Bizarre and Wonderful
- Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin by Janet Biehl
Oxford, 344 pp, £22.99, October 2015, ISBN 978 0 19 934248 8
In spring 2004, Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, sent a letter to Murray Bookchin, an 83-year-old, wheelchair-bound, arthritic eco-anarchist in Burlington, Vermont. Öcalan was serving a life sentence in solitary confinement on an island off the Turkish coast. In prison he’d abandoned Marxism-Leninism and was in search of a new philosophy. He told Bookchin that he considered himself his ‘student’, ‘had acquired a good understanding of his work, and was eager to make the ideas applicable to Middle Eastern societies’.
The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.
Vol. 39 No. 12 · 15 June 2017
I was mystified to find myself described by Wes Enzinna as a ‘former acolyte’ of Murray Bookchin who ‘wrote a book, Beyond Bookchin, ridiculing him’ (LRB, 4 May). I am not and have never been anyone’s acolyte, least of all Bookchin’s. And my book was hardly mere ridicule, though I couldn’t avoid some sarcasm at the expense of his self-image as the sole legatee of a historical dialectic from the Greek agora through Hegel, Marx, Yankee democracy and the revolutionary anarchist tradition to today.
As I say in the book, I once respected Bookchin for his contribution to radical politics. He had the good sense to write about anarchism at a time when much of the New Left was waving Mao’s Little Red Book. He also offered what seemed to be a promising notion of radical social ecology. His work was ‘frequently rich and always problematic’, I said, but added that in the light especially of his later essays, which were ‘increasingly vituperative, dismissive, pessimistic, almost paranoid’, it might be time to ask: ‘What kind of social ecology ought to survive the passing of Bookchin?’
In 1988-89 most environmental activists and radicals were appalled at the murderously Malthusian, anti-immigrant declarations coming from a few Earth First! militants. But they were just as dismayed by Bookchin’s self-serving denunciations of activists and deep ecologists who expressed a spiritual connection to nature similar to the connections expressed by native peoples, or activists interested in Buddhist and Taoist attitudes towards nature, or even social ecologists and ecofeminists not committed to Bookchin’s ideas. Bookchin’s lack of generosity not only to people he disagreed with, but to people with whom he agreed on important things (including me), undermined whatever was valuable in his work.
Vol. 39 No. 18 · 21 September 2017
Wes Enzinna, in his review of Ecology or Catastrophe by Janet Biehl, a book about my father, Murray Bookchin, wrote that Biehl was ‘denied permission by his estate to quote at length from Bookchin’s papers’ (LRB, 4 May). This is not true. When we requested that the statement be corrected, the online version was altered to read: ‘She didn’t have permission from his estate to quote at length from Bookchin’s papers.’
In fact, despite having full access to his papers, Biehl never requested – and certainly was never denied – permission to quote at length from them, much as she never requested to interview anyone in Bookchin’s immediate family.