Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Murray Bookchin

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

"Freedom often means little more than the effective coordination of humanity in the achievement of economic ends."

"To speak of 'limits to growth' under a capitalistic market economy is as meaningless as to speak of limits of warfare under a warrior society. The moral pieties, that are voiced today by many well-meaning environmentalists, are as naive as the moral pieties of multinationals are manipulative. Capitalism can no more be 'persuaded' to limit growth than a human being can be 'persuaded' to stop breathing. Attempts to 'green' capitalism, to make it 'ecological', are doomed by the very nature of the system as a system of endless growth."

"If we do not do the impossible, we shall be faced with the unthinkable."

"What compels me to fight this society is, of course, outrage over injustice, a love of freedom, and a feeling of responsibility for perpetuating and enlarging the human spirit - its beauty, creativity, and latent capacity to improve the world. I do not care to come to terms with an irrational society that corrodes all that is valuable in humanity, that eats away at all that is beautiful and noble in the human experience."

"Captalism devours us. At the molecular level of everday life, it changes us for the worse, and it compels people to make extremely unsavoury rationalisations for why they believe things they know - or at least they once knew - are false and for doing things that are trivialising and dehumanising."

"Nor do piecemeal steps however well intended, even partially resolve problems that have reached a universal, global and catastrophic Character. If anything, partial `solutions' serve merely as cosmetics to conceal the deep seated nature of the ecological crisis. They thereby deflect public attention and theoretical insight from an adequate understanding of the depth and scope of the necessary changes."

"When we struggle against capitalism, we are really struggling against our own dehumanisation, and once we become fully cognisant of that, then the danger of surrender to the system reinforces our resistance. As revolutionaries, we are fighting not only for a better society but for our very humanity."

"Perhaps the most obvious of our systemic problems is uncontrollable growth. I use the word “uncontrollable” advisedly, in preference to “uncontrolled.” The growth of which I speak is not humanity’s colonization of the planet over millennia of history. It is rather an inexorable material reality that is unique to our era: namely, that unlimited economic growth is assumed to be evidence of human progress. We have taken this notion so much for granted over the past few generations that it is as immutably fixed in our consciousness as the sanctity of property itself."

"It’s not enough, however, to blame our environmental problems on the obsession with growth. A system of deeply entrenched structures — of which growth is merely a surface manifestation — makes up our society. These structures are beyond moral control, much as the flow of adrenaline is beyond the control of a frightened creature This system has, in effect, the commanding quality of natural law."

"Unless growth is traced to its basic source — competition in a grow-or-die market society — the demand for controlling growth is meaningless as well as unattainable. We can no more arrest growth while leaving the market intact than we can arrest egoism while leaving rivalry intact."

"In this hidden world of cause-and-effect, the environmental movement and the public stand at a crossroads. Is growth a product of “consumerism” — the most socially acceptable and socially neutral explanation that we usually encounter in discussions of environmental deterioration? Or does growth occur because of the nature of production for a market economy? To a certain extent, we can say. both. But the overall reality of a market economy is that consumer demand for a new product rarely occurs spontaneously, nor is its consumption guided purely by personal considerations."

"Today, demand is created not by consumers but by producers — specifically, by enterprises called advertising agencies that use a host of techniques to manipulate public taste. American washing and drying machines, for example, are all but constructed to be used communally-and they are communally used in many apartment buildings. Their privatization in homes, where they stand idle most of the time, is a result of advertising ingenuity."

"We have yet to determine how many people the planet can sustain without complete ecological disruption. The data are far from conclusive, but they are surely highly biased — generally along economic, racial, and social lines. Demography is far from a science, out it is a notorious political weapon whose abuse has disastrously claimed the lives of millions over the course of the century."

"Finally, “industrial society,” to use a genteel euphemism for capitalism, has also become an easy explanation for the environmental ills that afflict our time. But a blissful ignorance clouds the fact that several centuries ago, much of England’s forest land, including Robin Hood’s legendary haunts, was deforested by the crude axes of rural proletarians to produce charcoal for a technologically simple metallurgical economy and to clear land for profitable sheep runs. This occurred long before the Industrial Revolution."

"Technology may magnify a problem or even accelerate its effects. But with or without a “technological imagination” (to use Jacques Ellul’s expression), rarely does it produce the problem itself. Indeed, the rationalization of work by means of assembly-line techniques goes back to such patently pre-industrial societies as the pyramid-builders of ancient Egypt, who developed a vast human machine to build temples and mausoleums."

"To take growth out of its proper social context is to distort and privatize the problem. It is inaccurate and unfair to coerce people into believing that they are personally responsible for present-day ecological dangers because they consume too much or proliferate too readily."

"This privatization of the environmental crisis, like New Age cults that focus on personal problems rather than on social dislocations, has reduced many environmental movements to utter ineffectiveness and threatens to diminish their credibility with the public. If “simple living” and militant recycling are the main solutions to the environmental casts, the crisis will certainly continue and intensify."

"Ironically, many ordinary people and their families cannot afford to live “simply.” It is a demanding enterprise when one considers the costliness of “simple” hand-crafted artifacts and the exorbitant price of organic and “recycled” goods. Moreover, what the “production end” of the environmental crisis cannot sell to the “consumption end,” it will certainly sell to the military. General Electric enjoys considerable eminence not only for its refrigerators but also for its Gatling guns. This shadowy side of the environmental problem — military production — can only be ignored by attaining an ecological airheadedness so vacuous as to defy description."

"Public concern for the environment cannot be addressed by placing the blame on growth without spelling out the causes of growth. Nor can an explanation be exhausted by citing “consumerism” while ignoring the sinister role played by rival producers in shaping public taste and guiding public purchasing power. Aside from the costs involved, most people quite rightly do not want to “live simply.” They do not want to diminish their freedom to travel or their access to culture, or to scale down needs that often serve to enrich human personality and sensitivity."

"New Age environmentalism and conventional environmentalism that place limits on serious, in-depth ecological thinking have been increasingly replaced by social ecology that explores the economic and institutional factors that enter into the environmental crisis. "

"In the context of this more mature discourse, the Valdez oil spill is no longer seen as an Alaskan matter, an “episode” in the geography of pollution. Rather it is recognized as a social act that raises such “accidents” to the level of systemic problems-rooted not in consumerism, technological advance, and population growth but in an irrational system of production, an abuse of technology by a grow-or-die economy, and the demographics of poverty and wealth. Ecological dislocation cannot be separated from social dislocations. The social roots of our environmental problems cannot remain hidden without trivializing the crisis itself and thwarting its resolution."

"In our own time we have seen domination spread over the social landscape to a point where it is beyond all human control. Compared to this stupendous mobilization of materials, of wealth, of human intellect, of human labor for the single goal of domination, all other recent human achievements pale to almost trivial significance. Our art, science, medicine, literature, music and "charitable" acts seem like mere droppings from a table on which gory feasts on the spoils of conquest have engaged the attention of a system whose appetite for rule is utterly unrestrained."

"Capitalism is a social cancer. It has always been a social cancer. It is the disease of society. It is the malignancy of society."

"The assumption that what currently exists must necessarily exist is the acid that corrodes all visionary thinking."

"This pursuit of security in the past, this attempt to find a haven in a fixed dogma and an organizational hierarchy as substitutes for creative thought and praxis is bitter evidence of how little many revolutionaries are capable of ‘revolutionizing themselves and things,’ much less of revolutionizing society as a whole. The deep-rooted conservatism of the People’s Labor Party ‘revolutionaries’ is almost painfully evident; the authoritarian leader and hierarchy replace the patriarch and the school bureaucracy; the discipline of the Movement replaces the discipline of bourgeois society; the authoritarian code of political obedience replaces the state; the credo of ‘proletarian morality’ replaces the mores of puritanism and the work ethic. 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."

"The ecological principle of unity in diversity grades into a richly mediated social principle; hence my use of the term social ecology."

"If we recognise that every ecosystem can also be viewed as a food web, we can think of it as a circular, interlacing nexus of plant animal relationships (rather than a stratified pyramid with man at the apex)… Each species, be it a form of bacteria or deer, is knitted together in a network of interdependence, however indirect the links may be. "

"Humanity has passed through a long history of one-sidedness and of a social condition that has always contained the potential of destruction, despite its creative achievements in technology. The great project of our time must be to open the other eye: to see all-sidedly and wholly, to heal and transcend the cleavage between humanity and nature that came with early wisdom. "

"Peter Kropotkin described Anarchism as the extreme left wing of socialism - a view with which I completely agree. One of my deepest concerns today is that the libertarian socialist core will be eroded by fashionable, post- modernist, spiritualist, mystic individualism. -"

"People are never free of trying to be content. "

"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."

"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."

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

"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."

"Anarchism could be the most creative and innovative movement in radicalism today ... [With] our ideals of self-management, decentralization, confederalism, and mutual aid ... we have long been the progenitors of an organic, naturalist, and mutualistic sensibility that the ecology movement has appropriated with few references to their source ? the naturalism of Kropotkin."

"Anarchists conceive of power as an essentially malignant evil that must be destroyed. Proudhon, for example, once stated that he would divide and subdivide power until it, in effect, ceased to exist ... a notion as absurd as the idea that gravity can be abolished ... The truly pertinent issue ... is not whether power will exist but whether it will rest in the hands of an elite or in the hands of the people ... Social revolutionaries ... must address the problem of how to give power a concrete institutional emancipatory form."

"Anarchists should get together who agree, and develop their gifts at a critical point, in a critical place, and form genuine affinity groups in areas where they can have certain results, notable results?not move into areas of great resistance where they?re almost certain to be crushed, defeated, demoralized. And secondly, I would not want to be in the same movement with an anarcho-syndicalist, however much I may respect and like that person. Some of my best friends are anarcho-syndicalists. I mean, I realize that we do not have a commonality, even a language, that makes it possible for us to communicate."

"And as long as hierarchy persists? the project of dominating nature will continue to exist and inevitably lead our planet to ecological extinction"

"Any attempt to solve the ecological crisis within a bourgeois framework must be dismissed as chimerical. Capitalism is inherently anti-ecological. Competition and accumulation constitute its very law of life, a law ? summarized in the phrase, ?production for the sake of production.? Anything, however hallowed or rare, ?has its price? and is fair game for the marketplace. In a society of this kind, nature is necessarily treated as a mere resource to be plundered and exploited. The destruction of the natural world, far being the result of mere hubristic blunders, follows inexorably from the very logic of capitalist production."

"But here?s what I do believe very strongly: that once capitalism comes into existence, once it creates this mythology of a stingy nature, then that myth has to be exorcised. In other words, we have to get out of people?s heads the idea that without a market economy, without egotism, competition, rivalry and self-interest, without all the technological advances that Marx imputed to capitalism, we have to eliminate the feeling that we would sink into some kind of barbarism. We have to give people the freedom to choose lifestyles and material satisfactions that suit their needs, and we have to redefine need itself. We can?t redefine need among ghetto people by telling them we should all give up our TV sets or automobiles: we have to tell them there?s enough to go around, now let?s talk about using it sensibly. So in that sense I speak of post-scarcity because my concern is to eliminate the sense of scarcity that people feel. Capitalism has created a situation called scarcity. And that scarcity is not natural, it?s socially induced. Along with that sense of scarcity, or feeling of scarcity, is a feeling of economic insecurity. Along with that is a feeling of deprivation? And unless we can demonstrate that that feeling is not justified technologically, we will not be able to speak intelligently to the great majority of people and reorganize our economy so that we really know what needs are rational and human and what have been created, almost fetishisticaly, by the capitalist economy. What I?m saying in effect is we have to say the goodies are all here to be had, but to what extent do we really want them and to what extent are they goodies? As long as we feel that we can?t have them, we?ll want them and we?ll make them central to our lives."

"Capitalism can no more be ?persuaded? to limit growth than a human being can be ?persuaded? to stop breathing."

"Capitalism commercializes emotions by placing a dollar sign on everything people believe or feel."

"Due honor should certainly be given to Proudhon for developing federalistic notions of social organization against the nation-state and defending the rights of crafts people and peasants who were under the assault of industrial capitalism."

"Every development must be free to find its own equilibrium. Spontaneity, far from inviting chaos, involves releasing the inner forces of a development to find their authentic order and stability... Spontaneity in social life converges with spontaneity in nature to provide the basis for an ecological society."

"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."

"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."

"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."

"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."

"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."

"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."