The Murray Bookchin Reader

By Murray Bookchin (1997)

Entry 1018


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Untitled Anarchism The Murray Bookchin Reader

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(1921 - 2006)

Father of Social Ecology and Anarcho-Communalism

: Growing up in the era of traditional proletarian socialism, with its working-class insurrections and struggles against classical fascism, as an adult he helped start the ecology movement, embraced the feminist movement as antihierarchical, and developed his own democratic, communalist politics. (From: Anarchy Archives.)
• "The social view of humanity, namely that of social ecology, focuses primarily on the historic emergence of hierarchy and the need to eliminate hierarchical relationships." (From: "The Crisis in the Ecology Movement," by Murray Bo....)
• "...anarchism is above all antihierarchical rather than simply individualistic; it seeks to remove the domination of human by human, not only the abolition of the state and exploitation by ruling economic classes." (From: "The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Murray Book....)
• "...Proudhon here appears as a supporter of direct democracy and assembly self- management on a clearly civic level, a form of social organization well worth fighting for in an era of centralization and oligarchy." (From: "The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Murray Book....)

(1953 - )

Janet Biehl (born September 4, 1953) is an American political writer who is the author of numerous books and articles associated with social ecology, the body of ideas developed and publicized by Murray Bookchin. Formerly an advocate of his antistatist political program, she broke with it publicly in 2011. She works as a freelance copy editor for book publishers in New York. She currently focuses as well on translating, journalism, and artmaking. (From:


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We must always be on a quest for the new, for the potentialities that ripen with the development of the world and the new visions that unfold with them. An outlook that ceases to look for what is new and potential in the name of “realism” has already lost contact with the present, for the present is always conditioned by the future. True development is cumulative, not sequential; it is growth, not succession. The new always embodies the present and past, but it does so in new ways and more adequately as the parts of a greater whole. Murray Bookchin, “On Spontaneity and Organization,” 1971 Acknowledgments The idea for this reader initially came from David Goodway, who, one sunny afternoon in May 1992, sat down... (From:
In the aftermath of the cold war, in a world that glorifies markets and commodities, it sometimes seems difficult to remember that generations of people once fought to create a very different kind of world. To many, the aspirations of this grand tradition of socialism often seem archaic today, or utopian in the pejorative sense, the stuff of idle dreams; others, more dismissive, consider socialism to be an inherently coercive system, one whose consignment to the past is well-deserved. Yet for a century preceding World War I, and for nearly a half century thereafter, various kinds of socialism — statist and libertarian; economistic and moral; industrial and communalistic — constituted a powerful mass movement for the tr... (From:
Chapter 1: An Ecological Society Introduction Bookchin’s interest in ecology arose primarily from his boyhood curiosity about natural phenomena, from his studies of biology in high school. and from his love of green spaces in the environs of his native New York City, as well as from his dismay at their diminution with the buildup of urban streets and buildings. Yet another source of inspiration for his thinking about ecology were the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. In scattered passages the two progenitors of Marxian socialism had alluded provocatively to a conflicted relationship between town and country. “The greatest division of material and mental labor,” they wrote, “is the separation of ... (From:
Chapter 2: Nature, First and Second Introduction Amid the technological enchantment of the 1950s, proponents of organic farming, like Bookchin himself, had to defend organic agricultural techniques against the scorn of federal agencies and the chemical industry, both of which were busily making pesticides into agricultural commonplaces. Unlike today, when the value of organic farming is recognized, in those years its value had to be fought for. As part of that struggle to defend organic farming, Bookchin borrowed the concept “unity in diversity” from the German idealist philosopher G.W.F. Hegel. Recast as a principle of organic agriculture, the concept suggested an alternative farming technique that was able to rid ... (From:
Chapter 3: Organic Society Introduction In Bookchin’s view, society and culture must be understood by examining not only what they are at present but their origins and subsequent development over the course of history. Thus, to rescue a tradition of freedom in support of his ecological society, he traces a “legacy of freedom” that has run as an alternative libertarian undercurrent through Western history. In his 1982 book The Ecology of Freedom he gave particular attention to what he calls “organic society” — that is, the preliterate band and tribal cultures that preceded recorded history in Europe and America and that persisted far longer in other parts of the world. Insofar as a number of its ... (From:
Chapter 4: The Legacy of Domination Introduction According to Marx, “primitive egalitarianism” was destroyed by the rise of social classes, in which those who own wealth and property exploit the labor of those who do not. But from his observations of contemporary history, Bookchin realized that class analysis in itself does not explain the entirety of social oppression. The elimination of class society could leave intact relations of subordination and domination. Engels, in his essay “On Authority,” wrote explicitly that he not only would preserve hierarchy in a “classless” society but regarded it as indispensable in industrial production. In order to attain the broadest possible freedom in an... (From:
Chapter 5: Scarcity and Post-Scarcity Introduction For all but the privileged few, history has been in great part a chronicle of material scarcity — that is, an insufficiency of the goods and services that people need and value — all too often as a result of an unequal distribution of wealth. At best, people living under conditions of material scarcity must spend an inordinate amount of time working to produce the goods they need for material survival, or else earn a livelihood. This necessity, Bookchin maintains, reduces people to a quasi-animalistic existence; it prevents them from fulfilling their potential for rationality and freedom and thus from becoming fully human. At the same time, material scarcity has also... (From:
Chapter 6: Marxism Introduction Although Marx’s writings had a great influence on Bookchin’s ideas, it became clear to him early on that a degree of authoritarianism, particularly an acceptance of domination, recurred in the Marxian writings. Even in the 1940s he was cognizant that a centralized state was essential to Marx’s views and to the new socialist dispensation that he would create. Moreover, even as Marx and Engels attacked class society, they had taught that hierarchical relationships were indispensable to a socialist society, just as a factory needed hierarchical relationships in order to operate. In time, Bookchin realized that the ideological rationales for material scarcity that were typical of bou... (From:
Chapter 7: Anarchism Introduction In the epilogue to his 1962 history of anarchism, George Woodcock concluded that anarchism as a movement was all but dead. “During the past forty years,” he wrote the influence [the movement] once established has dwindled, by defeat after defeat and by the slow draining of hope, almost to nothing. Nor is there any reasonable likelihood of a renaissance of anarchism as we have known it.... History suggests that movements which fail to take the chances it offers them are never born again.[55] Within only a few years of Woodcock’s interment of anarchism in the cemetery of defunct social theories, Bookchin was breathing life back into it. With the emergence of the ecol... (From:
Chapter 8: Libertarian Municipalism Introduction Bookchin’s anarchism shares with traditional anarchism an opposition to the nation-state and a search for libertarian alternatives, but it differs with traditional anarchism on the tangible nature of the alternatives it embraces. Anarchism, in the main, looks to nonpolitical arenas of society as the sites for constructing its alternatives — variously the factory, the cooperative, even the individual lifestyle. The typical ambition of anarchism is to create not libertarian politics but libertarian social institutions; or as Martin Buber once put it, “to substitute society for State to the greatest degree possible, moreover a society that is ‘genuine’ an... (From:
Chapter 9: Dialectical Naturalism Introduction For much of the twentieth century relativism has plagued philosophical thought, casting into ever-greater philosophical doubt all claims to objective knowledge of reality. In the 1980s and 1990s the rise of postmodernism and deconstruction have given academic philosophy a further relativistic charge. Claims to objective knowledge have now become deeply problematic — and the tendency is growing, when competing claims to knowledge are debated, to end merely with an agnostic shrug. Despite such intellectual fashions, however, it is a staple of political action in any era that it must have a philosophical grounding in objective reality. Political action presupposes that a group o... (From:
Chapter 10: Reason and History Introduction The ecological society that Bookchin described in 1964 remains a constant social ideal over three decades of his writing, projecting a clear and steady image of an ecological society, integrating town and country, individual and community, technology and ethics, politics and economy. The communistic principles he attributed to organic society in 1982 remain pillars of the society he has always envisioned: interdependence must replace hierarchy, and freedom must be defined not in opposition to first nature but as latent within it. The “legacy of freedom” is one he cherishes even more fervently, in the face of an ever-more powerful “legacy of domination.” But othe... (From:
List of Sources 1. An Ecological Society Decentralization: Selected from Our Synthetic Environment, under the pseudonym Lewis Herber (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962), pp. 237–45. The British edition of this book was published by Jonathan Cape (London, 1963 ); a revised paperback edition was published by Harper Colophon Books, under the name Murray Bookchin (New York, 1974). Anarchism and Ecology: From “Ecology and Revolutionary Thought,” under the pseudonym Lewis Herber, Comment [NY] (1964). This essay was republished in Anarchy [UK] 69, vol. 6 (1966); and in Murray Bookchin, Post-Scarcity Anarchism (San Francisco: Ramparts Books, 1971; London: Wildwood House, 1974; and Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1986). This... (From:


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