Murray Bookchin


American Libertarian Socialist Author, Orator, Philosopher and Pioneer in the Ecology Movement

Author Quotes

I am puzzled by people today who, after moralizing about the need for cooperation and goodwill and love-thy-neighbor-as-thyself, suddenly invoke the most primitive, barbarous motivations for any kind of progress.

Partial ?solutions? serve merely as cosmetics to conceal the deep seated nature of the ecological crisis.

The hollow cone that we call a movement must acquire a more solid geometry. It must be filled in by an authentic popular movement based on the self-activity of the American people, not the theatrical eruptions of a dedicated minority.

Until society can be reclaimed by an undivided humanity that will use its collective wisdom, cultural achievements, technological innovations, scientific knowledge, and innate creativity for its own benefit and for that of the natural world, all ecological problems will have their roots in social problems.

I believe that there has to be an ideal and I favor an ethical anarchism which can be cohered into an ideal. I believe that it?s terribly important to have a movement that is spiritual, not in the supernatural sense, but in the sense of German Geist, spirit, which combines the idea of mind together with feeling, together with intuition. I?m sorry that some self-styled anarchists have picked up on the word spirit and have turned me into a theological ecologist, a notion which I think is crude beyond all belief. There has to be a body of values. I would prefer to call them ecological because my image of ecology goes beyond nature and extends into society as a whole?not to be confused in any way with socio-biology, which I think is an extremely regressive, reactionary tendency.

Power to the people' can only be put into practice when the power exercised by social elites is dissolved into the people. Each individual can then take control of his daily life. If 'Power to the people' means nothing more than power to the 'leaders' of the people, then the people remain an undifferentiated, manipulatable mass, as powerless after the revolution as they were before. In the last analysis, the people can never have power until they disappear as a 'people.

The idea of dominating nature has its primary source in the domination of human by human and the structuring of the natural world into a hierarchical Chain of Being.

We are asked to orient our ?strategies? and ?tactics? around poverty and material immiseration at a time when revolutionary sentiment is being generated by the banality of life under conditions of material abundance.

A class analysis does not necessarily begin and end with Marx?s nineteenth-century version, a version I regard as grossly inaccurate. The class struggle, moreover, does not begin and end at the point of production. It may emerge from the poverty of the unemployed and unemployables, many of whom have never done a day?s work in industry; it may emerge from a new sense of possibility that slowly pervades society?the tension between what is and what could be?which percolates through virtually all traditional classes; it may emerge from the cultural and physical decomposition of the traditional class structure on which the social stability of capitalism was based.

I have been criticized for pointing out that anarchism is likely to flourish more easily, at least in the western world, and to a certain extent in Eastern Europe, in those areas where there is either grim need or considerable technological development. Since you?ve pointed this out, I?ll be the last one in the world to deny that. But I don?t believe that you can make a whole historical theory out of it. That?s very important to see. After reading The Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi, I realized that capitalism did not naturally grow as Marx would imply by his theory of historical materialism. People were dragged into capitalism screaming, shouting, and fighting all along the way, trying to resist this industrial and commercial world. And I?m convinced more than ever that capitalism, with its technological development, has not been an advance toward freedom but has been an enormous setback of freedom. I am more disenchanted with ?civilization,? which does not mean that I?m a primitivist, than I?ve ever been in my life. In The Ecology of Freedom, my critique of what is called civilization and industrial society is massive, and my attack upon Marx?s commitment to it as a necessary stage in human progress and the domination of nature is very sharp.

Progress is measured by the degree of differentiation within a society... Both the ecologist and the anarchist view differentiation as a measure of progress... to both the ecologist and the anarchist, an ever-increasing unity is achieved by growing differentiations.

The notion that man must dominate nature emerges directly from the domination of man by man? But it was not until organic community relation? dissolved into market relationships that the planet itself was reduced to a resource for exploitation. This centuries-long tendency finds its most exacerbating development in modern capitalism. Owing to its inherently competitive nature, bourgeois society not only pits humans against each other, it also pits the mass of humanity against the natural world. Just as men are converted into commodities, so every aspect of nature is converted into a commodity, a resource to be manufactured and merchandised wantonly? The plundering of the human spirit by the market place is paralleled by the plundering of the earth by capital.

We are part of nature, a product of a long evolutionary journey. To some degree, we carry the ancient oceans in our blood? Our brains and nervous systems did not suddenly spring into existence without long antecedents in natural history. That which we most prize as integral to our humanity - our extraordinary capacity to think on complex conceptual levels - can be traced back to the nerve network of primitive invertebrates, the ganglia of a mollusk, the spinal cord of a fish, the brain of an amphibian, and the cerebral cortex of a primate.

