[The following was left as a comment on the ISE Blog’s initial post “Announcing the New ISE Blog.” Re-published here as a blog post with permission from the author.]
Thanks for your invitation to participate in the discussion on the ISE blog. I’ve had no contact with you for the past two decades, so in the process of replying, l’ll have to bring you up to date on a few things.
The short version is: the ISE blog is a venue for people who identify as social ecologists. I am no longer such a person.
Yes, during the 1990s I wrote books and articles advocating social ecology and defending it against its critics. I loved and lived with a notable social ecologist for almost twenty years. During the fireworks of the 1990s, after Murray retired from active political work, he and I collaborated in writing, editing, transcribing, translating, and researching at the same time as we had to answer one incoming round of criticism after another. It was arduous and frenetic beyond belief. I took a lot of heat for defending him and social ecology, but if I had to do it all over again, I would.
As you know, I wrote a book summarizing Libertarian Municipalism, whose purpose was to appeal to anarchists. At the end of the 1990s, at a series of conferences and in other settings, anarchists on an international scale decisively rejected LM. At that point, Murray chose to depart from the anarchist tradition and anchor it in a different tradition, communalism. I understood and sympathized with his choice, but I made a different one: I reverted to my pre-1987 political identity, which was what leftists call a social democrat. I told Murray about it, no one else, but it didn’t much matter because 2000-2006 was a period of political inactivity for both of us, as we finished The Third Revolution and his other final writings, and he entered his decline, while I cared for him.
After Murray’s death, out of loyalty to him, I kept a low profile on my changed political views; out of loyalty to myself, I avoided advocating social ecology (although I admit to some backsliding, as old habits died hard). As I had promised him I would, I became his biographer, writing “Bookchin Breaks with Anarchism,” “Bookchin’s Originality,” the recent pamphlet, and the forthcoming full biography (which I hope to finish later this year).
Meanwhile, as American social and economic life has been undergoing turmoil and regression, I found the antistatism of social ecology/viz. communalism paralyzing. In order to at least adhere to the appearance of antistatism, I had to stifle myself politically. (At least in the solitude of a voting booth I could vote for Obama.) But in the fall of 2010, when a Democratic candidate for governor ran on a platform to bring single-payer healthcare to the state of Vermont I could not longer suppress myself. I crossed the thin black line and … did volunteer work for this candidate. Shortly afterward I began “coming out” to my social ecology friends. Fortunately they have mostly taken it in stride, and I remain on good terms with most; my friends at New Compass, for example, continue to publish my writings in areas where we overlap.
Murray developed social ecology in the postwar era, when moving the social agenda forward in a radical way seemed possible. Utopianism, he said, not only possible but necessary. Today it may still be necessary, but it seems very far from possible. The champions of antistatism today are Wall Street, gigantic financial institutions, multinational corporations. The Koch Brothers are the great success story of American libertarianism, champing at the bit to undo the social safety net that progressive people in the twentieth century struggled to create. (Other forces subservient to capital are cutting social programs in Europe and the U.K.) In the coming months the Republicans in Congress are going to put Medicaid and Medicare on the chopping block. Many real people—not theoretical people in the pages of theoretical articles, but real people–are suffering now from the untrammeled financial royalism of Wall Street and will suffer more when they lose the social programs. I fail to see how an antistatist practice can address this ominous situation constructively. What does make sense to me, mundane as you may think it, is a rearguard fight to preserve the social programs. So no, I will not form a study group to smash the state; I will march to defend Medicare and Medicaid. I am not an antistatist—be it anarchist, communalist, or social ecologist; I am a social democrat and make no apologies for it.
I understand that people who identify as social ecologists have expressed their desire, on the ISE blog, to see social ecology changed. It’s not my affair. For me personally—and I emphasize personally–social ecology will always remain in my memory as Murray defined it, and as I fought for it for fifteen years. I don’t expect anyone else to agree with me or share this attitude; nor do I ask them to.
From childhood Murray struggled to build a revolutionary movement that could create a rational, ecological society, but at the end of his life he knew he had failed. A lifetime of boundless energy, charismatic orations, patient exposition of ideas, several teaching positions including a full professorship, indefatigable lecture tours, endless writing—none of it bore results that even began to fulfill his vision. His consolation, in his last years, was the integrity, coherence, and (my word) beauty of the ideas and histories in a couple of shelves worth of books. He was proud of them, rightly. As the era in which he wrote them recedes in time, I do him the courtesy and pay him the respect of leaving that creation intact. Knowing that people regard me still as a social ecologist, I prefer to step outside that body of ideas altogether, rather than confuse matters by dragging the label through my subsequent political peregrinations. I ask and expect no social ecologists to make the choice I have made.
Least of all do I participate any more in intramural discussions and debates among antistatists. So: from my perch outside the boundaries of you discussion, I wish social ecologists of the ISE well in your rethinking.
April 14, 2011