Anarchy after Leftism

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Robert Charles Black Jr. (born January 4, 1951) is an American author and anarchist. He is the author of the books The Abolition of Work and Other Essays, Beneath the Underground, Friendly Fire, Anarchy After Leftism, and Defacing the Currency, and numerous political essays. (From :


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Preface Leaving the twentieth century, leftism of every stripe is in disarray and defeat — anarcho-leftism included. And Murray Bookchin’s Social Ecology is certainly no exception to this trend. Bookchin, one of the best known of contemporary North American anarchists, has spent much of his life staking out his own personal eco-anarchist ideological territory under the banners of Social Ecology and Libertarian Municipalism. He is the author of a steady stream of books from the sixties to the present, including his classic collection of essays titled Post-Scarcity Anarchism published in 1971, his excellent volume on the history of the Spanish anarchist movement written in the seventies, and his failed attempt in the eighties at constructing a philosophical magnum opus in The Ecology of Freedom. Bookchin has never been content with merely constructing one more radical ideology in competition with all the others... (From :

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Jason McQuinn Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed Alternative Press Review Introduction This small book is nothing more than a critique of another small book, Murray Bookchin’s Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm. His consists of the title essay plus “The Left That Was: A Personal Reflection.” Published in 1995, it was an unexpected intervention in an intramural debate which had been going on for at least twenty years between traditionalistic anarchists — leftist, workerist, organizational, and moralist — and an ever more diverse (and an ever more numerous) contingent of anarchists who have in one way or another departed from orthodoxy, at least in Bookchin’s eyes. Bookchin caught a lot of us heterodox anarchists by surprise. Most of us have read some of Bookchin’s books and many of us, myself included, have... (From :

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Chapter 1: Murray Bookchin, Grumpy Old Man Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism may well be the worst book about anarchists that any of them has ever written. According to the cover blurb, Murray Bookchin, born in 1921, has been “a lifelong radical since the early 1930s.” “Radical” is here a euphemism for “Stalinist”; Bookchin was originally “a militant in the Young Pioneers and the Young Communist League” (Clark 1990:102; cf. Bookchin 1977:3). Later he became a Trotskyist. At one time Bookchin himself, “as one who participated actively in the ‘radical’ movements of the thirties” (1970: 56), put the word “radical,” considering the context, in quotation marks, but now he is nostalgic about that milieu, what he calls the Left That Was (66–86). About 25 years ago, Murray Bookchin peered into the mirror and mistook it for a window of opportun... (From :

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Chapter 2: What is Individualist Anarchism? Dean Bookchin posits an eternally recurring “tension” within anarchism between the individual and the social . As this is none other than the central conundrum of Western political philosophy, the Dean is neither original nor — more important — has he identified a specifically anarchist tension. He goes on to identify the antitheses within anarchism as “two basically contradictory tendencies: a personalistic commitment to individual autonomy and a collectivist commitment to social freedom” . This is the “unbridgeable chasm” his book title refers to. If the Dean is right — that individual autonomy and social liberation are not just in tension but basically contradictory — then anarchy is impossible, as anti-anarchists have always maintained. Bookchin here rejects out of hand what he used to espouse, “a... (From :

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Chapter 3: Lifestyle Anarchism As fast-and-loose as the Dean plays with the word “individualism,” extrapolating it to something he calls “lifestyle anarchism” is, to borrow a phrase from Jeremy Bentham not just nonsense, it is nonsense on stilts. Here is how he does the stretch: In the traditionally individualist-liberal United States and Britain, the 1990s are awash in self-styled [that word again!] anarchists who — their flamboyant radical rhetoric aside — are cultivating a latter-day anarcho-individualism that I will call lifestyle anarchism.... Ad hoc adventurism, personal bravura, an aversion to theory oddly akin to the antirational biases of postmodernism, celebrations of theoretical incoherence (pluralism), a basically apolitical and anti-organizational commitment to imagination, desire, and ecstasy, and an intensely self-oriented enchantment of [sic] everyday life, reflect th... (From :

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Chapter 4: On Organization Well, finally, the Dean has identified a concrete “programmatic” difference between him and his appointed enemies. Most, maybe all of those he criticizes as “lifestyle anarchists” indeed oppose the establishment of some sort of authoritative anarchist organization, as well they should (Black 1992:1 181–193). It is something North American anarchists have always shied away from, even in the heyday of the Left That Was. The Dean, as previously noted, has spent his entire anarchist life going out of his way not to involve himself with any such organization — not from principle, apparently, but because he was preoccupied, personalistically, with his own career. Some of us think the enterprise is ill-advised, even counterproductive, even apart from our suspicion that it wouldn’t advance our careers. A lot of us don’t even have careers. Jacques Camatte (1995... (From :

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Chapter 5: Murray Bookchin, Municipal Statist There is no putting off the inevitable any longer. It has to be said: Dean Bookchin is not an anarchist. By this I do not mean that he is not my kind of anarchist, although that too is true. I mean he is not any kind of anarchist. The word means something, after all, and what it means is denial of the necessity and desirability of government. That’s a bare- bones, pre-adjectival definition anterior to any squabbling about individualist, collectivist, communist, mutualist, social, lifestyle, ecological, mystical, rational, primitivist, Watsonian, ontological, etc. anarchisms. An anarchist as such is opposed to government — full stop. Dean Bookchin is not opposed to government. Consequently, he is not an anarchist. What! “The foremost contemporary anarchist theorist” (Clark 1990: 102) is not an anarchist? You heard me. He’s not — really a... (From :

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Chapter 6: Reason and Revolution The Dean denounces lifestyle anarchists for succumbing to the reactionary intellectual currents of the last quarter century, such as irrationalism (1–2, 9, 55–56 & passim). He laments the Stirnerist “farewell to objective reality” an the disdain for “reason as such” . With his usual self-absorption sans self-awareness, Bookchin fails to notice that he is echoing the right-wing rhetoric which since the 60’s has denounced the treason of the intellectuals, their betrayal of reason and truth. There was a time when Bookchin “dismissed out of hand” the way the “bourgeois critics” condemned 60’s youth culture as “anti-rational” (1970: 51). Now he joins the neo-conservative chorus: The sixties counterculture opened a rupture not I only with the past, but with all knowledge of the past, incl... (From :

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Chapter 7: In Search of the Primitivists Part I: Pristine Angles Bashing the primitivist anarchists is probably Dean Bookchin’s highest priority (Anonymous 1996), because they are the excommunicate anarchists whose views are most likely to be confused with, and to compete successfully with, his own. He revels in his self-image as ecology’s apostle to the anarchists, and for once, there’s some truth to his messianic machismo. It was the Dean, after all, who has for so long and in so many books clamored for the restoration of “organic community,” as he now shamefacedly admits (41; cf. Bookchin 1974, 1982, 1987a, 1989, 1991). Once again his embarrassment is that his readers took him at his word — an error that this reader, for one, will not repeat. These innocents never suspected that they were not supposed to learn anything about primitive societies or pre-industrial communities except what cleared Bookchinist censorship. (From :

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Chapter 8: In Search of the Primitivists Part II: Primitive Affluence According to the Dean, the notion of primitive affluence is some silliness the hippies smoked up and put over on the anthropologists in the ‘60s: Much of [George Bradford’s] “critical anthropology” appears to derive from ideas propounded at the “Man the Hunter” symposium, convened in April 1966 at the University of Chicago. Although most of the papers contributed to this symposium were immensely valuable, a number of them conformed to the naive mystification of “primitivity” that was percolating through the 1960s counter-culture — and that lingers on to this day. The hippie culture, which influenced quite a few anthropologists of the time, averred that hunting-gathering peoples today had been bypassed by the social and economic forces at work in the rest of the world and still lived in a pristine state, as isolated... (From :

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Chapter 9: From Primitive Affluence to Labor-Enslaving Technology One tendency which surely belongs on the Dean’s enemies short list is zero-work, the critique of work as such, “the notion that the abolition of work is possible and desirable: that genuine, unconditioned needs can be met by voluntary playlike activity enjoyed for its own sake” (Black 1996d: 22). Zero-work may well be the only programmatic position shared by everybody the Dean targets, even L. Susan Brown . The Left That Was not only posited work as a necessity, it regarded it as almost a sacrament. And while zero-work is not the same thing as such Bookchin bugbears as hedonism and primitivism, it complements them nicely. It is an important Bookchin target, but he attacks it with potshots, not the usual scattershot. There may be several reasons for his uncharacteristic circumspection. In his younger days (“younger” being, of course, a... (From :

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Chapter 10: Shut Up, Marxist! As a matter of course, unless ideology withers away, it eventually hardens into dogma. After Jesus comes Paul, and eventually some Pope, Innocent in name only. That Bookchinism would calcify into a creed after no very long time is no surprise. Even in its prime it was arthritic with Rousseau, St.-Simon, Marx and Arendt. It was always ambiguous about technology and scarcity. Its ecological content was always at odds with its civism, to which, in retrospect, ecology seems to have always been an accessory, an add-on. It’s marred by eccentricities as various as primitive gerontocracy and Swiss anarchy. It’s unredeemed by irony, much less humor. What’s amazing is that Bookchin isn’t leaving Bookchinism to its Plekhanovs, Kautskys and Lenins. He’s vulgarizing his ideology himself. As the Green Anarchist reviewer observes, the Dean now “goes on to crudely reduce or reject all... (From :

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Chapter 11: Anarchy after Leftism In one respect, Murray Bookchin is right in almost the only way he’s still capable of, i.e., for the wrong reasons. The anarchists are at a turning point. For the first time in history, they are the only revolutionary current. To be sure, not all anarchists are revolutionaries, but it is no longer possible to be a revolutionary without being an anarchist, in fact if not in name. Throughout its existence as a conscious current, anarchism has been shadowed and usually overshadowed by leftism in general, and Marxism in particular. Especially since the formation of the Soviet Union, anarchism has effectively (and therefore ineffectively) defined itself with reference to Marxism. The reduction of anarchists to satellites of the Communists, especially in revolutionary situations, is so regular a feature of their modern history that it can’t be an accident. Fixated on their great rival,... (From :

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References Adams, Robert M. . Decadent Societies. San Francisco, CA: North Point Press Adorno, Theodor W. . “Punctuation Marks.” The Antioch Review (Summer): 300–305 Andrieux, Maurice . Daily Life in Venice in the Time of Casanova. New York & Washington, DC: Praeger Publisher [Anonymous] . Review of The Rise of Urbanization and the Decline of Citizenship, by Murray Bookchin. Orbis: A Journal of World Affairs 32 (Fall): 628 [Anonymous] . Review of Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm, by Murray Bookchin. Green Anarchist 42 (Summer): 22–23 Ansell-Pearson, Keith .An Introduction to Nietzsche as Political Thinker: The Perfect Nihilist. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Apter, David E., & James Joll, eds. . Ana... (From :


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