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Study Notes

Murray Bookchin (1921-2006)

AQA, Edexcel

Last updated 30 Dec 2018

American communalist Murray Brookchin provides a clear link between environmentalism and both socialism and anarchism.

New York-born Bookchin was brought up with Russian revolutionary politics from his Russian-Jewish grandparents.

While influenced by both Marxism and anarchist/libertarian ideas, Bookchin was critical of certain aspects of both, feeling that Marxists over-stated the importance of social class, and that anarchists and libertarians were overly-simplistic in their views of the state. However, he brought the ideas of both together in a perspective he called communalism.

Bookchin argues that the environmental crisis is a product of the existing social structures of oppression. It is capitalism itself that put humanity on a collision course with the natural world, because the very logic of capitalism - to pursue profit at the expense of all else - was inevitably at odds with conservation. For Bookchin, then, it was not human nature which threatened the environment, nor over-population (as argued by neo-malthusians like Paul Ehrlich) or technological advances: it was capitalism. A sustainable, environmentally-sound society was possible - and it did not require returning to a "state of nature" and reversing all technological advancement - what it required was a revolution. The state and the social structure must be overthrown in order to save the environment. Humans needed to replace hierarchy and dominion with democracy and freedom.

The new, communalist society that he advocated was one of decentralised, democratic, self-sufficient societies or communes. Bookchin also used the term "libertarian municipalism" to describe his theory of social and political organisation. He envisaged towns and cities being run through directly-democratic means and that these organisations would not co-exist with the nation-state and would come to replace that level of organisation. It could be seen as a rather utopian vision, similar to the anarcho-communism of some 19th century thinkers.

Bookchin has been quite influential as a post-Marxist thinker (for example, his ideas were embraced by some left-wing Kurdish nationalists) but perhaps his clearest legacy has been linking environmentalism to social structures and social reform: advancing the idea that protecting the environment is not a separate issue from how human society should best be organised, but that the two are inextricably and fundamentally linked.

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