Murray Bookchin was a pivotal, polarizing figure in the post-WWII history of anarchism. He put ecology and democracy on the anarchist agenda in a way that was as novel as it is enduring. As a polemicist, he spent decades at the center of crucial debates about history, strategy, and foundational ideals. Even his critics must acknowledge that he made major contributions to the growth and clarification of the anarchist perspective.
Something shifted in the movement when he died in 2006. For the preceding fifty years, his writings had been a point of reference through which we could clarify our views, even when we disagreed with them, whereas now that he was gone we had to make sense of him. Who was he and how had he lived? These are compelling questions for those who had worked with him and for anyone who wants to understand contemporary anarchism.
This piece originally appears in issue N. 28 of Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, available from AK Press.
“I will carry my soul in my hand
/ And throw it in the valleys of death /
It is either a life that makes a friend happy
/ Or a death that makes an enemy angry.” –Abdulrahim Mahmoud, Palestine
“When the will is free and the cause is just, and you embody both, the human is capable of making miracles happen, and no oppressive, tyrannical, murderous regime can harm it” -Ameer Makhoul, Palestine
“Sometimes I sit in the chair and vomit. Nobody says anything. Even if they turned their backs I would understand. I’m looking for humans. All I ask for is basic human rights.” –Emad Hassan, Guantánamo Bay
(Photo by Max Collins)
“Freely Disassociating” appeared in June 2015. Although it was written a year prior, the half dozen Left and radical publications to which it was initially submitted would not print it. Since its publication by Perspectives on Anarchist Theory inquiries and positive responses (such as Scott Campbell’s, on which I have commented upon elsewhere ) have found their way to me either directly or through intermediaries. Of course there was a series of irrational and nonsensical comments online that only served to confirm my claim that there isn’t an “audience that can access arguments and positions outside those with which it already agrees.” And for that matter, the positive responses confirm this as well. What is interesting about those who are generally supportive of my arguments is that they often agree with the analysis of the problems that currently exist in radical movements, but are neither able to completely disassociate from the “tyrannical bitterness” of contemporary radical politics nor to engage with the proposal that anarchism with principles will arise from a political project rather than being proposed a priori.
What I had not fully articulated in the original article is that until there is a counter-pole to current radical movements there cannot be a shift toward creating anarchism with principles. It would violate common sense to suggest that you can decrease X (involvement in radical movements as they are currently composed) and as a result Y (a counter-pole, anarchism with principles) would emerge. Our increasingly ideological anarchism is defined by theoretical practices: the setting of ones own limitations rather than common horizons; obsession with imaginary relations instead of relations between anarchism’s collective imagination and the ability to collectivize them in the world; and there is not a Yes to many, many No’s reversing the call for “One No, Many Yeses.” It is these practices that anarchism with principles seeks to counter. Moreover, and possibly more important, two interrelated problems suggest the need for another passage out of the current malaise. The approach of creating forms of organization, from clandestine cells to non-profits, a priori to the desires and activity that will propel them forward, postulate purpose, set priorities, and provide the content and context in which they will operate is fatal. This is exacerbated by the inability to make a clean break from current radical movements and instead align oneself with the rich, substantive history of revolutionary ideas and practices. Until these three separate issues are properly addressed the preconditions required for anarchism with principles to develop cannot be established. I will take each issue in turn.
Lara and Paul Messersmith-Glavin, of the Institute for Anarchist Studies, the Perspectives journal crew, and the Hella 503 Collective in Portland, Oregon, discuss lessons from a recent grassroots organizing effort against climate change in a working class North Portland neighborhood. Lara and Paul discuss the anti-capitalist assumptions they have, how capitalism intersects with other forms of oppression like patriarchy and racism, and what it’ll take to stop the climate from changing, arguing that the climate crisis offers an opportunity to fundamental transform society.
The Fall 2015 IAS Newsletter is out, with news about new Anarchist Interventions books, current and forthcoming issues of Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, IAS’ speakers and member awards, and three new collective members, and so much more.
(This essay appears in the new issue of Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, available from AK Press here.)
I come from a family of short, strong, resilient women. My maternal grandmother, Antonina, ground corn in a molino, or mill. She lived on the southern side of town, the poor side of town, and her clients came to her mill not only to grind their corn, but to share with her their happiness, laughter, sorrows, and tears. In this impoverished community—where women would wake up at 3:00am to cook their corn, stand in line by 4:00am to see those same kernels ground into powder, and then take this masa home again to turn it into dough, into tortillas, into the basic caloric morning meal—this was the only place outside their homes where they could share topics they were too ashamed or scared to talk about elsewhere. Most of these talks were about love, betrayal, violence, and rage.
Lara and Paul Messersmith-Glavin, of the IAS and Perspectives on Anarchist Theory collectives, will reflect on the lessons of an organizing campaign done in the St. Johns neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. St. Johns is a conduit of fossil fuel exports in the Pacific Northwest, and was the site of the blockade of the Shell contracted ice-breaker Fennica – trying to reach the Arctic to assist in drilling for oil – involving people suspended from the bridge, people in kayaks on the water, and people on the land.
The current issue of Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, N. 28 on Justice, available here, features two essays written by people financially supported by a grant from the Institute for Anarchist Studies. The money for these grants come from donations from people like yourself, and allow these, and many other folks, to complete their writing projects. It allows them to do things like take time off work, or hire childcare, so they can write.
Layne Mullett, who wrote “Brick by Brick: Creating a World Without Prisons,” in the current issue, had this to say, “Getting a grant from the Institute for Anarchist studies allowed me to carve out time to think through and put down on paper some of the lessons I’ve learned from years of doing anti-prison organizing. The patient, thoughtful engagement and assistance from my (IAS) grant adviser pushed me to move forward with a project I otherwise would have given up on and helped deepen my political thinking about the daily work of building a movement to end mass incarceration.”
The IAS received over 35 applications for writing grants in 2015, many of them outstanding. We awarded money to support the writing of two. The grants awarded are for projects by Laura Hall and E Ornelas.