Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Review - 'The Next Revolution', Murray Bookchin

The Next Revolution

Murray Bookchin

review by Tim Barton

Murray Bookchin began his working life as a communist union activist in American auto-plants. His family were Russian emigres. As he worked toward a communist utopia he bagan, as so many of us do, the realities of domination and hierarchy. He began to see the position of individuals in a soviet-style society as untenable. At the same time he was becoming increasingly aware of the possibility of ecological crisis (in fact, his first book, Our Synthetic Environment, was published pseudonymously in 1962, only a couple of months after Rachel Carson's Silent Spring). This, through the 1960s and 1970s, allied broadly him with a 'green' 'anarchism'. 
As his work progressed and his understanding of history matured, Bookchin saw that 'anarchism' was a term that was at odds with aspects of his thought. Although still in the anarchist tradition (of, for example, Pytr Kropotkin), he named his newly forged ideology 'Social Ecology'.
By the 1990s he was distancing himself even more from the anarchist, socialist and green 'mainstream', attempting to forge a new, modern and relevant set of ideas from which others could launch a new politics of community.

This book, published nine years after his death, collects together a selection of his late period works. Their provenance is telling: several come from the US/Greek copublished journal Society and Nature (later Democracy and Nature), and a couple come from the journal Communalism – this later has been a big influence on the (primarily) Norwegian journal New Compass. His ideas about political organization and ecology have helped empower and focus new radical movements worldwide.

The common denominator here are peripheral nations, not yet fully absorbed by the neo-liberal capitalist global hegemony, or just now finding themselves pushed away to its margins. Both Greece and Norway have a strong recent social ecologist tradition. It is profoundly influential on the Greek anarchists, and has led to Bookchin's ideas around 'libertarian municipal assemblies' and 'communalism' being adopted by radicals there. Similarly, Turkish Kurds adopted and adapted Bookchin's ideas, after the Kurdish Workers Party leader-in-exile, Abdullah Ocalan, began to engage with his work in the last years before Bookchin's death.

In the west, his ideas are apparent in the US Occupy movement, especially in Oakland, where his former pupil Cindy Milstein (of the Institute for Anarchist Studies), amongst other 'social ecologists', has been helping give direction to an initially merely oppositional movement.

As our next farcical four or five yearly 'festival of occasional citizen involvement' approaches, Bookchin's work is of pointed relevance. The collection of essays is subtitled 'Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy'. This stands as an interesting alternative to the ultimately quietist approach to change espoused by Russell Brand.

Oh yes, and there is a nice introductory essay by Ursula le Guin, who has always acknowledged a debt to Bookchin's ideas when writing her dystopian classic 'The Dispossessed'. Today, we should hope that he becomes as great an influence on radical politics here – I think there is precious little else that is relevant to our modern concerns.


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