Murray Bookchin

Lecture by Murray Bookchin 21 May 1992 St James Piccadilly

Social Ecology

Mr Bookchin said that he had an oriental view of class oppression and was proud to be an eco-anarchist.

He is aged 73 and his major experience is from New York, “a city of a thousand villages”, where he was born of parents from Russia. He grew up in the great depression and was a member of Communist Youth organisations. After Stalin he followed Trotsky and libertarian socialists before becoming an anarchist in the 1950’s. He was a union organiser and foundry man. It was a very dangerous job, he had guns pulled on him several times.

There was a very distinct class consciousness in the 1930’s. It was definitely labour versus bosses. “Not a discourse but a good healthy conflict”.

General Motors is as bad a capitalist as you can get. “What’s good for GM is good for America”.

Clear conflict between capitalist work and mutuality of the extended families people lived in.
Spanish “pueblo” means people or town or village. Penetration of capitalist market into everyday life. Shopping malls replacing seven or eight small shops in early 50’s. Labour becoming co-opted.

People have paid miserably for holidays, social security and pensions.

Growing chemicalisation of society, disappearance of green areas around New York. Same population – 8 million in 20’s and 30’s as now, but urban sprawl, suburbia, destruction, chemicalised, synthetic environment. “In the 1920’s and 30’s we knew what food tasted like as we were from an agrarian background”. Now we have ticky tacky homes and ticky tackyfood. This was done in the name of “progress” “cornucopia” “nuclear energy to cheap to meter” “free everything”.

In 1959 there were 34,000 exotic new chemicals being produced every year. Agricultural practices were destroying soil, hormones in cattle getting into food.

In 1952, Mr Bookchin wrote about the domination of nature coming from capitalism. To understand, you have to get to the roots of everything. Market society will drive us inexorably into a collision with the natural world.

He was attempting a deliberate synthesis of ecology with anarchism.

Domination is very deep rooted in hierarchical, objective status societies.


There were clear layers in early ‘organic’ societies. Different tribal societies hated each other, although they may have been related earlier. A sense of solidarity and egalitarianism eventually broke down. Men dominated women, chieftains and warriors emerged.

Hierarchies were not based on greed, but on status recognition. You had to give away to gain status. Power was not based on wealth. Gifts were the basis of material relationships.

Gifts establish alliances and mutual aid.

Marxism taught that hierarchy is necessary. Engels asked how can you run a steel mill without giving orders?

Hierarchy and hierarchical ways of thinking PRECEDE class societies. The emergence of the state, of economic systems is to do with hierarchy.

Marxists do not go deep enough. What about men and women, race? These are problems of domination, status, hierarchy, not simply economic exploitation.

This leads to ANARCHISM, which is concerned with Authority. Aiming for a classless society is inadequate.

The notion of dominating nature expressed in Genesis is a human condition stemming from relationships between people. We project social relationships onto the natural world.

Ecological crisis has roots in a social process.

To understand the ecological crisis, you have to look at society, its divisions between classes and sexes. You have to look at the concept of nature and others as object.

You need to replace hierarchy with EQUALITY.

The deep ecological dream of a huge pantheistic encounter group loses sight of problem of domination, of conflict of relationships.

We have to eliminate the cruelty of hierarchy, of domination. The market system is accelerating the damage. Incredible, exponential damage compared with only forty years ago. There is no driver. The most we can do is put on the brakes. The ecological crisis is a social crisis.

Progress used to mean co-operation and charity. It now means competition, dog eat dog.

The capitalist maxim is that no growth is death. This is an outrageous view. All past societies put limits on HUBRIS; overweening pride leading to nemesis.

The libertarian anarchist approach is that the co-operative society is ecological. Business is business means don’t bring morality into business. Profit is said to be not a function of greed, but necessity.

Solutions involve creating a counter power to the state, business and the market. This is more than food co-ops and communes. It requires a public sphere of CITIZENS, not constituents or tax payers who follow the rules.

“The public sphere today is a parking space”.

Participatory democracy, a decentralised society, compared with efficiency, business. Why do we give our will to a so called MP?

There are historic and current ways of participating. Montreal, population 3 million, has neighbourhood centres which instruct their Councillors. There is no hierarchical party organisation. There is a right to recall.

Myth of Parliament reinforces the state, and the myth that we have control over our destinies.

Parochialism is avoided by confederation. We are too used to the concept of nation states and MP’s.

If you can do engineering or secretarial work, why cannot you govern yourself?

We are an evolutionary product of nature that can think, foresee, plan, communicate, we have to overcome problems of survival first.

Instead of privatisation or nationalisation of the means of production, we need to MUNICIPALISE the means of production. Communities are introducing new forms of energy, and taking over the economy.

3 thoughts on “Murray Bookchin

    • Thank you, do you mind saying what your interest is? I have a lot more stuff on ecological issues I could blog.


  1. I went to the U.K. with Bookchin in 1992 and was present at that lecture at St. James’s. I was his companion and collaborator for his last 20 years. I’m in the process of writing his biography and am collecting material about him. So your notes are helpful. Also I’m curious–is there a recording of this lecture?

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