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:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

December 05, 2016
Bill Martin
Stalingrad at Standing Rock?
Mark A. Lause
Recounting a Presidential Election: the Backstory
Mel Goodman
Mad Dog Mattis and Trump’s “Seven Days in May”
Matthew Hannah
Standing Rock and the Ideology of Oppressors: Conversations with a Morton County Commissioner
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
#NoDAPL Scores Major Victory: No Final Permit For Pipeline
Fran Shor
The End of the Indispensable Nation
Michael Yates
Vietnam: the War That Won’t Go Away
Michael Uhl
Notes on a Trip to Cuba
Robert Hunziker
Huge Antarctica Glacier in Serious Trouble
John Steppling
Screen Life
David Macaray
Trump vs. America’s Labor Unions
Yoav Litvin
Break Free and Lead, or Resign: a Letter to Bernie Sanders
Norman Pollack
Taiwan: A Pustule on International Politics
Kevin Martin
Nuclear Weapons Modernization: a New Nuclear Arms Race? Who Voted for it? Who Will Benefit from It?
David Mattson
3% is not Enough: Towards Restoring Grizzly Bears
Howard Lisnoff
The Person Who Deciphered the Order to Shoot at Kent State
Nick Pemberton
Make America Late Again
Weekend Edition
December 02, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
The Coming War on China
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The CIA’s Plots to Kill Castro
Paul Street
The Iron Heel at Home: Force Matters
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Timberg’s Tale: Washington Post Reporter Spreads Blacklist of Independent Journalist Sites
Andrew Levine
Must We Now Rethink the Hillary Question? Absolutely, Not
Joshua Frank
CounterPunch as Russian Propagandists: the Washington Post’s Shallow Smear
David Rosen
The Return of HUAC?
Rob Urie
Race and Class in Trump’s America
Patrick Cockburn
Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could be Wrong
Caroline Hurley
Anatomy of a Nationalist
Ayesha Khan
A Muslim Woman’s Reflections on Trump’s Misogyny
Michael Hudson – Steve Keen
Rebel Economists on the Historical Path to a Global Recovery
Russell Mokhiber
Sanders Single Payer and Death by Democrat
Roger Harris
The Triumph of Trump and the Specter of Fascism
Steve Horn
Donald Trump’s Swamp: Meet Ten Potential Energy and Climate Cabinet Picks and the Pickers
Ralph Nader
Trump and His Betraying Makeover
Louis Proyect
Deepening Contradictions: Identity Politics and Steelworkers
Stephen Kimber
The Media’s Abysmal Coverage of Castro’s Death
Dan Bacher
WSPA: The West’s Most Powerful Corporate Lobbying Group
Nile Bowie
Will Trump backpedal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
Ron Ridenour
Fidel’s Death Brings Forth Great and Sad Memories
Missy Comley Beattie
By Invitation Only
Fred Gardner
Sword of Damocles: Pot Partisans Fear Trump’s DOJ
Renee Parsons
Obama and Propornot
Dean Baker
Cash and Carrier: Trump and Pence Put on a Show
Jack Rasmus
Taming Trump: From Faux Left to Faux Right Populism
Ron Jacobs
Selling Racism—A Lesson From Pretoria
Julian Vigo
The Hijos of Buenos Aires:  When Identity is Political
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail