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Murray Bookchin and the Ecology of Freedom

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Tribute: Murray Bookchin and the ecology of freedom

Here’s a thinker, who in the 1960s, declared climate change as a defining problem of the age. Who accused his fellow environmentalists of advocating mere “technical fixes” of capitalism, instead of addressing root causes. But today, his ideas are enjoying an unexpected revival. Damian White pays tribute to Murray Bookchin, who died on this day in 2006.

Murray Bookchin’s New Life

Damian White, Jacobin Magazine

Murray Bookchin spent fifty years articulating a new emancipatory project, one that would place ecology and the creative human subject at the center of a new vision of socialism.

Here is a thinker, who in the early sixties, declared climate change as one of the defining problems of the age. Bookchin saw the environmental crisis as capitalism’s gravedigger.

But he also insisted we must be continually alert to the postcapitalist potentialities that may surface within capitalism. “Liberatory technologies” from renewables to developments in “minituration” and automation combined with broader forms of social and political reorganization, could open up unprecedented possibilities for self-management and sustainable abundance.

In the seventies and eighties, Bookchin suggested an environmentalism obsessed with scarcity, austerity, and the defense of “pure nature” would get nowhere. The future lay with an urban social ecology that addressed people’s concerns for a better life and could articulate this in the form of a new republican vision of politics and a new ecological vision of the city.

In the nineties, at the height of postmodernism, Bookchin argued a Left that reduced modernity and humanism to a caricature would become actively reactionary.

He died in 2006, politically isolated and resigned to his project’s failure.

A decade later Bookchin seems to be everywhere, from the New York Times magazine to the Financial Times. Suddenly, name-dropping this revolutionary leftist is all the rage in the most mainstream of publications. Why is this?

Chaos in the Middle East, particularly the Kurdish fighters’ defense of their autonomous zone in Bakur, Rojava, and the southeast regions of Turkey, is partially responsible for the current spate of mainstream media attention.

Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) broke with Marxist-Leninism in 2004 and declared himself a follower of Bookchin. Öcalan has subsequently argued that Bookchin’s proposed system of confederated participatory democracies provides the base of a new model of democratic modernity beyond the nation-state: not just for the Kurds, but for the region in general.The uptick in Bookchin’s popularity, though, predates Öcalan and the Kurds.It is “Bookchin the social ecologist” who has now reentered environmental discussions, particularly in light of debates about “the anthropocene.”Bookchin anticipated much of this discussion thirty years ago. In a thankless debate he had with various “deep ecologists,” he argued we must acknowledge how much social history and natural history have become profoundly intertwined.He also maintained that the widespread tendency to blame a generic “anthros” for an environmental crisis generated by capitalism was completely misleading. A social ecology must reject the misanthropic view that humans are inherent “environmental degraders” and assert our potential as creative stewards of the earth. VIEW/DOWNLOAD: Murray Bookchin’s books at The Anarchist Library

Perhaps most surprising though has been the manner in which Bookchin has popped up as a key point of reference in the ongoing attempt to make sense of the post-Occupy political landscape.

Bookchin’s view that urban democracy must be revitalized through the model of the popular assembly has led his anarchist supporters to claim that he almost anticipated the political forms that Occupy sought to champion.

In contrast, a growing band of Marxist devotees have argued it is “Bookchin the ex-anarchist,” who gives a pretty good guide to why Occupy fizzled and faded. They have observed that his later writings are increasingly critical of consensus-oriented decision-making. Bookchin believed in building popular assemblies but, contra many Occupy anarchists, he also believed in political leadership and mobilizing the public through a clear set of demands.

So, what is the Bookchin that might be most useful to our political moment today? Are there any grounds for feeling that his writing might actually offer ways to think beyond the “the Red,” “the Black,” and “the Green”?

Ecology Or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin, a new biography by Janet Biehl (Bookchin’s collaborator, co-writer, editor, and partner of twenty years) provides a productive starting point for considering Bookchin’s legacy.

Red, Black, and Green

In her meticulously researched and often moving book, Biehl demonstrates that one reason Bookchin attracted and lost so many different audiences across his long scholarly life is because his political history rose and fell with twentieth-century left politics: he participated in the “old left,” the New Left, the green left, and the final impasse of twentieth-century socialism.

Murray Bookchin was born in 1921 to Russian Jewish immigrants, forced to emigrate to the Bronx in the aftermath of the failed 1905 revolution. His radical grandmother, who had been a member of the Social Revolutionaries in Russia, largely raised him.

Brought up in a household where portraits of Rosa Luxemburg and Tsar Alexander’s assassins adorned the walls, Bookchin recalled knowing more as a young child about Russian revolutionaries than Robin Hood. He lost his beloved grandmother at the age of ten. His father left, and then it was just him and his mother, who, Biehl maintains, was rudderless at the best of times. Life got tough.

Biehl paints a vivid picture of Depression-era New York City. Bookchin and his mother were near-destitute for periods, reliant on the soup kitchen as they moved between rented apartments and the street. The richly articulated and deeply politicized immigrant neighborhoods of the Bronx, alongside the Communist Party, saved the young Bookchin.

The CPUSA’s youth organizations gave him structure, focus, a political education, and sustenance in a chaotic world. As a teenager, he sold the Daily Worker on street corners in the Bronx, spoke at outdoor meetings in Crotona Park, and participated in rent strikes.

After high school, Bookchin found work as a foundryman and autoworker. He was also a trade union activist, participating in CIO organizing drives.

But the Popular Front, the Moscow trials, and the Nazi-Soviet Pact, combined with what he perceived as a lack of revolutionary consciousness among American workers, disillusioned him. Like many on the intellectual left, Bookchin left the CPUSA for Trotskyism and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).

It was there that Bookchin met German émigré and socialist intellectual Josef Weber. Weber had joined the German Communist Party while Rosa Luxemburg was still alive and worked for a Parisian newspaper that Trotsky praised. He turned up in New York City in the early forties with a suitcase of books on Marx, Hegel, critical theory, and German idealism and the belief that capitalism was in terminal decline.

Bookchin quickly became his student, his researcher, his understudy, and finally his protégé. Together they broke with the SWP in the late 1940s and formed the journal Contemporary Issues with other leftists.

Contemporary Issues was committed to rethinking the socialist project along “democratic lines.” As a result, it was sharply critical of both the United States and the Soviet Union. The journal sought to map out an independent and humanist socialism. Bookchin wrote for the journal throughout the fifties on all manner of political subjects.

It is in “The Problems of Chemicals in Food,” an article Bookchin published in 1952, where he first argued that environmental problems might now constitute the place where fundamental contradictions of capitalism are being played out.

Counterculture Ecology

The sixties saw Bookchin emerge as a full-throated advocate of a revolutionary social ecology. Our Synthetic Environment (which came out six months before Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking Silent Spring in 1962) made the claim that postwar affluence was underpinned by widespread environmental degradation.

Crisis in Our Cities (1965) suggested that the crisis of the urban environment was intimately related to the crisis of the natural environment. Both books argued that without fundamental reorganization of society none of these problems would be resolved.

These projects didn’t garner the public following or academic acclaim enjoyed by books like Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man. But key essays — such as “Ecology and Revolutionary Thought” (1964) and “Towards a Liberatory Technology” (1965) — circulated widely through the alternative press in the United States.

Elsewhere, such interventions were occasionally met with complete incomprehension; the Situationists mockingly referred to Bookchin as “Smokey the Bear” when they met in Europe. Yet he gradually found an audience on the more radical end of the counterculture.

New Left politics simmered down at the tail end of the 1960s. But Bookchin continued writing books and the articles, and his body of work attracted sufficient attention to land him an academic post. Indeed, as Biehl observes, he rose to full professor without having an undergraduate degree. This “day job” gave him the stability to pursue projects outside the academy.

Bookchin founded the Institute for Social Ecology (ISE) in the early seventies in Vermont with anthropologist Dan Chordokoff. As Biehl outlines, in probably the most optimistic and lively sections of the book, the ISE was run on a shoestring but became a central hub for all manner of charismatic teachers and utopian dreamers.

At its peak, roughly three hundred radical intellectuals, activists, artists, and technologists would come to study with Bookchin and participate in the school’s three-month summer program.

The ISE offered some of the first courses in the country on urbanism and ecology, radical technology, ecology and feminism, activist art and community. There really was nothing like it. Students read critical theory, studied the history of popular assemblies and experimented with urban aquaculture or solar collectors.

The ISE also became the center of a wave of political activism that swept the country in the seventies and eighties: John and Nancy Todd experimented with living machines and closed-loop production systems at the New Alchemy Institute in Massachusetts (anticipating subsequent research programs in Industrial Ecology); Karl Hess and David Morris tested neighborhood democracy and self-management in DC; Ynestra King and Chiah Heller did much to instigate debate around the contours of a social ecofeminism.

All taught at the ISE at different points. Longstanding relations were also built between the ISE and Puerto Rican radicals in New York City. Chino Garcia and his CHARAS group were regular visitors to Vermont as they explored various strategies for bottom-up community development and socio-ecological retrofits of their neighborhood in the Lower East Side.

But while the political vistas are large and ebullient in the first three quarters of Ecology Or Catastrophe, it is striking how they contract in the final section of the book.


Bookchin and Biehl threw themselves into advocating for a confederal municipalist politics focused on the popular assembly in the late eighties and nineties. Pamphlets and books poured out of their small home in Burlington, Vermont that sought to convince the uninitiated and do battle with doubters.

Ecology Or Catastrophe details numerous critical moments when this political project appeared to gain some traction. The rise of urban movements such as the Montreal Citizens Movement in Canada; movements for neighborhood democracy in Spain, Greece, and Norway; and municipal socialism in Britain all seemed to have some potential at different points in time.

Biehl documents how Bookchin spent a good deal of time in the eighties in dialogue with the left sections of the German Greens. He unsuccessfully attempted to convince them that the parliamentary road was a dead end and that they were better off pursuing a confederal municipal alternative.

Back home in Burlington, he butted heads with Bernie Sanders. They both attempted to build some kind of political force that would have some staying power: the Left Green Network, the Burlington Greens, the Social Ecology project, The Communalist Project …

Each moment flickered and then faded. The times were out of sync. Biehl also acknowledges Bookchin was never easy to work with. He had a singular vision and could not compromise.

In his twilight years, illness, political defeats, endless polemics, and ongoing battles with an ever-expanding list of political enemies left Bookchin exhausted. Money was tight but more than anything else Bookchin was profoundly disappointed by the political regression that he saw around him.

The popularity of an irrational postmodernism in the academy was one thing but the explosion of completely irrational forms of ecology and anarchism was heartbreaking. He broke with anarchism in 2002 and increasingly referred to himself as either a communalist or a socialist.

Bookchin and Biehl in their final project together embarked on a four volume re-reading of the revolutionary tradition that aimed to return struggles for popular democracy to their central place in revolutionary history. It kept him alive, it gave them a common project to work on; but politically and personally they were drifting apart.

Bookchin maintained a militant commitment to the revolutionary tradition and confederal municipalism till the end. Biehl reveals that she, at least, gave up hope. She reverted back to being a “social democrat,” the politics she had prior to meeting Bookchin.

A New Audience

What can a twenty-first-century left draw from Bookchin?

Bookchin got a lot of things right. His writing on capitalist crisis and ecology, the promise of liberatory eco-technologies, the new forms of pleasure and leisure that a socially and ecologically rational reorganization of society could make available were insightful and important.

Ecologically minded socialists can still learn from his call for a creative urban ecology that expands the realms of freedom, self-management, and socio-technical change.

We need forms of ecological urbanism and eco-technological restructuring that aim for more than technocratic low-carbon outcomes. As Bookchin argues, we should aspire to socio-technical forms which as far as possible restore a sense of “selfhood and competency” to an “active citizenry.”

Biehl’s Ecology Or Catastrophe is also important in that it highlights how the Institute for Social Ecology, at its best, practiced an experimental and creative ecological politics that stood as a direct challenge to the ideological presuppositions of Malthusian environmentalism.

Public art; collective experiments in eco-design and technology; attempts to cultivate participatory systems of social, urban, cultural and community innovation; an ecological politics of pleasure can all be scoffed at by purists.

But it is striking how removed the apocalyptic politics of the contemporary ecological left is from this project. The idea that we might not aspire to simply shrink our ecological footprint but create a better ecological footprint seems to have gone entirely missing.

But Biehl’s biography also serves as a reminder that Bookchin’s project also comes with many unresolved issues.

Social and Labor

Bookchin’s desire to avoid class reductionism was important, as was his emphasis on a politics that reached people outside the workplace. But his desire to avoid vulgar workerism was too extreme — labor disappears from his social ecology.

We may or may not be heading towards a new wave of postindustrial automation in advanced economies. Nobody really knows. What we do know is that, in the here and now, the workplace remains a critical site of exploitation, surveillance, and enormous unfreedom.

As Fight for $15 has reminded us, it also remains a key site for mobilizing people for better terms and conditions which can then lead to further struggles for more autonomy and self-management within and outside the workplace.

The popular assembly model has a long and noble history on the Left. It continues to inspire political mobilizations from Argentina to Rojava. But critical questions remain regarding how much a neighborhood-assembly-focused strategy alone can accomplish and how such forms are going to relate to other sites and tiers of political activity.

The dilemma is fairly straightforward. If neighborhood assemblies do too little, they become powerless and pointless, but if they promise too much, it’s a recipe for dysfunction and political gridlock.

Bookchin favored a maximalist vision and he felt a confederal structure of governance could iron out any wrinkles. There are reasons to believe that unless projects for rebuilding robust urban democracies are more differentiated, multi-scalar — and clearly connected to projects to build industrial democracy in the workplace, cultural democracy in everyday life, and ongoing political battles to defend, expand, and transform the administrative state — municipal politics could easily fail.

Without a complex politics that moves forward on many fronts, neighborhood assemblies could easily become polities that are occupied by the commitment-light and time-rich. Folks that are working fifty hours a week and have to juggle childcare and eldercare will have no voice.

The shift in social ecology from production to a focus on “community” also raises serious concerns. Attending to local social and environmental concerns has its value. Communitarian experiments to build different kinds of participatory local social ecologies can build civic solidarity and competencies.

But we also know that all these projects come with complicated class/gender and racial politics. It is also fair to point out that communitarian solutions to complex local and global issues – from food production to the manufacturing of goods – can quickly hit upper limits.

Once again, attending to labor as a critical site for understanding the metabolism between “society” and “nature” becomes critically important here. The production process is a site where local to global socio-ecological contradictions are played out and where capitalism’s universalizing tendencies to connect people, materials, non-humans and multiple diverse ecologies in vast supply chains becomes most apparent.

Labor is also a critical site where alternative local to global labor-environmental alliances can be reconstructed that push for green jobs, worker-owned, sustainable co-ops, eco-industrial restructuring, and “just transitions” across the globe.

Indeed, it is through building such labor-environmental networks, coalitions, and solidarities that the spatial geography of a more multi-tiered and differentiated vision of a sustainable future might come more clearly into view.

Technology and Urban Ecology

Questions about the politics of scale also surround Bookchin’s vision of the future of urbanism and technology.

The possibilities for constructing a politics of “liberatory technologies” that have the potential to contribute to popular self-management have clearly expanded well beyond the pallet of distributed renewables, mechanical minaturation, and automation that excited 1960s Bookchin.

Peer-to-peer production, open-source software, digital fabrication, proposals for platform co-operatives, circular economies, industrial ecologies and so on, could all contribute to a vision of an alternative sustainable techno-culture of the future.

However, many of these very same technologies that are heralded to increase autonomy and self-organizing possibilities at one spatial scale, may well be dependent on centralized infrastructures, research institutions, forms of expertise, and a complex division of labor at other spatial scales.

Moreover, the stuff to make solar PV and cellphones, turbines, and energy storage systems doesn’t grow on trees. It’s dug out of the ground in some places and dumped out of sight in other places.

In this regard Bookchin is right. We will have to ecologize and democratize our urban worlds. Strategies to build an equitable and participatory urbanist future marked by luxurious and sustainable public housing, exquisite public parks and gardens, new modes of sustainable mobility, and high-quality shared public goods and spaces will almost certainly have to combine “bottom-up” and “top-down” strategies. Bottom-up neighborhood assemblies can be vital but gaining public power over urban investment decisions and demands for regional or national popular investment banks is also critical.

Ensuring that what Mumford called “the art of city making” is a public art rather than a private secret may also require something more than calls for face-to face urban democracy or a return of “mother knows best” left technocracy.

We need to build diverse fora where “experts in city making” (planners, landscapers, architects, designers etc) are brought into constant dialogue with “experts in city living” (ie: knowledgeable publics prepared to tackle the hard task of envisioning alternative urban futures). This could provide much more fruitful ways to think about democratic design.

The broader liberatory scales of our future urbanscapes and ruralscapes are going to be messy, complicated, and poorly captured by the “decentralization = good,” “centralization = bad” binary. In many cases, densification of our existing cities, suburbs and ex-urbs will be much more important for low-carbon futures than encouraging the kinds of decentralized landscapes envisaged by Bookchin.

Scaling Down, Scaling Up

It is climate change that presents the most politically pressing question regarding the forms of social ecology that might build a socially just and ecologically sane future.

Bookchin deserves enormous credit for being one of the first radical voices to insist that the Left must mobilize around climate change. Today we must cut greenhouse emissions by up to 90 percent in perhaps fifty years while ensuring that upwards of 9 billion people have access to a good life.

The task is gargantuan. The standard liberal technocratic response to this challenge has focused all attention on the importance of decarbonizing our energy supplies. But this isn’t enough.

We must build a new, continental-scale, post-carbon energy infrastructure, electrify and diversify transportation, find new ways to travel and ship, and develop vastly more efficient building materials.

Coastal areas in many places will have to be made more resilient and robust, repositioned, perhaps moved or abandoned. Patterns of consumption premised on a cradle-to-grave model will have to be transcended by just and sustainable industrial ecologies that take us from more to better, from ownership to access, from built-in obsolescence to high-quality durable goods that can be easily dissembled and reused.

Now all of this is true but rarely does this reflection stray to consider how this project might also require demilitarization, the democratization of value creation and economic power, or the need to democratize our decrepit political institutions.

So, where does this leave Bookchin’s legacy?

Kurdish forces currently attempting to sustain their democratic communalism against the ongoing military assaults of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and ISIS have to be supported. What they have achieved to date in the brutal conditions they find themselves in is nothing short of remarkable.

In terms of gender politics, they seem to have already gone beyond Bookchin. We should learn from their extraordinary attempt to undermine patriarchy and institutionalize popular democracy and hope that it maintains a generally progressive path.

But we should be wary of over-generalizing the relevance of this experiment to other places and other problems.

In terms of climate issues, we now know that the greenhouse gases that have already been released into the atmosphere have “baked in” a certain level of warming and sea level rise into the system for centuries to come. This means that we are now dealing with a much more dynamic and non-linear system than anything imagined by sixties radicals, who — largely drawing from the community ecology of their day — focused on building a future marked by “natural balance” and holism.

The counterculture vision of a decentralized ecological society “neatly nested” into place will have to give way to a more dynamic vision of postcapitalist democratic urbanscapes and ruralscapes that are constantly adjusting to, and making and remaking, their surrounding social ecologies.

Rather than fetish a municipal route to social change, this will have to involve enrolling many partners at many spatial scales of politics to facilitate social, technological, and ecological transformations. Most critically, the state — where it exists and where it is still relatively open to influence by progressive forces — is going to play a central role in this transition.

The sensibility will have to be experimental and iterative rather than institutionally dogmatic and inflexible. The human scales of a democratic and ecological urban future are going to be multiple and varied.

Anything less fails to understand the amount of trouble we are in.

VIEW/DOWNLOAD: Murray Bookchin’s books at The Anarchist Library

Remembering Murray Bookchin
Janet Biehl, Institute for Social Ecology
Murray Bookchin (1921-2006) was a left-libertarian social theorist who, in the early 1960s, introduced the concept of ecology into radical politics. A self-described utopian, he sought a decentralized, genuinely democratic society and placed ecology in a humanistic and social framework. He wrote more than two dozen books on ecology, history, politics, philosophy, and urban planning. At all times he upheld reason against the alternatives and sought to bring a lived revolutionary past forward into the future.

The Murray Bookchin Reader: Introduction
Institute for Social Ecology
In its range and depth, Bookchin’s dialectical synthesis of anarchism and ecology, which he called social ecology, had no equal in the postwar international Left. The first major effort to fuse ecological awareness with the need for fundamental social change, and to link a philosophy of nature with a philosophy of social revolution, it remains the most important such effort to this day.

Murray Bookchin and the Kurdish resistance
Joris Leverink, ROAR Magazine
Bookchin opposed the ideas and practices of the emerging environmentalist movements, accusing them of advocating mere “technical fixes” of capitalism, counter-posing it to an ecological approach that seeks to address the root causes of the systemic problem. In his view, capitalism’s fatal flaw lay not in its exploitation of the working class, as Marxists believe, but rather in its conflict with the natural environment which, if allowed to develop unopposed, would inevitably lead to the dehumanization of people and the destruction of nature. Bookchin’s municipalist ideas, once rejected by communists and anarchists alike, have now come to inspire the Kurdish quest for democratic autonomy.


Discussion 18 Comments

  • Caragh - 30th Aug 2017

    Bookchin is pretty fascinating, his ideas make alot of sense and his focus on green issues was pretty focused. What makes me sad is that there were not 100 of him!Does anyone know what he thought of ecocide law?

    • Peter Lach-Newinsky 31st Aug 2017

      Thanks Caragh. Ecocide law long after his time. He had radical and interesting critiques of 'deep ecology' and what he called 'lifestyle anarchism' though.

    • Caragh - 31st Aug 2017

      Thanks for the reply Peter :) Yes, its pretty interesting. Ecocide as a crime was going to be part of the Rome Statute til the last minute and so I am interested to see what he thought of law as a tool for earth sovreignty or whatever one wants to call it. His essay on deep ecology is fascinating and helped me stave off becoming too radically green for at least 5 years but unfortunately these days, while I can still sympathize with his sentiments on eco la-la I strongly believe that unless we can respect the health of the planet before people's 'needs'we will never be able to actually achieve equality. I have been tripping on the Hopi view of the world for a while now and am going to try get to grips with the Iroquois approach to government. I would be interested to hear what you think of that. I also have pegged onto the idea of ionian isonomia and am finding it fascinating!Blessings to you!

    • Peter Lach-Newinsky 3rd Sep 2017

      Re health of planet/needs dichotomy or antagonism, depends on how 'needs' are defined, no? Alternative framings: Gandhi: 'Planet has enough for each man's needs, but not for each man's greed'. Theodor Roszak: 'The needs of the planet and the needs of man are now one'.

      Ionian isonomia: not sure what 'lack of rule and social divisions' could have meant in ancient Ionia. Athenian democracy still a beacon for participatory democracy despite all its limitations. Would be great to have ordinary people massively involved in citizens' juries (aka sortition), for example, discussing and deciding on all matters of intense public interest, advised by expert panels.

      Iroquois: still have my cherished copy of the 1977 Hau de no sau nee (Iroquois) Address to the Western World, 'A Basic Call to Consciousness'.... ('Spiritualism is the highest form of Political Consciousness')

    • Peter Lach-Newinsky 3rd Sep 2017

      On the Iroquois approach to government you mentioned Carragh, here's a quote from the above mentioned 1977 Address to the Western World you might be interested in:

      'Our is one of the most complex social/political structures still functioning in the world. The Hau de no sau nee council is also one of the most ancient continuously functioning governments anywhere on this planet. Our society is one of the most complex anywhere. From our social and political institutions has come inspiration for some of the most vital institutions and political philosophies of the modern world.

      The Hau de no sau nee is governed by a constitution known among Europeans as the Constitution of the Six Nations and to the Hau de no sau nee as the Gayanashakgowah, or the Great Law of Peace. It is the oldest functioning document in the world which has contained a recognition of the freedoms the Western democracies recently claim as their own: the freedom of speech,freedom of religion, and the rights of women to participate in government. The concept of the separation of powers in government and of checks and balances of power within governments are traceable to our constitution. They are ideas learned by the colonists as the result of contact with North American Native people, specifically the Hau de no sau nee.

      The philosophies of the Socialist World, too, are to some extent traceable to European contact with the Hau de no sau nee. Lewis Henry Morgan noted the economic structure of the Hau de no sau nee, which he termed both primitive and communistic. Karl Marx used Morgan's observations for the development of a model for classless, post-capitalist society. The modern world has been greatly influenced by the fact of our existence.'


  • Bat Chainpuller 30th Aug 2017

    I'm struck by the point that Bookchin died thinking he failed. That he moved from Marxist communist to Anarchist to social ecologist and to dumping the anarchist monicker. I'm struck by the fact that Beihl gave up revolution in favour of social democracy (George Lakey?) - is it true? I'm struck by the fact (read in the bio - haven't finished it yet) that several good friends of Bookchin also gave up the revolution post WW2. I was struck by the assertion, in the bio, that some of Bookchin's revolutionary mates felt, after a hundred years of Marxism, the proletariat seemed steadfastly reformist rather than revolutionary, so gave up. (I am still struck by the fact that it is 2017 and I am still seeing the phrase, what is to be done in essays and book titles.) I was struck that when I contacted Paul Street regarding a very good essay about racism in the Counterpunch mag, which I had to purchase for $7, and asked him about "what needs to be done" to get the revolutionary mass movement he says is needed, he responded with some short thoughts,

    "I think we have 10-15 years to save chances for a decent future. [great]

    We should call a national summit of all serious Leftists. [how? Who's the "we" and why are you waiting giving your connections?]

    Probably need to cut our time online by about 75%, increase contact with real people. [probably need both in whatever proportions ate necessary but taking into serious consideration people's penchant for the screen]

    A lot of the hard left "leadership" needs therapy or something to help them stand down from narcissistic ego, which feeds sectarianism." [sad really but "they" need to get over themselves]

    I was struck by the idea that sectarianism, given the amount of literature surrounding the negative aspects of it, still gets in the way. I was struck that 10-15 yrs is not a long time and also that given I purchased his essay, thought it a good one and took the time to write to him asking for his thoughts, and examples of current positive movements, if he knew of any, on how to achieve what he said was needed, that he responded in such a rather flippant way that left me none the wiser and knowing that further correspondence was futile.

    Reading the Bookchin bio I was struck by the observation that the old school left, trad left as Peter calls them, have done or did do pretty much what most today are still doing, organising actions, strikes, sit-ins, educational sessions and groups, recruitment etc., and they did it with far greater numbers/memberships and and well defined strategies, during a pretty socially disrupted period of much left radical agitation, pre WW2, yet could not mobilise the masses or revolutionise the proletariat to the extent they wanted to get the job done (it's as if WW2 put and subsequent 25-30 years of social democratic economic reform/prosperity killed off the revolutionary spirit) . The bio on Sam Dolgoff outlines something uncannily similar in a sense, regarding the Wobblies and anarchism

    I think there is something in the idea of the importance leadership that Bookchin held, no doubt to do with those early days. I am constantly struck that the "hard left leadership" that Street mentions, neglecting to let me know what it is or who they are, are a disparate group unable to to get together and build what they all seem to say is needed. The p2pers get around the problem by asserting emergence and self organisation.

    I guess we will have to wait and see. Hopefully not for too long, that is if Paul Street was being sincere and not just yanking my chain.

    • Bat Chainpuller 30th Aug 2017

      Cirrevtions (corrections)

      ...why are you waiting givEN your connections.

      ...need both in whatever proportions aRe necessary....

      Its as if WW2 and subsequent...

      ...the importance of leadership that Bookchin....

    • Bat Chainpuller 30th Aug 2017

      Oh, and the worst one because its all over the essay posted!

      Biehl, not Beihl. Jesus. I's and e's always get me...Schwieckart, Schweickart, Siefkes, Seifkes...

  • Peter Lach-Newinsky 31st Aug 2017

    Think you've put your finger on the key wound of 'the left', Batjames. Rather than answers, maybe time to find good questions.

    As possible questions:

    Can we learn anything from the very ambiguous, sometimes disastrous (Bolshevism-Stalinism), history of 'the left' and from the reasoned disillusion with post-1914 and then post-1945 working class movements on the part of ex-revolutionaries and anarchists?

    Wasn't the whole basis of anti-orthodox 'Western Marxism' (Lukacs, Korsch, Gramsci, Mattick, Ruehle, Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, Debord) the abject failure of the European working class movements after 1914, 1918 and 1933?

    How does history and historical experience necessarily change the nature of critical-radical thought if it wants to stay critical and non-sectarian?

    What do we still mean by 'revolution', or even 'THE Revolution' in the 21st century?

    Do we still, like Marx and trad anarchism, believe in the 'working class'/'oppressed'/'proletariat' as THE 'historical subject', the 'agent' of 'the revolution'?

    Do all such trad left notions perhaps block, hinder, weigh down the possibility of fresh, new, creative critical thinking about deep social change and its new complexities?

  • Bat Chainpuller 31st Aug 2017

    "Questions, Questions, Questions, flooding into the mind of the concerned young person today. Ah, but it's a great time to be alive ladies and gentlemen. And that's the theme of our program for tonight, "It's so FUCKING GREAT to be alive"! Is what the theme of our show is tonight, boys and girls. And I'm wanna tell ya, if there is anybody here who DOESN'T believe that it is FUCKING GREAT to be alive, I wish that they go now, because this show will only bring them down so much... ]

    God Bless America
    Land that I love
    Call any vegetable
    Call it by name
    You've gotta call one today
    When you get off the train
    Call any vegetable
    And the chances are good
    Oh, that the vegetable will respond to you

    And if you are a consenting adult we want you to call today in Los Angeles, the number is Richmond9-6935 , in Downey it's 347-8932.

    Call it direct,
    Call it collect,
    But call it today."

    FZ - Call Any Vegetable from Just Another Band from LA.

    I like the questions Peter.

    • Caragh - 31st Aug 2017

      Aw Bat , thanks for that :)

    • Bat Chainpuller 1st Sep 2017

    • Peter Lach-Newinsky 3rd Sep 2017

      One of my favourite songs too. Rootabayee rootabayee...

      And don't you eat that yellow snow coz it's where the huskies go...

  • Bat Chainpuller 7th Sep 2017

    Enjoying the Biehl bio. Kinda like the Dolgoff on Dolgoff bio. They both give good insight into American radical politics, groups and movements, albeit from different persectives. The little details are great.

  • Bat Chainpuller 15th Sep 2017

    I am struck by so much in Bookchin' s bio. The section on the German greens, the splits, the anarchists, basically all this nitty gritty bullshit tgat gets in the way if everything is educational. At one point, Bookchin thinks Europe is where it is at, more serious than the US, then they are too dogmatic, sectarian and stuck, and the US looks more open...

    Then all of a sudden I began to wonder why Albert/Hahnel and Bookchin's ideas didn't come together. One can see that Bookchin's idea of citizen assemblies, libertarian municipalism was doomed if it rubbed up against an opposing set of economic institutions like market capitalism, much like Albert asserts in books when looking at society and four basic spheres and how they operate in concert and how if one is destabilised, changed, the others will operate to stabilise the situation, either by pulling the changed sphere back into line or changing themselves to accomodate the changes in the one. But usually the three against the one will win out.

    I mean, if Albert/Hahnel came together with Bookchin, one would see a liberating polity and economy come together and Bookchin seemed, by this point in the eighties to be a little sick of labels in a similar way that Albert is...

