Murray Bookchin 1921-2006
When Murray Bookchin died this summer, my first reaction was surprise that he was still alive. Then I realized now's the time to read his books, now more than ever. When I ordered Bad Subject Mat Callahan's book from AK Press, I was sent a catalog that contains Bookchin's The Ecology of Freedom; Anarchism, Marxism and the Future of the Left, and The Spanish Anarchists.
I heard the Vermont anarchist speak neary thirty years ago at Dartmouth College, squaring off against a member of the Young Socialist Alliance and a Buckleyite conservative. The socialist followed Bookchin, announcing he agreed with everything he had called for but differed in the means of achieving it. The third speaker, National Review editor Jeffrey Hart, promptly announced he disagreed with everything desired by the previous two speakers (Hart was an excellent and stimulating Professor of English, but will have to answer to his maker for mentoring Dinesh D'Souza, and the vile Dartmouth Review).
Bookchin's own political peregrinations carried him from the Communist Party, expelled as a teenager for "Trotskyist-anarchist deviations" at the time of the 1939 Hitler-Stlain pact. He then was a CIO union organizer in northern New Jersey, hung out with Trotskyists but found them growing too authoritarian after Trotsky's death. After WWII he was active in the United Auto Workers and began to publish in libertarian socialist publications. Deeply involved in the New Left yet critical of it, "Listen, Marxist!" was his 1969 critique of its traditional Marxism. In their eulogy, The Nation magazine praised Bookchin as an "ideological infighter", and reported his unfinished work was on the failure of the twentieth-century left.
He taught at the Alternative University in New York, Ramapo College of New Jersey, and the Institute for Social Ecology, which he helped co-found with companion Janet Biehl, in Vermont. Bookchin was another independent thinker that the scenic, wintry state seems to produce. Artist-filmmaker John Douglas has visualized the region's stubbornness in his "Homeland Security" series of butt-naked Green Mountain Boys with their rifles. Theologico-psychologist Art Kleps established his LSD-sacramentalizing Neo-American Church on an Lake Champlain island near Burlington. Independent socialist Senator Bernie Sanders is the most electorally successful and congressional influential of those Vermonters who think globally and act locally. And in 2003 Dr. Howard Dean thundered forward from there as an antiwar Presidential hopeful, but was succored or suckered into Chairing a Democratic Party in which warlike Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton were free to roam about the cabin.
The New England scientists David and Donella Meadows saw their 1970s warnings of Global Warming bear strange fruit in the ensuing decades. An even earlier ecologist, Bookchin published an article "The Problem of Chemicals in Food" in 1952, and its West German publication helped spur food and drug legislation there. His book (bylined Lewis Herber) Our Synthetic Environment was published by Knopf in 1962. Among his books are Crisis in Our Cities (Prentice Hall 1965) and The Limits of the City (Harper and Row, 1974), and increasingly advocated libertarian municipalism, small-town democracy and worker-owned economy in resistance to a centralized--or worse, globalizing--state.
Perhaps Murray Bookchin's major statement was his 1982 text The Ecology of Freedom: the Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy, which was reissued in 2005 with a new introduction by the author. In the ecological movement, Bookchin excorciated those who privileged flora and fauna over human beings, the majority of whose lives continue to be deformed by an oppressive economic system, as well as its environmental depradations and toxic chemical spew. He sought answers and direction in decentralized, nonhierarchical, feminist and populist traditions, to be found in history, in Kropotkin and Hegel, and around us today. Dedicated lifelong anti-authoritarians like Murray Bookchin have much to teach us, and a productive longevity that inspires us too.
Mike Mosher is a Bad Subject living in Michigan.