolution of 1936. The Bookchinist ("communalism") website reveals, however, that as early as 1995, Bookchin had privately renounced the anarchism which he had professed for over 30 years; he would only announce that publicly, a few years later, that he was not an anarchist indeed, he'd never really been one. By then, Bookchin had gotten a lot of criticism, such as by Bob Black, "Anarchy after Leftism," a tit-for-tat refutation of SALA.

[edit] Libertarian municipalism

From the 1990s onward, Bookchin was increasingly convinced that the focus of action for change should be at the municipal level. In an interview with Dave Vanek in Harbinger in 2001, he articulated his views in the following way: "The overriding problem is to change the structure of society so that people gain power. The best arena to do that is the municipality – the city, town, and village – where we have an opportunity to create a face-to-face democracy."[18] Bookchin was the first to use the term "libertarian municipalism", to describe a system in which libertarian institutions of directly democratic assemblies would oppose and replace the state with a confederation of free municipalities.[19] Libertarian municipalism intends to create a situation in which the two powers – the municipal confederations and the nation-state – cannot coexist.[18] Its supporters believe it to be the means to achieve a rational society, and its structure becomes the organization of society.

[edit] Selected bibliography

[edit] Books

[edit] Articles

  • " Beyond Neo-Marxism ". TELOS 36 (Summer 1978). New York: Telos Press

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ a b c d e Bookchin, Murray. The Ecology of Freedom. Oakland: AK Press, 2005. p.11
  2. ^ [1] Small, Mike. ––Murray Bookchin: US political thinker whose ideas shaped the anti-globalisation movement––. –––The Guardian––– August 8, 2006
  3. ^ Bookchin, Murray. The Philosophy of Social Ecology: Essays on Dialectical Naturalism. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1996. p.57-9
  4. ^ Small, Mike. Murray Bookchin The Guardian August 8, 2006
  5. ^ [2] Biehl, Janet. ––Bookchin Breaks with Anarchism––. –––Communalism––– October 2007: 1.
  6. ^ John Muir Institute for Environmental Studies, University of New Mexico, Environmental Philosophy, Inc, University of Georgia, ––'Environmental Ethics––– v.12 1990: 193.
  7. ^ The Murray Bookchin Reader: Introduction
  8. ^ Anarchism In America documentary
  9. ^ ibid.
  10. ^ A Short Biography of Murray Bookchin by Janet Biehl
  11. ^ Bookchin, Murray. The Ecology of Freedom. Oakland: AK Press, 2005. p.31
  12. ^ ibid. 96-7
  13. ^ Bookchin, Murray. The Philosophy of Social Ecology: Essays on Dialectical Naturalism. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1996. p.x
  14. ^ See Re-Enchanting Humanity, London: Cassell, 1995, amongst other works.
  15. ^ Murray Bookchin, visionary social theorist, dies at 85
  16. ^ Bookchin, Murray. Social Ecology and Communalism. Oakland: AK Press. 2007. p. 19
  17. ^ Murray Bookchin "Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism - An Unbridgeable Chasm" [3]
  18. ^ a b Murray Bookchin, interview by David Vanek (October 1, 2001) Harbinger, a Journal of Social Ecology, Vol. 2 No. 1. Institute for Social Ecology.
  19. ^ Bookchin, M. (October 1991). Libertarian Municipalism: An Overview. Green Perspectives, No. 24. Burlington, VT.

[edit] Further reading

  • Biehl, Janet (1997), The Murray Bookchin Reader (An Anthology). Cassell ISBN 0-304-33874-5.
  • Marshall, P. (1992), "Murray Bookchin and the Ecology of Freedom", p. 602-622 in, Demanding The Impossible. Fontana Press. ISBN 0-00-686245-4.
  • Selva Varengo, La rivoluzione ecologica. Il pensiero libertario di Murray Bookchin (2007) Milano: Zero in condotta. ISBN 9788895950006.
  • Damian F. White 'Bookchin - A Critical Appraisal'. Pluto Press (UK/Europe), University of Michigan Press. ISBN 9780745319650 (HBK); 9780745319643 (pbk).

[edit] External links

Black, Bob. Anarchy After Leftism (C.A.L. Press, 1997). A refutation of Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism.

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