FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Visionary Life of Murray Bookchin

by BRIAN TOKAR

Murray Bookchin, the visionary social theorist and activist, died during the early morning of Sunday, July 30th in his home in Burlington, Vermont. During a prolific career of writing, teaching and political activism that spanned half a century, Bookchin forged a new anti-authoritarian outlook rooted in ecology, dialectical philosophy and left libertarianism.

During the 1950s and ’60s, Bookchin built upon the legacies of utopian social philosophy and critical theory, challenging the primacy of Marxism on the left and linking contemporary ecological and urban crises to problems of capital and social hierarchy in general. Beginning in the mid-sixties, he pioneered a new political and philosophical synthesis-termed social ecology-that sought to reclaim local political power, by means of direct popular democracy, against the consolidation and increasing centralization of the nation state.

From the 1960s to the present, the utopian dimension of Bookchin’s social ecology inspired several generations of social and ecological activists, from the pioneering urban ecology movements of the sixties, to the 1970s’ back-to-the-land, antinuclear, and sustainable technology movements, the beginnings of Green politics and organic agriculture in the early 1980s, and the anti-authoritarian global justice movement that came of age in 1999 in the streets of Seattle. His influence was often cited by prominent political and social activists throughout the US, Europe, South America, Turkey, Japan, and beyond.

Even as numerous social movements drew on his ideas, however, Bookchin remained a relentless critic of the currents in those movements that he found deeply disturbing, including the New Left’s drift toward Marxism-Leninism in the late 1960s, tendencies toward mysticism and misanthropy in the radical environmental movement, and the growing focus on individualism and personal lifestyles among 1990s anarchists. In the late 1990s, Bookchin broke with anarchism, the political tradition he had been most identified with for over 30 years and articulated a new political vision that he called communalism.

Bookchin was raised in a leftist family in the Bronx during the 1920s and ’30s. He enjoyed retelling the story of his expulsion from the Young Communist League at age 18 for openly criticizing Stalin, his brief flirtation with Trotskyism as a labor organizer in the foundries of New Jersey, and his introduction to anarchism by veterans of the immigrant labor movement during the 1950s. In 1974, he co-founded the Institute for Social Ecology, along with Dan Chodorkoff, then a graduate student at Vermont’s Goddard College. For 30 years, the Institute for Social Ecology has brought thousands of students to Vermont for intensive educational programs focusing on the theory and praxis of social ecology. A self-educated scholar and public intellectual, Bookchin served as a full professor at Ramapo College of New Jersey despite his own lack of conventional academic credentials.He published more than 20 books and many hundreds of articles during his lifetime, many of which were translated into Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, Turkish and other languages.

During the 1960s – ’80s, Bookchin emphasized his fundamental theoretical break with Marxism, arguing that Marx’s central focus on economics and class obscured the more profound role of social hierarchy in the shaping of human history. His anthropological studies affirmed the role of domination by age, gender and other manifestations of social power as the antecedents of modern-day economic exploitation. In The Ecology of Freedom(1982), he examined the parallel legacies of domination and freedom in human societies, from prehistoric times to the present, and he later published a four-volume work,The Third Revolution, exploring anti-authoritarian currents throughout the Western revolutionary tradition.

At the same time, he criticized the lack of philosophical rigor that has often plagued the anarchist tradition, and drew theoretical sustenance from dialectical philosophy-particularly the works of Aristotle and Hegel; the Frankfurt School-of which he became increasingly critical in later years-and even the works of Marx and Lenin. During the past year, even while terminally ill in Burlington, Bookchin was working toward a re-evaluation of what he perceived as the historic failure of the 20th century left. He argued that Marxist crisis theory failed to recognize the inherent flexibility and malleability of capitalism, and that Marx never saw capitalism in its true contemporary sense. Until his death, Bookchin asserted that only the ecological problems created by modern capitalism were of sufficient magnitude to portend the system’s demise.

Murray Bookchin was diagnosed several months ago with a fatal heart condition. He will be remembered by his devoted family members-including his long-time companion Janet Biehl, his former wife Bea Bookchin, his son, daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter-as well as his friends, colleagues and frequent correspondents throughout the world. There will be a public memorial service in Burlington, Vermont on Sunday, August 13th. For more information, contact info(at)social-ecology.org.

BRIAN TOKAR’s latest book is Gene Traders: Biotechnology, World Trade and the Globalization of Hunger (www.genetraders.org).

 

 

Brian Tokar is the director of the Institute for Social Ecology and a lecturer in environmental studies at the University of Vermont. A newly revised and expanded edition of Brian Tokar’s Toward Climate Justice, has just been issued by the New Compass Press. 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail