Murray Bookchin, RIP

The left-anarchist writer Murray Bookchin, inventor of "libertarian municipalism" and "social ecology," has died of heart failure at age 85. For the most part, I wasn't a fan of his work, but he had his moments. I'm fond of his 1969 pamphlet Listen, Marxist!, distributed at SDS's final convention, whose cover took that familiar row of faces from so many Stalinoid tomes -- Marx, Engels, Lenin -- and added Bugs Bunny at the end. "Once again the dead are walking in our midst," Bookchin wrote, "ironically, draped in the name of Marx, the man who tried to bury the dead of the nineteenth century. So the revolution of our own day can do nothing better than parody, in turn, the October Revolution of 1917 and the civil war of 1918-1920, with its 'class line,' its Bolshevik Party, its 'proletarian dictatorship,' its puritanical morality, and even its slogan, 'soviet power.'"

His subsequent sniping at the Sandinistas, Bernie Sanders, and various Malthusians was also enjoyable, and he did some interesting historical work on insurrectionary movements. For a while his social vision was broad enough to include market libertarians: He spoke at a Libertarian Party convention and contributed to a newsletter edited by Karl Hess. In 1976 he told a Libertarian activist that "If I were a voting man, I'd vote for MacBride" -- LP nominee Roger MacBride, that is -- and when Jeff Riggenbach interviewed him for Reason in 1979, he said this:

People who resist authority, who defend the rights of the individual, who try in a period of increasing totalitarianism and centralization to reclaim these rights -- this is the true left in the United States. Whether they are anarcho-communists, anarcho-syndicalists, or libertarians who believe in free enterprise...I feel much closer, ideologically, to such individuals than I do to the totalitarian liberals and Marxist-Leninists of today.

Later, Bookchin would speak of free-marketeers less favorably.

Bookchin sometimes seemed like a funhouse-mirror version of the libertarian luminary Murray Rothbard. A quick rundown:

BOOKCHIN: Was named Murray.

ROTHBARD: Was named Murray.

BOOKCHIN: Enlivened the fractious 1969 convention of Students for a Democratic Society with an anarchist essay titled "Listen, Marxist!"

ROTHBARD: Enlivened the fractious 1969 convention of Young Americans for Freedom with an anarchist essay titled "Listen, YAF!"

BOOKCHIN: Late in life, turned his fire on the bohemian fringes of his movement, who he denounced as "lifestyle anarchists."

ROTHBARD: Late in life, turned his fire on the bohemian fringes of his movement, who he denounced as "luftmenschen."

BOOKCHIN: Pined for a more authentically proletarian "Left That Was."

ROTHBARD: Pined for a more authentically bourgeois "Old Right."

Needless to say, they despised each other. Indeed, Rothbard reportedly kicked Bookchin out of his living room at some point in the '60s, for reasons that seem to have been lost in the shifting sands of time. I suppose if there's anything worse than being annoyed by a leftist ideologue, it's being annoyed by a leftist ideologue who could be your twin.

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  • Gene Berkman||

    In 1970 Murray Bookchin spoke at Cal State Northridge. After his talk, a few of us (right-wing libertarians) talked to him, and he said he had no problem with free market anarchists - we're all against the state.

    His later attacks on "life-style" anarchism were not uniquely directed against free market types, but against also hippie anarchists who emphasize individuality rather than building an anarchocollectivist society. And it goes along with his attack on "bourgeois consumerism."

    In the end, he adopted an economic puritanism which left little room for individual choice. Not much to go on for freedomseekers.

  • ||

    I'm sorry to hear that he has shuffled it off. I knew him, back when I was young and left (lo these many years ;)). In fact, I would say that he did as much to move me to the right as anyone else- maybe more than anyone else, if you count the proxy contribution of the "Burlington Youth Greens" who were his proteges.

    He definitely had his good points. When I met him he was already aged (I think this would have been around '88 or '89) but he still had a certain charm- a charisma, in fact. He could really captivate a small audience. I have friends who loved him a great deal- he was a charming fellow in his own inimitable way.

    But I think it is odd to see this sort of eulogy for Murray on a libertarian site. It is hard to pin down what "libertarianism" is, but it is not so hard to find its antithesis, and Murray was that (he used to call himself a libertarian, but only after a long explanation of how the term had been perverted...)

    He shared the libertarian's dislike of "contemporary society", but his preferred solution was to force everyone to conform to his aesthetic. He was not against authority- he was just annoyed that he wasn't calling the shots. At least that is how I came to see him. Maybe that is inevitable for the charismatic.

    I remember sitting in a large unfurnished room with the BTown Youth Greens. Night was falling, and someone asked the time. We realized that out of the twelve people sitting cross legged in a circle on the floor, not one had a watch. Our leader looked around and said "Isn't that great?". A few hours later we met with Murray.

  • ||

    I think a lot of reasonoids would find his book Re-Enchanting Humanity: A Defense of the Human Spirit Against Antihumanism, Misanthropy, Mysticism and Primitivism very valuable. Even if you disagree with Bookchin's solutions his assessment of much of mainstream environmentalism (antihuman, misanthropic, etc) is excellently done.

  • ||

    Why is there a memorial to a clueless lefty on this site? Next, Reason will be praising Ken MacLeod. Oh wait...

  • ||

    Jacob- I do believe that Suck was the best website ever made. I would even say that after Suck shut down they could have closed out the whole internet with no loss- it had fulfilled its purpose.

    I agree that it's odd to see it revivified as a blog at Reason, but... sometimes you just have to roll with the punches. Do you remember that series about the Virgin appearing to the little girls? Best website ever.. and I mean that, no sarcasm involved.

    And JK yeah, he was not a dumb guy. In fact he was the sort of guy that you know is brilliant after a cursory examination- if you wear you hair like that you are either brilliant or homeless.

  • Xmas||

    That's two death announcements today.

    As they say on Fark.com, "The trifecta is in play!"

  • ||

    Bookchin's idea of post-scarcity anarchism (well, he didn't invent it, but he did write a book with that name) is nuts but kind of cool, in a sci-fi way. Someone on Reason once posted an article about Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren and compared Bellona to post-Katrina New Orleans. My theory is that Dhalgren is actually a fictional image of post-scarcity anarchism.

    Delany is more fun to read than Bookchin, though. More sex, for one thing.

  • ||

    Well, you can add Delany to the list of people I claim to have met ;). He taught at my alma mater, UMass (that would be more convincing if I had actually graduated, I guess, but I was there for about 4 years).

    It was both funny and sad. Nobody knew who he was (the same could be said of Max Roach, another instructor there). I didn't take classes from Roach or Delany, but I accosted both of them ("Hey, are you actually Max Roach/Sam Delany"?). I did talk to Roach at length, about Gordon Brown, my favorite musician. Sadly, I did not ever have a memorable conversation with Delany.

    Delany's books are the sort of books I would have liked to have written if I were a gay black man with talent, rather than a pasty-faced straight no-talent mouth breather ;) (all credit to dhex).

    It is one thing to write science fiction, and pose an impossibility. It is another to try to effect that impossibility. Delany did the first, Bookchin did the second.

    His politics were awful. He was an advocate of a terrible authoritarian state, and he disguised that by seeming like an advocate of freedom.

    That said, he was also very entertaining. I liked him. He was a good guy, and a good guy to have dinner with.

  • ||

    a lotta people have been dying lately. whatever happened to singularity?

  • Robert||

    "His politics were awful. He was an advocate of a terrible authoritarian state, and he disguised that by seeming like an advocate of freedom."

    Which, Delany or Bookchin?

    I'm reminded of the Isaacs' characteriz'n of left anarchists in The Coercive Utopians as not really being anarchist, but favoring any of various versions of unlimited small-scale participatory democracy. Miss a meeting, and your next door neighbor can effectively vote 1-0 to boil you in oil.

  • ||

    Tagore Smith --

    You used to hang out with Max Roach AND Delany? You win the hipster prize! I can't compete with that . . .

    It is one thing to write science fiction, and pose an impossibility. It is another to try to effect that impossibility. Delany did the first, Bookchin did the second.

    Something interesting about late 1960s/early 1970s coutercultural utopian movements, especially the back-to-the-land commune people, many of whom were operating on the assumption of some version of post-scarcity anarchy: they often seemed to dwell in a shadowy realm somewhere between fiction and reality. The Paris '68 slogan "All Power to the Imagination!" was adopted American countercultural circles and ended up meaning, basically, if you can imagine it, you can live it. Social reality grows from the seeds of fantasy.

    I can relate to the sentiments behind the dream of living on the decaying carcass of the technocratic state, but I agree with Robert that such sentiments, put into social practice, often end up with someone being boiled in oil. Or else "participatory democracy" turns out to be such a pain no-one shows up for the meetings. Interestingly, the communes that lasted the longest were the ones that never went the anarchist route but had authoritarian religious leaders from the get-go.

  • ||

    phord: Hang out is much too strong a word. Both Roach and Delany taught at the University I went to, and I was naturally curious about both of them- I always liked Delany's stories, and Roach's recordings with Clifford Brown are favorites of mine. But I never hung out with them, though I wish I had ;).

    About the lousy politics, I meant Bookchin. I did hang out with him, a little, at least enough to form an idea of what he was about. I agree about the boiling in oil, and I have the slightly unsettling feeling that I would be first to be boiled. I can't say that I am very fond of the status quo, but I prefer it to the "neighborhood committee". I'd rather have the people who hold the power as far away from me as possible ;).

    I never lived on a commune (though I lived on an organic farm that might as well have been one, what with all of the apprentices, etc.), but my closest friend grew up at Frog Run Farm, which was, I think, at one point the longest existing commune in Vermont (I guess Madbrook, where some other friends of mine grew up, would have that distinction now).

    Frog Run was actually a very pleasant place for the most part, but that was only because the core group there were basically really nice people. I don't think that that sort of arrangement would work for most people.

  • ||

    "Dahlgren" sucked.
    Murray was the real deal.
    I dont pretend to understand the depths of what he was talkin about, but Im real proud to say I knew the old gent, back in my Bernardograd days. Like Murray, I saw Bernie & his Prog lickspittles as nasty little bits of work.
    Tell ya what, tho, I was really taken that Murray took me seriously enough to denounce me. No shit. That seasoned old prole intellectual paid attention to what the hell I was doing. & commented honestly thereof.
    I had some friends who did work for the McBride Principles in Varmint. They had Bernadette Devlin come every year- she liked Bernardograd, & the Vt Irish Solidarity folks.
    I will NEVER forget sitting on the floor around a big coffeetable, post speech, drinkin way too much good whiskey w/ BD, Murray, and a handfull of others til 4am.
    Post hangover comment: nobody ever heard Murray so quiet. You would be, too, gettin drunk w. a spinner of yarns like BD......but the point is, Murray didnt just tell. He listened.
    Murray Bookchin: PRESENTE!

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