FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Remembering Murray Bookchin

by

Thumbing through the Sunday, November 29th New York Times Magazine, there was a surprisingly revealing article by Wes Enzinnanov, “A Dream of Secular Utopia in ISIS’ Backyard.”  The article discusses the efforts by Kurdish rebel faction to created a revolutionary society in what the author calls, “a sliver of land in the far north of Syria: Rojava, or ‘land where the sun sets.’’’

The article is important because it provides an invaluable snapshot of an alternative popular movement that has gained some small amount of land and power amidst the Syrian crisis. It is opposed to Bashar al-Assad, including the Russians and Iranians, as well as the Islamic State.  Because it is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), it is on the U.S. terrorist list but, due to the exigencies of war, it appears to be unofficially supported by the U.S./NATO-backed Syrian opposition.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the article was stumbling upon Enzinnanov’s extensive discussion of the role Murray Bookchin, the anarcho-communist and radical environmentalist, played in the development of the thinking of Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK’s leader.  While imprisoned in Turkey, he came across Murray’s writings — who the writer calls “an obscure Vermont-based philosopher” — and underwent a radical conversion, what a scholar called, from a ‘‘Stalinist caterpillar to libertarian butterfly.’’

Amidst the buffoonery of the 2016 Republican presidential horserace, rightwing operatives like Ron and Rand Paul have come to exclusively define the “libertarian” movement.  However, the term has a long history within the left, especially among non-Marxists-Leninist.

In broadest terms, the libertarian left includes those struggling against domination, especially political, workplace, environmental and interpersonal hierarchy; it is distinguished from conventional Marxism that principally opposes exploitation and class relations.  This has been the great divide within the left.

Historically, left libertarians have been identified as anarchists, the the anti-statist forces that date from Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin and innumerable defeated movements that range from the Paris Commune to the Russian revolutionary soviets, the Spanish Civil War militants and Zapatista radicals to today’s struggles in the U.S. and throughout the world.

For Leninists, the organization of the vanguard of the proletariat, the party, was the means to capture state power and, in some distant future, will oversee the withering away of the state.  That this never occurred in Russia, China or Cuba presents few problems for conventional Marxists.

Enzinnanov offers a thumbnail sketch of Murray’s life and some of this thoughts, but for a far richer account people should check out Janet Biehl’s article, “Bookchin Breaks with Anarchism”; she was his comrade and partner, and considers him “a major anarchist theorist, perhaps the most wide-ranging and innovative of the twentieth century.”

Murray was born in the Bronx, NYC, in 1921, worked as an autoworker and was a UAW shop steward during the post-WW-II reconversion – the era when mainstream unions like the UAW sold out to the “American Dream” and the anti-communist hysteria.  In the ‘50s, he broke with Marxism-Leninism, questioning whether the working class was a revolutionary force, and moved further to left.

During the ’60-’70, he was – along with Noam Chomsky and Herbert Marcuse – a voice for a new New Left.  His wrote a dozen or so book and innumerable articles that helped foster the early “conservation” movement, the non-Leninist/non-Maoist left and spurred the call for direct democracy in municipal life.  He broke with what he identified as U.S. “lifestyle anarchists” in the mid-‘90s, promoting libertarian environmentalism and localism.

While in solitary confinement, Ocalan read one of Murray’s writings, The Ecology of Freedom, which Enzinnanov calls “a reimagining of Marx’s Das Kapital.”  For Ocalan, Murray’s anarcho-communist analysis represented a potentially viable political alternative to traditional Stalinism.  The writer adds: “Maybe the P.K.K. didn’t have to take state power.  Maybe it could obtain Kurdish rights by creating its own separate communities inside existing countries, resorting to violence only if attacked.  Maybe all along, Ocalan had been mistaken to think that liberation could be achieved by creating a Kurdish-run nation-state, Marxist or otherwise.”

Through his attorney, Ocalan reached out via email to Murray in 2004, who at 83 years and bedridden, replied, ‘‘Much remains to be explored, which my health and age prohibit me from doing.”  Following Murray’s death in 2006, the PKK sent a tribute to Biehl honoring Murray’s contribution, calling him ‘‘the greatest social scientist of the 20th century. … Bookchin has not died. … We undertake to make [him] live in our struggle.’’

In 2005, Ocalan issued the ‘‘Declaration of Democratic Confederalism in Kurdistan’’ and called on all PKK supporters to embrace Murray’s teachings.  According to Enzinnanov, “He instructed his followers to stop attacking the government and instead create municipal assemblies, which he called ‘democracy without the state.’”  He also “urged all guerrilla fighters to read The Ecology of Freedom,” another of Murray’s works.

Alternative forms of struggle emerge in the most hellish of situations and whether Rojava’s non-authoritarian movement will survive against the threats of Assad, ISIS and the U.S. military is an open question.  Murray’s vision continues to reverberate in movements as diverse as Critical Mass and Occupy Wall Street and now in the autonomous region of Rojava.  Enzinnanov quotes a Syrian radical: ‘‘Rojava is something beyond the nation-state ….  It’s a place where all people, all minorities and all genders are equally represented.”  Let’s hope it survives and flourishes.

David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
Aidan O'Brien
Thank Allah for Western Democracy, Despondency and Defeat
Joseph Natoli
The Politics of Crazy and Stupid
Sher Ali Khan
Empirocracy
Nauman Sadiq
A House Divided: Turkey’s Failed Coup Plot
Franklin Lamb
A Roadmap for Lebanon to Grant Civil Rights for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
Colin Todhunter
Power and the Bomb: Conducting International Relations with the Threat of Mass Murder
Michael Barker
UK Labour’s Rightwing Select Corporate Lobbyist to Oppose Jeremy Corbyn
Graham Peebles
Brexit, Trump and Lots of Anger
Anhvinh Doanvo
Civilian Deaths, Iraq, Syria, ISIS and Drones
Christopher Brauchli
Kansas and the Phantom Voters
Peter Lee
Gavin Long’s Manifesto and the Politics of “Terrorism”
Missy Comley Beattie
An Alarmingly Ignorant Fuck
Robert Koehler
Volatile America
Adam Vogal
Why Black Lives Matter To Me
Raouf Halaby
It Is Not Plagiarism, Y’all
Rev. Jeff Hood
Deliver Us From Babel
Frances Madeson
Juvenile Life Without Parole, Captured in ‘Natural Life’
Charles R. Larson
Review: Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail