Murray Bookchin

By: Mark Kingwell
January 14, 2015


Prolific political theorist and tireless activist MURRAY BOOKCHIN (1921–2006) defies all labels, usually by his own command. He was an anarchist who rejected the term when its contemporary American advocates indulged in individualistic “lifestyle” politics. He was a socialist libertarian who warned that class-based Marxist centralism would undermine Students for a Democratic Society. He was an anti-technocratic urbanist who nevertheless condemned neo-Situationism as “ad hoc adventurism.” These intramural disagreements, and dozens more, are explored in a lifetime of writing; but perhaps Bookchin’s most ground-breaking contribution is the connection he made, as early as the 1950s, between challenging power and preserving the environment: so-called Green Anarchism. From his earliest publications, Bookchin held the utopian conviction that contemporary “post-scarcity” technological conditions could free people of drudgery. But this could only be achieved with a combination of decentralized, face-to-face democratic politics and committed trusteeship of the natural world. He left Manhattan for Vermont in 1971, and though he would travel and move many times, he was a Vermonter when that still implied, for many, a presumptive commitment to social ecology — among other things offering a sharp criticism of Unilever-owned Ben & Jerry’s-style “ethical consumerism.” He died in Burlington of heart failure, still writing and arguing vigorously, at 85.

MORE ACTIVISTS: Mother Jones | Alexander Berkman | Eugene V. Debs | Tina Modotti | Big Bill Haywood | Lucy Stone | Antônio Conselheiro | Emmeline Pankhurst | Félix Fénéon | Meridel Le Sueur | Pierre-Joseph Proudhon | Zo d’Axa | Mikhail Bakunin | Voltairine de Cleyre | Emma Goldman | Will Allen | Rosa Luxemburg | Simone de Beauvoir | Émile Henry | Pancho Villa | Joe Hill | Margaret Sanger | Aldo Leopold | Screaming Lord Sutch | Nestor Makhno | Dorothy Day | Garry Kasparov | Adriano Olivetti | Mildred Harnack | Frederick Douglass | Murray Bookchin | George Orwell | Bayard Rustin | Abbie Hoffman | Ti-Grace Atkinson | Gloria Steinem | Rudolf Rocker | Stokely Carmichael | Angela Davis


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: John Dos Passos, Yukio Mishima, Garry Winogrand, Slick Rick.

READ MORE about members of the New Gods Generation (1914-23).