[eDebate] Murray Bookchin, 1921-2006
trond at umich.edu
Mon Jul 31 21:08:25 CDT 2006
Long time radical activist and thinker Murray Bookchin died yesterday
in Burlington, Vermont.
Active in his youth during the 1930s in radical unions and the CP until
purged, Bookchin developed over many decades a unique social theory
variously presented as social anarchism, social ecology, and
libertarian municipalism. He was the ?minence grise behind the little
known but underrated journal Our Generation based in Montreal around a
group that also started Black Rose Books. A decade before Rachel
Carson he wrote about the impact of industrial agriculture and
pesticides in poisoning and simplifying eco-systems. During the 1960?s
he became influential in the New Left and the counter-culture
movements, particularly in his forceful advocacy of anarchism as
against vanguardist revolutionary movements that limited their
strategic focus to class war and featured repression as an organizing
tool (see Listen Marxist! published in I think 1964 or 1965). He also
published insightful and moving historical accounts of the role of
anarchists fighting both Franco/Nazis and the Soviet Union/CP during
the Spanish Civil War.
Murray grew increasingly bitter over the decades in vicious rhetorical
battles for the heart and soul of radical environmental movements, most
notably in his knock-down, drag-out fights with deep ecologists and
Foreman in particular (see Defending the Earth), as well as with
certain variants of mystical eco-feminism.
That most of you have no idea who or what I am talking about is in my
view a great indictment of the intellectual insularity of modern
academic life and the domestication of intellectuals. He was an
uncompromising radical who called for total revolution and the
transformation of every aspect of social life, defending to his death
the utopian notion of eliminating social hierarchies of every variety,
indeed, he defended the value of utopian thinking in its own right as a
?third eye? that permitted us to see clearly the nature of our current
social organism and glimpse our potential for transformation. Murray
rejected doctrinaire Marxism, the individualist turn we encounter in
French-inspired pomo-[insert buzzword here] thinkers and the miasma
they have spawned, as well Malthusian eco-fascists and technocratic
environmentalism. And he unapologetically embraced the highest
revolutionary and liberatory impulses of the Enlightenment,
rationality, science, and technology that so many putative ?radicals?
now reject all-too-readily. He forwarded a uniquely American version
of anarchism in the best tradition of Kropotkin as against the egotism
of Stirner-inspired variants (think Black Block).
And the man could write impact cards. On occasions too numerous to I
could just provisionally grant puny disadvantage impacts in 2AC like
war and economic collapse, before proceeding the turn them nine ways to
Sunday relying on old Murray. Yes, these were the pre-merger days in
all their glory, both good and bad. I did not then embrace all that he
argued, and do so much less now, but like many others I remain inspired
by his truly unique American radicalism, particularly in an age both in
and out of debate that often features small-bore thinking and
ineffectual, narcissistic language games.
Regarding the ecological mega-crisis he wrote that ?we live under the
constant threat that the world of life will be irrevocably undermined
by a society gone mad in its need to grow - replacing the organic by
the inorganic, soil by concrete, forest by barren earth, and the
diversity of life-forms by simplified eco-systems; in short, by turning
back the evolutionary clock to an earlier, more inorganic, mineralized
world that is incapable of supporting complex life-forms of any kind,
including the human species.? (Defending the Earth, 29).
Deeply immersed in the classical writings and history of continental
radicals, he remained a steadfast anti-capitalist. With the waning of
the Cold War and the rise among so-called leftists the view that There
Is No Alternative to capitalism, he remained resolute:
?Indeed, capitalism completely incarnates Bakunin?s notion of ?evil?
without the qualification that it is ?socially necessary.? Beyond the
capitalist system there are no further ?turning points in history.?
Capitalism marks the end of the road for a long social development in
which evil permeated the good and irrationality permeated the rational.
Capitalism, in effect, constitutes the point of absolute negativity
for society and the natural world. One cannot improve this social
order, reform it, or remake it on its own terms with an ecological
prefix such as ?eco-capitalism.? The only choice one has is to destroy
it for it embodies every social disease - from patriarchal values,
class exploitation, and statism to avarice, militarism, and now, growth
for the sake of growth - that has afflicted ?civilization? and tainted
all its great advances.? (Remaking Society, 1990, 2nd ed., p. 94).
Anyone who has attempted to wrestle with anarchism as a social theory
or as a debate argument knows that he is the best source for transition
evidence (see Post-Scarcity Anarchism, 2nd ed., 1986).
Finally, he possessed an impressive command of the polemical arts
infused with a revolutionary ?lan:
?Ordinarily the social period admits neither of the liberated
personality nor of the liberated society; its doors are closed to the
free expression of sensousness and to the unfettered exercise of
reason. But the doors are never solid. There are moments when they,
and indeed the entire house, are shaken to the foundations by elemental
events. In such moments of crisis, when the senses of everyone are
strained to extraordinary acuity by social emergencies, the doors break
down and the people surge past the hanging portals, no longer as masses
but as awakened personalities? (PSA, 298-299).
I know your corpse will make a particularly fertile contribution to the
land at the ISE campus in Plainfield.
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