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.