An anarchist society should be a decentralized society, not only to establish a lasting basis for the harmonization of man and nature, but also to add new dimensions to the harmonization of man and man.

I myself once used this political label [anarchism], but further thought has obliged me to conclude that, its? often-refreshing aphorisms and insights notwithstanding, it simply is not a social theory... Regrettably, the use of socialistic terms has often prevented anarchists from telling us or even understanding clearly what they are: individualists whose concepts of autonomy originate in a strong commitment to personal liberty rather than to social freedom, or socialists committed to a structured, institutionalized, and responsible form of social organization ... The history of his ideology is peppered with idiosyncratic acts of defiance that verge on the eccentric, which not surprisingly have attracted many young people and aesthetes. In fact, anarchism represents the most extreme formulation of liberalism?s ideology of unfettered autonomy, culminating in a celebration of heroic acts of defiance of the state.

Several years ago, while I still identified myself as an anarchist, I attempted to formulate a distinction between ?social? and ?lifestyle? anarchism, and I wrote an article that identified Communalism as ?the democratic dimension of anarchism.? ... I no longer believe that Communalism is a mere ?dimension? of anarchism, democratic or otherwise; rather, it is a distinct ideology with a revolutionary tradition that has yet to be explored.

The old substance of exploitative society reappears in new forms, draped in a red flag, decorated by portraits of Mao (or Castro or Che) and adorned with the little ?Red Book? and other sacred litanies.

We have permitted cynical political reactionaries and the spokesmen of large corporations to pre-empt these basic libertarian American ideals. We have permitted them not only to become the specious voice of these ideals such that individualism has been used to justify egotism; the pursuit of happiness to justify greed, and even our emphasis on local and regional autonomy has been used to justify parochialism, insularism, and exclusivity -- often against ethnic minorities and so-called deviant individuals. We have even permitted these reactionaries to stake out a claim to the word libertarian, a word, in fact, that was literally devised in the 1890s in France by Elis‚e Reclus as a substitute for the word anarchist, which the government had rendered an illegal expression for identifying one's views. The propertarians, in effect -- acolytes of Ayn Rand, the earth mother of greed, egotism, and the virtues of property -- have appropriated expressions and traditions that should have been expressed by radicals but were willfully neglected because of the lure of European and Asian traditions of socialism, socialisms that are now entering into decline in the very countries in which they originated.

An anarchist society, far from being a remote ideal, has become a precondition for the practice of ecological principles.

I?m less influenced by any of Marx?s ideas today than I?ve ever been in my life, and most significantly Marx?s theory of historical materialism, which I think is virtually a debris of despotism. But to respond very directly to what you said, I?m by no means convinced that capitalism and the development of technology has made anarchism easier. On the contrary it has imposed tremendous difficulties by reinforcing domination and hierarchy with instrumentalities, techniques, from electronic devices to thermo-nuclear bombs and neutron bombs, has reinforced hierarchy and domination on a scale that I could never have even foreseen, say in my youth, when I was a radical and a Marxist at that time.

Social ecologists believe that things like racism, sexism, third world exploitation are a product of the same mechanisms that cause rainforest devastation.

The root causes of environmental problems are such as trade for profit, industrial expansion, and the identification of "progress" with corporate self-interest.

We have to clarify the meaning of the word. We have to give it a rich content. And that content has to stand apart from a critique of other ideologies, because the way you sharpen a knife is, frankly, on a grindstone. And the grindstone for me is Marxism. I?ve developed my anarchism, my critique of Marxism, which has been the most advanced bourgeois ideology I know of, into a community of ideas and ultimately a common sense of responsibilities and commitments. I don?t think anarchism consists of sitting down and saying let?s form a collective. I don?t think it consists of saying we?re all anarchists: you?re an anarcho-syndicalist; you?re an anarcho-communist; you?re an anarcho-individualist. I believe that anarchists should agree to disagree but not to fight with each other. We don?t have to go around as the Protestant reformation did, or as the socialist revolution did, and execute each other as soon as we are successful?assuming we?ll ever be successful. But I believe that if we do have a commonality of beliefs we should clarify them, we should strengthen their coherence and we should also develop common projects that produce a lived community of relationships.

An expanding whole is created by the diversification and enrichment of its parts,? he wrote; and ?I submit that an anarchist community would approximate a clearly definable ecosystem: it would be diversified, balanced and harmonious.

I?ve been criticized by many anarchists as believing that anarchism is impossible without affluence. On the contrary, I think affluence is very destructive to anarchism. If you are absorbed by that commodity world then you?re not going to move toward any radical positions, you?re going to move toward a stance of protectiveness.

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American Libertarian Socialist Author, Orator, Philosopher and Pioneer in the Ecology Movement