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This document was provided to Anarchy Archives on behalf of Murray Bookchin by Janet Biehl.
Murray Bookchin

Murray Bookchin was born in New York City on January 14, 1921, to immigrant parents who had been active in the Russian revolutionary movement of tsarist times. Very early in the 1930s he entered the Communist youth movement but by the late 1930s had become disillusioned with its authoritarian character. Deeply involved in organizing activities around the Spanish Civil War (he was too young to participate directly, although two of his older friends died on the Madrid front), he remained with the Communists until the Stalin-Hitler pact of September 1939, when he was expelled for "Trotskyist-anarchist deviations." As a foundryman in New Jersey for four years, he entered the workers' movement and became active in union organizing in northern New Jersey (a heavily industrialized area at that time) in the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). He became sympathetic to and active with the American Trotskyists while Trotsky was still alive, but after several years was disappointed by their traditional Bolshevist authoritarianism, especially after Trotsky's death.

After returning from service in the U.S. Army during the 1940s, he was an autoworker and became deeply involved in the United Auto Workers (UAW), a highly libertarian union before Walter Reuther came to power in it. After participating in the great General Motors strike of 1948, he began to question all his traditional conceptions about the "hegemonic" or "vanguard" role of the industrial working class, writing extensively on this subject in later years. In time, he became a libertarian socialist and worked closely with German exiles in New York who were dissident Marxists and who moved increasingly toward a libertarian perspective (International Kommunisten Deutschlands). Many of his articles in the early 1950s were published in DINGE DER ZEIT as well as its English- language sister publication, CONTEMPORARY ISSUES, under his pen names of M. S. Shiloh, Lewis Herber, Robert Keller, and Harry Ludd. His earliest book, which was based on a very large article "The Problem of Chemicals in Food" (CONTEMPORARY ISSUES, 1952), was published in Germany in collaboration with Gotz Ohly (Herber and Ohly, LEBENS-GEFÄHRLICHE LEBENSMITTEL [Krailling bei München: Hanns Georg Müller Verlag, 1955]). He pioneered writing on ecological issues in the United States and West Germany, and according to reports from German friends, his writings contributed to reforms in German food and drug legislation.

In the 1960s he was deeply involved in countercultural and New Left movements almost from their inception, and he pioneered the ideas of social ecology in the United States. His first American book, OUR SYNTHETIC ENVIRONMENT (pseud. Lewis Herber) was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1962, preceding Rachel Carson's SILENT SPRING by nearly half a year. It received warm reviews from such outstanding members of the scientific community as René Dubos and William Vogt. He then wrote CRISIS IN OUR CITIES (Prentice Hall, 1965). The collection titled POST-SCARCITY ANARCHISM (Ramparts Books, 1971; Black Rose Books, 1977) comprised such pioneering essays as "Ecology and Revolutionary Thought" (1964) and "Towards a Liberatory Technology" (1965), both of which advanced the radical significance of the ecology issue and of alternative technologies for progressive movements of all kinds. At least 100,000 copies of "Listen, Marxist!" (1969), his critique of traditional Marxism, circulated in the United States and Great Britain, profoundly influencing the American New Left at the end of the 1960s.

In the late 1960s, Bookchin taught at the Alternative University in New York, one of the largest "free universities" in the United States, then at City University of New York in Staten Island. In 1974, he co-founded and directed the Institute for Social Ecology in Plainfield, Vermont, which went on to acquire an international reputation for its advanced courses in ecophilosophy, social theory, and alternative technologies that reflect his ideas. In 1974, he also began teaching at Ramapo College of New Jersey, becoming full professor of social theory entering and retiring in 1983 in an emeritus status.

 His subsequent works--THE LIMITS OF THE CITY (Harper and Row, 1974), THE SPANISH ANARCHISTS (Harper & Row, 1977), and TOWARD AN ECOLOGICAL SOCIETY (Black Rose Books, 1981)--were very well received and stand as preludes to THE ECOLOGY OF FREEDOM (Cheshire Books, 1982; republished by Black Rose Books, 1991). This major work received considerable acclaim in major reviews not only in THE VILLAGE VOICE (one of New York's largest newsweeklies) but also in such scholarly journals as AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST. His articles have appeared in many periodicals since the 1950s, such as WIN, LIBERATION, RAMPARTS, CO- EVOLUTION QUARTERLY, RAIN, TELOS, NEW POLITICS, OUR GENERATION, and ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS, among others. His book THE RISE OF URBANIZATION AND THE DECLINE OF CITIZENSHIP (Sierra Club Books, 1986; republished in Canada as URBANIZATION WITHOUT CITIES [Black Rose Books, 1992]) is a historical exploration of civic self-management and confederalism. His most recent books are REMAKING SOCIETY (Black Rose Books, 1989) and THE PHILOSOPHY OF SOCIAL ECOLOGY (Black Rose Books, 1990, revised 1994).

Now in his early seventies, Bookchin lives in semi-retirement in Burlington, Vermont. For reasons of health his activities are increasingly restricted, but he still gives two core courses at the Institute for Social Ecology each summer, where he has the status of director emeritus, and he occasionally gives lectures in North America and Europe. He is on the editorial advisory boards of ANARCHIST STUDIES and SOCIETY AND NATURE. With his companion, Janet Biehl, and others, he has published thirty issues of the theoretical newsletter GREEN PERSPECTIVES, to date. At the present time--1994--he is working on a historical and social account of dialectical nature philosophy, THE POLITICS OF COSMOLOGY (to be published by Guilford in 1998), and the second volume of a two-volume history of popular revolutionary movements, THE THIRD REVOLUTION. (Volume 1 will appear in 1996 from Cassell in London). His new book REENCHANTING HUMANITY has just been published (London: Cassell, 1996).

 Bookchin developed from a traditional Marxist in the 1930s to a left-libertarian in the anarchic tradition of Peter Kropotkin. As a recent history of anarchist thought (Peter Marshall, DEMANDING THE IMPOSSIBLE [London: HarperCollins, 1992]) has emphasized, his major contribution to the anarchist tradition has been to integrate traditional decentralist, nonhierarchical, and populist traditions with ecology, from a left-libertarian philosophical and ethical standpoint. These views, which were largely original in the 1950s and early 1960s, have since entered into the general consciousness of our time, owing to the writings of Fritz Schumacher and many ecofeminists. The radicalism of his approach lies in his exploration of the historical emergence of our notion of dominating nature primarily from the domination of human by human, particularly in gerontocracies, patriarchies, and other oppressive strata. His writings seek to penetrate beyond class and exploitative relationships to hierarchical and dominating ones that have their roots in the distant past.

Underpinning many of his ideas is a reworking of dialectical thinking, one that brings ecological thinking to the service of Hegel's dialectical system of logic, in order to "naturalize" the dialectical tradition. His "dialectical naturalism" contrasts with Hegel's dialectical idealism and Marxian dialectical materialism, particularly the physicalist approach developed by Friedrich Engels in ostensible agreement with Marx. His concept of dialectical naturalism is elucidated in considerable detail in his book THE PHILOSOPHY OF SOCIAL ECOLOGY.

From the late 1970s onward, he has been an important stimulus in the developing Green movements throughout the world, and he has written many works dealing with the nature and future of Green politics. One of his most important demands in recent decades has been for a "new politics," or what he calls libertarian municipalism, a politics based upon the recovery of direct- democratic popular assemblies on municipal, neighborhood, and town levels. To avoid the danger of civic parochialism, he has advanced a civic confederalism, by which a decentralized society confederates in opposition to the centralized nation- state. He has also advanced the demand for a municipalized economy, in opposition to the present corporate capitalist system of ownership and management, to the nationalized economy promulgated by Marxian socialists, and to the workers' ownership and self- management of industry advocated by syndicalists. These ideas have been widely discussed in Green movements in North America and Europe.

Murray Bookchin's life and work span two historic eras: the era of traditional proletarian socialism and anarchism, with its working-class insurrections and struggles against classical fascism, and the postwar era of growing corporate capitalism, environmental decay, statist politics, and the technocratic mentality. He has tried to congeal these sweeping changes in society and consciousness into a coherent outlook that goes forward from a lived past into a liberated future.

Bookchin Articles