    Is this what stops a movement of movements comining together...the separation of compatible ideas? What keeps them apart when so many know of both? Small underlying beliefs and disagreements, nitty gritties that escalate into dogmas and sectarianism? Or just that they didn't know of each other...

    In some ways the NSP panders to Parecon, but is fundamentally opposed to it...it prefers reformist (it would say practical in the same sense that the green faction that alligned itself with the SPD in German would say it was being), economic vision that embraces aspects of markets, capitalism, and hierarchy to varying degrees and ignores the insights that could be garnered from the only concrete, cogent coherent and complete (the four C's) revolutionary participatory economic system out there, Parecon. This is not because Parecon is shit but because Alperovitz believes it to be not feasible and most at the Democracy Collaborative and in the solidarity economics movement, more than likely, fundamentally disagree with it based on the bogus assessment that it is a blueprint developed by a couple of individuals to be implemented in some undemocratic fashion, which stands in contradiction to the principles upheld in the solidarity movement and by many anarchists, that a new system should be developed on the ground by all through practical actions and that there are many alternatives. The latter, in my opinion, is bogus, or at least misguided. There are not many alternatives but there may be many alternative economic textures dependent on culture and geographic/environmental space.

    But if Bookchin and Albert/Hahnel had come together there would have been a coming together of at least two visions belonging to two different spheres and what appear to be similar, or at least, not incompatible mindsets of left 'leaders'.

    Not to mention this,

    "Bookchin was ready to go home. If municipalism was going to happen anywhere, it would be in the United States, specifically New England. He was finished trying to promote the town meeting to Europeans. Now he would get to work in Vermont."

    And is not Boston part of New England? Mind you, Parecon would not have been complete at this stage of Bookchin's life but nevertheless...Social Ecology and Parecon are not incompatible at all and the debate between Albert and Staudenmaier, to me, showed this...but there did seem to be a reluctance from Staudemaier to embrace Parecon in much the same way the solidarity movement and Alperovitz are...which is wierd because Parecon IS a solidarity economy and as a truly revolutionary economic alternative, in that it is a complete institutional change, as practical as I have seen without being a hodge podge or vague in part.

    • Bat Chainpuller 15th Sep 2017

      In some sense this highlights my point...

      "Capitalism is undoing the process of organic evolution, he thundered. It is wrecking human networks of mutual aid, reciprocity, complementarity. We must take charge of our own affairs, must “democratize the republic, and radicalize the democracy.”

      Bookchin starts out chastising an economic institution, the current core or foundation of the worlds economy, but then by the end of the statement is talking of the polity, the decision-making process, of democracy as the solution...the statement morphs from the economy being the problem to the polity being the answer...without any idea of what economic institutional reorganisation is required...mind you, it is only a short statement!

  • Bat Chainpuller 16th Sep 2017

    "Not only had the political spectrum shifted to the right, but alternative political culture itself had changed. Confrontation was no longer considered acceptable behavior. Back in his Trotskyist days, even when debates had been acerbic and vituperative, everyone had understood not to take it personally—the clashes were about clarifying ideas for the sake of the larger cause. But in the 1990s, people took clashes of opinion very personally—and sought to avoid them. Now, it seemed to Murray, political people were supposed to hold only polite, low-keyed conversations and seek out commonalities."

    This is the same feeling I got from that frustrating dialogue essay thingy between Alperovitz The Pluralist and Albert The Pareconist. It was Albert the old left revolutionary agitator versus the more congenial liberal and well mannered approach of Alperovitz. Alperovitz The Pluralist came across patronising and paternalistic, like father chastising an unruly child for rocking the boat too much. "Go easy son, easy, the workers and poor people can't handle those crazy over the top ideas like balanced job complexes, remuneration for effort and sacrifice or participatory planning. Jesus, even I think they're just wild and out there and I'm pretty smart and learned. They need to be eased into change by port-side consultants and those who write working papers proposing alternative-vision-LITE."

    • Bat Chainpuller 16th Sep 2017

      Left this bit out.

      "He was repeatedly reproached for his militancy and his sharp debating style—he was too aggressive, he was told."

      Jesus, the guy was nine when he became a fucking hardcore activist, basically adopted by the young Marxist movement, a surrgate family, and he had the courage to move from label to label with an open mind and put up with so much shit, over decades of involvement, starting from when he was just a kid and HE'S being fucking educated and lectured to by those usually younger than him on "style", arrogantly in my opinion. This is when giving people the stiff middle finger of recalcitrance is warranted and those those self righteously berating and chastising him for his "style" can grow some and wear it...oh, and fucking apologise. Shits me no end.