Murray Bookchin (January 14, 1921 - July 30, 2006) was an American libertarian socialist, political and social philosopher, speaker and writer. For much of his life he called himself an anarchist, although as early as 1995 he privately renounced his identification with the anarchist movement.[1] A pioneer in the ecology movement,[2] Bookchin was the founder of the social ecology movement within libertarian socialist and ecological thought. He was the author of two dozen books on politics, philosophy, history, and urban affairs as well as ecology.

Bookchin was a radical anti-capitalist and vocal advocate of the decentralisation of society. His writings on libertarian municipalism, a theory of face-to-face, grassroots democracy, had an influence on the Green Movement and anti-capitalist direct action groups such as Reclaim the Streets. He was a staunch critic of biocentric philosophies such as deep ecology and the biologically deterministic beliefs of sociobiology, and his criticisms of "new age" Greens such as Charlene Spretnak contributed to the divisions that affected the American Green movement in the 1990s.

Life and writingsEdit

Bookchin was born in New York City to the Russian Jewish immigrants[3] Nathan Bookchin and Rose (Kaluskaya) Bookchin, and was imbued with Marxist ideas from his youth. He joined the Young Pioneers, the Communist youth organization, at the age of nine.[4] He worked in factories and became an organizer for the Congress of Industrial Organizations. In the late 1930s he broke with Stalinism and gravitated toward Trotskyism, working with a group publishing the periodical Contemporary Issues. Then gradually becoming disillusioned with the coercion he saw as inherent in conventional Marxism-Leninism, he became an anarchist,[5] helping to found the Libertarian League in New York in the 1950s. Through the 1950s and 1960s, Bookchin worked in a number of working class situations — including a stint as a railroad stevedore. He began teaching in the late 1960s at the Free University, a counter-cultural 1960s-era Manhattan-based institution. This led to a tenured position at Ramapo State College in Mahwah, NJ. At the same time, he co-founded, in 1971, the Institute for Social Ecology at Goddard College in Vermont.

His book, Our Synthetic Environment, published under the pseudonym 'Lewis Herber' six months before Rachel Carson's Silent Spring,[6] described a broad range of environmental ills but received little attention because of his political radicalism. His groundbreaking essay "Ecology and Revolutionary Thought" introduced ecology as a concept for radical politics. Other essays from the 1960s pioneered innovative ideas about ecological technologies. Lecturing all over the United States, he helped popularize the concept of ecology to the counterculture. His widely republished 1969 essay "Listen, Marxist!" warned Students for a Democratic Society (in vain) against its takeover by a Marxist group. These and other influential 1960s essays are anthologized in Post Scarcity Anarchism. In 1982 Bookchin's The Ecology of Freedom was published, and had a profound impact on the emerging ecology movement, both in the United States and abroad. He was active in the antinuclear Clamshell Alliance in New England, and his lectures in Germany influenced some of the founders of the German Greens. In From Urbanization to Cities (originally published as The Rise of Urbanization and the Decline of Citizenship), Bookchin traced the democratic traditions that influenced his political philosophy and defines the implementation of the libertarian municipalism concept. A much smaller work, The Politics of Social Ecology, written by his partner of twenty years, Janet Biehl, briefly summarizes these ideas. In 1999, Bookchin broke with anarchism and placed his ideas into the framework of communalism.

In addition to his political writings, Bookchin wrote extensively on his philosophical ideas, which he called dialectical naturalism.[7] The dialectical writings of Hegel, which articulate a developmental philosophy of change and growth, seemed to him to lend themselves to an organic, even ecological approach.[8] Although Hegel "exercised a considerable influence" on Bookchin, he was not, in any sense, a Hegelian.[9] His later philosophical writings emphasize humanism, rationality, and the ideals of the Enlightenment.[10] His last major published work was The Third Revolution, a four-volume history of the libertarian impulse in European and American revolutionary movements. He moved from Hoboken, NJ to Vermont upon his retirement from Ramapo and devoted his time to writing and lecturing around the world. He continued to teach at the ISE until 2004. He died of heart failure on July 30, 2006 at his home in Burlington, Vermont at the age of 85.[11]


Social ecologyEdit

In “What is Social Ecology?” Bookchin states that social ecology is “a conviction that nearly all of our present ecological problems originate in deep-seated social problems.”[12] A central theme of social ecology is that the way in which “human beings deal with each other as social beings is crucial to addressing the ecological crisis.”[13] To downplay the social origins of the current ecological crisis is to grossly misconstrue the origins of the crisis.[14] The deep-seated social problems that give rise to the ecological crisis are based upon the hierarchical mentality and class relationships that permeate society, and that give rise to the idea of dominating nature.[15] Bookchin argues that capitalism is the cancer of society.[16] He describes the pathology of the market society in the following way:

"[unless] we realize that the present market society, structured around the brutally competitive imperative of “grow or die,” is a thoroughly impersonal, self-operating mechanism, we will falsely tend to blame other phenomena—such as technology or population growth—for growing environmental dislocations. We will ignore their root causes, such as trade for profit, industrial expansion for its own sake, and the identification of progress with corporate self-interest. In short, we will tend to focus on the symptoms of a grim social pathology rather than on the pathology itself, and our efforts will be directed toward limited goals whose attainment is more cosmetic than curative."[17]

Libertarian municipalismEdit

Bookchin was the first to use the term "Libertarian municipalism", to describe a system in which libertarian institutions of directly democratic assemblies would oppose and replace the State with a confederation of free municipalities.[18] Libertarian municipalism intends to create a situation in which the two powers — the municipal confederations and the nation-state — cannot coexist. Not only is it believed to be, by its supporters, the means to achieve a rational society but its structure becomes the organization of society.

Selected bibliographyEdit





Further readingEdit

  • Selva Varengo, La rivoluzione ecologica. Il pensiero libertario di Murray Bookchin (2007) Milano: Zero in condotta. ISBN 9788895950006.

External linksEdit


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