[Note: The following are a series of personal testimonials sent to the ISE in August 2006 marking the passing of Murray Bookchin. Contributors include Howard Zinn, Patrick Leahy, Mark Roseland, Gabriel Kolko, Peter Berg, and many others.]
From Green Cities pioneer Mark Roseland, Director, Centre for Sustainable Community Development Simon Fraser University Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada :
Murray Bookchin had a profound influence on my life’s work, in the area I now call sustainable community development. He also had an enormous influence on me personally at a tender time in my own development. In 1977 I was in university, and my left-leaning professor had ordered Post-Scarcity Anarchism but we didn’t get to it in the course. I was standing in the very long returns lineup at the bookstore when I read “Ecology and Revolutionary Thought” and “Toward a Liberatory Technology.” By the time I got to the cash register my life had changed, and I kept the book.
Soon afterwards I organized a conference on social ecology at Wesleyan and invited Murray sight unseen as keynote speaker. The conference was organized around a full Saturday of workshops, concluding with Murray’s speech and then a concert. By mid- afternoon Murray had engaged in verbal sectarian battles in every workshop he walked into. As a 20 year old who didn’t really know better, I pulled him aside and yelled at him that I had invited him to talk about unity in diversity, not to be divisive and sectarian. Perhaps it was my youthful innocence, but he immediately mellowed, and was remarkably well-behaved for the rest of the day and the evening. He later told me that no one but Bea had ever criticized him quite like that.
Murray invited me as his guest to the Social Ecology Institute that summer, where I was introduced to the likes of John Todd from the New Alchemists and David Morris from the Institute for Local Self- Reliance and many others whose work I have long since admired. I returned for part of the following summer as well, and helped edit parts of what was to become The Ecology of Freedom.
Murray was disappointed when I left New England to take a position in Portland, Oregon as an editor of RAIN Magazine, an appropriate technology journal. I talked Murray into writing an updated “Open Letter to the Ecology Movement” for the April 1980 Earth Day issue of RAIN. It became one of the most popular pieces RAIN ever published, and was reprinted widely elsewhere.
I haven’t seen Murray or been in touch with him for the last 25 years. It’s too late now to tell him how much I appreciated having had him in my life, but his influence is still with me, and continues with those whom I now mentor. We will miss him, but we can take some solace in knowing that his spirit is alive and well.
From historian Gabriel Kolko in the Netherlands:
IN A WORLD FULL OF EVIL PEOPLE AND EVIL ACTIONS, WE CAN, ALAS, POINT TO VERY FEW WHO DEVOTE THEIR LIVES TO THE FIGHT FOR A BETTER WORLD, FOR SANITY AND JUSTICE, AND OPPOSE THE DOMINANT CURRENTS OF WAR AND IRRATIONALITY. MURRAY BOOKCHIN WAS OF THAT ALL- TOO-RARE BREED.
HE CARRIED ON HIS STRUGGLE WITH PASSION BUT ALSO WITH INTELLIGENCE, WHICH REQUIRED THOUGHT AND CHANGE. WHAT WAS CONSTANT IN MURRAY BOOKCHIN’S LIFE WAS THE DEVOTION TO PEOPLE, WHICH HAVE BEEN BETRAYED BY NOMINALLY GOOD AS WELL AS EVIL CAUSES. HE SOUGHT TO ATTAIN A SYNTHESIS OF IDEAS BUT ALSO TO REFLECT ON THOSE THAT EXISTED WITH CRITICAL INTELLIGENCE.
HIS WAS A GREAT HUMAN ACHIEVEMENT. THE CHALLENGE IS TO FOLLOW IN HIS FOOTSTEPS, WITH THE SAME COMMITMENT AND DEDICATION TO REASON AND INTELLIGENCE. THIS WAS MURRAY BOOKCHIN’S LEGACY.
From historian Howard Zinn in Boston:
Murray Bookchin was that rare person — a creative and independent thinker, rejecting dogma, devoting his life as an intellectual, a writer, an activist, to the cause of freedom and justice.
Comments Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) On The Passing Of Murray Bookchin Date Issued: Aug. 1, 2006:
“Murray was an intriguing and endearing blend of New York intellectualism and New England libertarianism.
“He was always to be found on the cutting edge — in the dynamism of his ideas, the power of his reason and the infectiousness of his enthusiasm. And I would add to that: in the sparkle of his friendship.
“He had a fundamental optimism about the ability of people to adapt and change to make the world better. That was his driving purpose. To him small was beautiful, except for the boldness of his vision. He helped us see our role in the natural world. His ideas helped forge the environmental movement, including our attention today to man’s role in climate change. He also was confident enough about his ideas to constantly refine them and to put theory into action.
“To Murray’s great credit, and our great benefit, he did more than his part to make the world better.”
From David Block, EA, TaxMaster Financial Services Corporation in New York:
[In Murray’s weekly study group in Burlington], you may recall, we learned Greek, studied Collingwood’s “The Idea of Nature,” and learned Murray’s take on Plato and Aristotle. For 15 years, until I returned to New York, I studied Social Ecology in Murray’s living room. He would read to us from his works in progress, expounding upon them. And I did his tax returns. I could not get that kind of education anywhere else. Unlike many theorists, who stake out a position and defend it vigorously for the rest of their lives, his ideas never reified. As you know, Murray’s thoughts constantly evolved and expanded until he died.
… I recognized his genius the moment I first read “Post-Scarcity Anarchism” in the fall of 1978, in Mark Roseland’s “Social Ecology” class at Wesleyan. As a friend of mine put it, when you find genius, you stick to it like glue to learn as much as you can and hope as much of it can stick as possible. He was a genius who, paradoxically, was both far ahead of his time and yet far outlived his own time as well. I will miss him.
From Nelson Alvarez in Puerto Rico:
Please transmit to the social ecology community my sense of loss at the death of Bookchin, whose thinking and vision will surely nourish generations to come.
From Arthur Mitzman in Amsterdam, (emeritus professor of history, University of Amsterdam):
As a friend and political companion of Murray in the Contemporary Issues group between 1951 and 1956, I wanted to express my regrets and condolence to his family and friends in Vermont. Murray’s subsequent importance in defining social ecology for two generations of concerned citizens of the world cannot be overestimated, but his articulate, reasoned passion was essential to my own political education a half century ago.
From Aron Kay (aRoN pIeMaN kAy) in New York:
I am sending this as a condolence communiqué regarding the passing of Murray Bookchin….I recall learning about Murray Bookchin back in the 70’s…..during the days of yippies and anarchist conferences at hunter college…. anyway, Murray still lives in our hearts
From Kai Malloy in Colorado, ISE Graduate – Summer 1999:
I just received the latest ISE newsletter and the news about Murray’s death on July 30th. My condolences go out to everyone, especially those closest to him. He will be missed by all I am sure, but hopefully his fighting spirit will continue to inspire us as we struggle for a better world in the era of Bush and right-wing conservatism.
My best to all.
From Marta Gregorcic, Matej and activists in Slovenia in Slovenia:
We received [news of your] painful loss. All Slovenian anti-authoritarian movements which were inspired by social ecology are mourning for [this] incredible struggler! Murray Bookchin will live with our struggle beyond neoliberalism!
From Trish Malone in Hawaii:
I am very sad to hear of the passing of Murray Bookchin. His writting showed me how to think outside of the current norms and stand for one’s beliefs.
From the Any Time Now collective in British Columbia (Kevin Carson, Larry Gambone, Peter Good, Keith “kppgarv,” Richard Martin, Pat Murtagh, Werner Scott):
We, [the following members] of the anytimenowdiscussion group, affiliated with the magazine ‘Any Time Now: A Newsletter of Social Anarchism’ wish to convey our sincere feelings of sympathy to the friends, comrades and family of Murray Bookchin on the occasion of his passing. Murray Bookchin contributed so much of great value to the world anarchist movement, and he will be remembered with great respect and affection.
From the Social Ecology Group in Turkey:
We, as Social Ecology Group in Turkey (Toplumsal Ekoloji Grubu) have learned vastly from Bookchin. Most of us felt lost in the Left politics until we discovered his book “Ecology of Freedom” (translated into Turkish in 1994). It has been an exciting and fulfilling experience to discover his holistic thoughts to create a non-hierarchical society. Also it was a reenergizing force those of us who had to confront violently polarized political atmosphere in Turkey.
We established discussion groups in Istanbul and Ankara. Influenced by his book “Remaking Society”, we organized community actions about certain local problems.
In the year 2000, two of us participated in summer school at the Institute for Social Ecology. On that occasion, we had the fortune and honor of meeting Bookchin, in Burlington. Along with Bookchin’s article about communalism, an inspiring account of their meeting with Bookchin appeared in the first issue of our “Toplumsal Ekoloji” magazine.
Bookchin’s ideas, insights and his motivating activist experiences will lead us to establish an ecological libertarian society in Turkey and the world. We will always remember him through our endeavour to achieve this goal.
From Peter Berg in San Francisco:
Some Encounters with Murray Bookchin
Before offering any recollections about Murray it is necessary to make the disclaimer that if he was here he would quite possibly refute them.
And that he might even dispute that statement!
That said I can relax and share some remembrances that might otherwise go unrecorded from the contentious albeit intellectually respectful course of my interaction with Murray since meeting him in the early Sixties on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where I was living at the time. It was a gathering of radical activists of various stripes to discuss participating in the first New York City public demonstration against the Vietnam War, a march from Washington Square in Greenwich Village to UN headquarters. Alan Hoffman, editor of the outspokenly anarchist magazine Good Soup, introduced us. Also there as I recall was Ben Morea with some of his fellow Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers and artist Aldo Tambolini who performed the Dance of the Screw in front of art museums around the city to protest the commodification of paintings.
Dissenters in that period coming out of the repressive Fifties tended to be overly self- conscious and almost monomaniacally declarative about their positions. Murray was a distinct exception. He was confident and almost avuncular about his background and the tradition of anarchist philosophy. The Spanish Civil War of almost thirty years before seemed to have just happened when he spoke about it. He assured us that we were in good historical company, and was optimistic about support from anti- establishment groups in Europe. Unusual for a leftist at that time was his belief that issues of the environment offered a new basis for unity. But his agreeableness ended with the Marxist organizers of the demonstration and their centralized decision- making. I didn’t recognize him in the march that eventually materialized but came away from the meeting inspired to begin reading about the origins and practice of contemporary anarchism.
By the late Sixties I had helped form the San Francisco Diggers, perhaps the best model of creative anarchist social alternatives as could then be found. it was clear that the Vietnam War was waning so we staged an “End of the War” event in a Haight-Ashbury theater announced by a poster showing Lyndon Johnson with his arms around Ho Chi Minh. It was a celebration of Diggerly things that could possibly take place in a liberatory peacetime society: free food and rock music, nude dancing, climbing cargo nets on the walls, processions with palm fronds, film loops of seeds germinating and volcanoes erupting, and satirical presentations by faux political candidates.
A number of New York based groups showed up including some remnants of the Up Against the Wall Mortherfuckers who set up a card table with free pistol and rifle ammunition, and the entire cast of the Living Theater`s “Paradise Now” show who simply sat in the balcony wearing G-strings and stared wide-eyed at the proceedings. Murray suddenly appeared in an Army surplus jacket, boots, and carrying a gas mask! I asked him what he thought was going to happen and he nervously stated the conviction that police were about to descend on us. Not likely in San Francisco I assured him and pointed out participants who were embracing or dancing ecstatically. The contrast between his furtive wariness and the expansive Digger attitude was glaring and I tried to persuade him to join in. He left immediately and afterwards I realized that some East Coast militants seriously expected a civil war to break out when the war ended.
When I was invited to help edit the “Bioregions” issue of Coevolution Quarterly in the late Seventies one of the first materials I sought out was Murray’s “Ecology of Freedom”. Knowing that he accepted some of the general premises of bioregionalism as espoused by Planet Drum Foundation, I requested permission to edit the long first chapter of the book to expose readers to advanced anarchist-based ecology ideas. I fully expected an argument and long set of conditions but surprisingly he responded, “There isn’t anyone who I would trust with this more than you. Do whatever you like.” I took special pains to carefully preserve his train of thought wondering whether there was ever another instance when Murray allowed his text to be altered. The resulting article was invaluable to help set the autonomous and self-governing tone of bioregional discourse.
Bookchin’s subsequent campaign during the Eighties and Nineties against Earth First!, deep ecology, and spiritually oriented ecology proponents was a puzzling retreat from the openness in “Ecology of Freedom”. It was especially unfortunate because of the general slowing down of public support that was occurring at that time, and Murray seemed to be a singularly divisive force for dissent within the environmental movement. When Gary Snyder asked me why Bookchin chose to attack with inflammatory language including “misanthrope” and “eco- fascist” I explained that his argumentative style stemmed from early exposure to Communist ideology, and that it had the flavor of “Stalinist thugs”. Snyder repeated that phrase later in a newspaper interview. When I last saw Murray in the cafeteria of Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont a few years ago he plaintively wondered why such a hurtful term had been used to describe him. There were the two Murrays in the same moment. He was an honestly compassionate champion of a more human and liberated society, yet seemed to be unconscious of the overbearing and dismissive statements that tinged his philosophical positions.
In the Enlightenment Era social and political thinkers pondered what kind of society might exist without monarchial government, and anarchism was considered as legitimate as other viable alternatives. It persisted as an ideal ever since although squeezed into an increasingly narrow area of acceptance by state socialism and bourgeois democracy which fight to diminish and ridicule it. But in our time when globalism and planet-wide environmental destruction threaten the whole human species, the broad vision of a sustainable society with a foundation in mutualism that underlies Murray Bookchin’s thinking is once again a guidepost for a positive direction.
From Ben Grosscup in Amherst, MA:
The ideas that Murray Bookchin developed under the name of social ecology are fundamentally important to me in framing the terms upon which I have become able to hope for a rational society. Growing up in a left and environmental political scene where reformism, lifestyle politics, various forms of authoritarianism, and romantic concepts of nature would often prevail, social ecology has been for me a hopeful corrective with which I have changed my outlook on life and politics. Social Ecology has offered a revolutionary vision beyond social hierarchy in all its forms and an incisive critique of society that gets to the root of hierarchy as such.
Through books and lectures, I knew Murray as revolutionary and as a brilliant intellectual. Social ecology has given me a political and theoretical framework to approach the everyday political problems that I encounter in everyday life and work, and it has given me the tools to be able to think beyond the immediate reality. Social ecology gives me hope in these troubled times, because I truly believe that it is possible to build the kinds of political movements that are needed to bring about a substantially more rational and directly democratic society that Bookchin fought for.
I first studied social ecology at the ISE when I came there in 2001. I have been returning to the ISE every summer since then. My main reason for coming back each year was the opportunity to develop my thinking among other social ecologists. Throughout those years I took every available opportunity to come to Murray’s apartment with groups of students to hear him speak. While at the ISE, I also viewed videos of Murray’s talks from before I ever came to ISE.
Although I only knew Murray through books and lectures, I have known many people who knew him more closely. The mentorship that Murray shared with so many people in his life has touched me, although largely indirectly. Likewise, Murray’s commitment to scholarship in the service of radical social change and the commitment of my mentors who learned directly from him has inspired me to touch the lives of others. Murray’s legacy as a visionary, an educator, and a revolutionary lives on through the activity of political organizing, study groups, and intellectual life that I and so many others have made part of our lives.
For me, the political education I gained from these treasured moments with Murray and with the people whom he mentored is not a quaint memory of ungrounded, bleary-eyed, revolutionary exuberance, nor shall it ever become so. Rather, these lessons continue to challenge me every day of my life to strive towards political and ethical thinking and action to harmonize the the multitudinous fissures within humanity and the split of humanity and nature. Indeed, Murray’s life stands as a tremendous challenge to all of us who dream of a rational and ecological society to find effective and principled ways of fighting for it, that is, to engage in the revolutionary project. Murray also challenged us not to consider political victory as the only validation of our efforts. More importantly a life of political struggle and intellectual reflection is purposeful because it is a good way to live.
From ISE alum, Israel Zuckerman:
Please accept my condolences on this sad occasion. I’m sure that you are hearing from past students from all over the world who wish to pay their respect to Murray. While I cannot afford to be at the memorial tomorrow in person, be sure that I am with you in spirit. I have explored the blogosphere in the weks since I heard, and am comforted somewhat by the outpouring of (mostly) affectionate memories that others have shared. Let my include mine.
On my last visit to the Institute, in 1991, I had my opportunity for a sit-down chat with Murray. Others were quizzing him about his theoretical developments, the state of the environmental movement, the possibilities of a more libertarian future. When my turn came up, I found myself struck by grief, having lost my father the previous summer. He and Murray were of a kind and a generation, my father a few years older. New York Jews, radicals in their youth, activists in the labor movement, WWII veterans, both brilliant, and both role models for me. We talked about the smaller, homey things of a generation that was dwindling, and the changes and great events they had seen and participated in. I told Murray my father’s stories of protests in Tompkins Square Park, where factory workers filled their pockets with ball bearings stolen from the factories, to spill upon the streets and sidewalks to unbalance the horses of the “Cossacks,” as the called the mounted police who would bust up the demonstrations. He was sympathetic, appreciative, perhaps welcoming the chance to reminisce rather than hammer out theory and ideology.
Others will no doubt talk about Murray’s brilliance, his deep understandings of so many subjects and fields, his fire and his passionate commitment to the cause of human freedom. I treasured those qualities about him as well, but also want him remembered for his acts of human kindness, such as sparing a chunk of a beautiful Vermont summer afternoon to comfort a grieving student the best way he could have, by listening, sharing, and commiserating. We have all lost not just a teacher, but a friend.
From Stavros Karageorgakis in Greece:
My condolences. I hope that Murray’s ideas will continue to inspire revolutionaries to build a rational society
From Sarah Ross and Thomas Forster in Olga, Washington:
We are saddened by the news of Murray’s passing and wish to honor him with a gathering of alumni and friends to share how he inspired us.
Our idea is to host a weekend (two day) event on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands to share how he provoked our critical analysis and engaging debate…
With the help of ISE we would like to invite alumni and friends.
We taught organic and sustainable agriculture classes at ISE in the early 1990s. Since then we have lived and farmed on Orcas Island. We also teach in the local school and farm community, and work on farm and food policy at the national and international levels.