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Murray Bookchin

Deep Ecology, Anarchosyndicalism, and the Future of Anarchist Thought

Social Ecology, Anarchism and Trades Unionism

By Graham Purchase. Featured in Deep Ecology & Anarchism - A Polemic, Freedom Press, 1993

This essay is a revision of three book reviews published in Rebel Worker between 1989 and 1991.

Earth First! The Underbelly Exposed

By Chris Shillock - Libertarian Labor Review (Anarcho Syndicalist Review) #6, Winter 1989

Several years ago the activist community was fired by news of a group of militant ecologists who called themselves Earth First!. Anarchists particularly felt a kinship. Earth First!’s uncompromising defense of the environment and their rejection of government stewardship of the wilderness echoed our own experience of the futility of working within the system. Their use of direct action was taken from our own history. Their full-blooded all-out enthusiasm for nature promised a robust, holistic radicalism.

Lately, as people learned more about the group, some truly disturbing facets of Earth First!’s ideology have come to light. By now it is clear that not only is Earth First! hostile to any meaningful social analysis, but it is freighted with so much nationalist and racist baggage as to make them obnoxious to any worker.

Earth First!’s philosophy, also known as Deep Ecology, is set out in a book of that name by Bill Devall and George Sessions (Peregrine Smith, Salt Lake City, 1985). It borrows from Zen Buddhism, Native American religions and from Heidegger, but is based on an immediate intuition of the “wilderness experience.” They urge us to go into the woods, to just feel. The result will be that feeling of the oneness of all creation which we have probably all known when we find ourselves alone under the stars.

Deep Ecologists go on to reason that “The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman Life on Earth have value in themselves…These values are independent of the usefulness of the non-human world for human purposes.” Deep Ecologists condemn other social and scientific views as “anthropocentric” in contrast to their “biocentric” outlook. This epithet is hurled throughout the pages of their journal, Earth First!, to clinch a point or to dismiss opponents.

So far, okay, aside from a few quibbles in logic. Earth First! has the potential to be a noble and passionate worldview. Instead their concept of “biocentric egalitarianism” turns the corner into a Malthusian blind alley shadowed with dark visions of a vengeful Earth lashing back at the species that uses her. Malthusianism has always been a pseudoscience serving the need of right wing ideology. In the Nineteenth Century, Social Darwinists used Malthus’ simplistic predictions of a dwindling food supply to justify doing nothing to alleviate the misery of the poor. Variations of this philosophy have been used in the Twentieth Century to buttress everything from eugenics to Third World starvation.

The Ecology of Freedom (Murray Bookchin)

From Murray Bookchin's introduction:

This book was written to satisfy the need for a consistently radical social ecology: an ecology of freedom. It had been maturing in my mind since 1952 when I first became acutely conscious of the growing environmental crisis that was to assume such monumental proportions a generation later. In that year, I published a volume-sized article, "The Problems of Chemicals in Food" (later be republished in book form in Germany as Lebensgefiihrliche Lebensmittel). Owing to my early Marxian intellectual training, the article examined not merely environmental pollution but also its deep-seated social origins. Environmental issues had developed in my mind as social issues, and problems of natural ecology had become problems of "social ecology"--an expression hardly in use at the time.

The subject was never to leave me. In fact, its dimensions were to widen and deepen immensely. By the early sixties, my views could be summarized in a fairly crisp formulation: the very notion of the domination of nature by man stems from the very real domination of human by human. For me, this was a far-reaching reversal of concepts. The many articles and books I published in the years after 1952, beginning with Our Synthetic Environment (1963) and continuing with Toward an Ecological Society (1980), were largely explorations of this fundamental theme. As one premise led to another, it became clear that a highly coherent project was forming in my work: the need to explain the emergence of social hierarchy and domination and to elucidate the means, sensibility, and practice that could yield a truly harmonious ecological society. My book Post-Scarcity Anarchism (1971) pioneered this vision. Composed of essays dating from 1964, it addressed itself more to hierarchy than class, to domination rather than exploitation, to liberatory institutions rather than the mere abolition of the State, to freedom rather than justice, and pleasure rather than happiness. For me, these changing emphases were not mere countercultural rhetoric; they marked a sweeping departure from my earlier commitment to socialist orthodoxies of all forms. I visualized instead a new form of libertarian social ecology-or what Victor Ferkiss, in discussing my social views, so appropriately called "eco-anarchism."

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Radical Agriculture

By Murray Bookchin - Anarchist Library, 1972

Agriculture is a form of culture. The cultivation of food is a social and cultural phenomenon unique to humanity. Among animals, anything that could remotely be described as food cultivation appear ephemerally, if at all; and even among humans, agriculture developed little more than ten thousand years ago. Yet, in an epoch when food cultivation is reduced to a mere industrial technique, it becomes especially important to dwell on the cultural implications of "modern" agriculture—to indicate their impact not only on public health, but also on humanity's relationship to nature and the relationship of human to human.

The contrast between early and modern agricultural practices is dramatic. Indeed, it would be very difficult to understand the one through the vision of the other, to recognize that they are united by any kind of cultural continuity. Nor can we ascribe this contrast merely to differences in technology. Our agricultural epoch—a distinctly capitalistic one—envisions food cultivation as a business enterprise to be operated strictly for the purpose of generating profit in a market economy. From this standpoint, land is an alienable commodity called "real estate," soil a "natural resource," and food an exchange value that is bought and sold impersonally through a medium called "money." Agriculture, in effect, differs no more from any branch of industry than does steelmaking or automobile production. In fact, to the degree that food cultivation is affected by nonindustrial factors such as climatic and seasonal changes, it lacks the exactness that marks a truly "rational" and scientifically managed operation. And, lest these natural factors elude bourgeois manipulation, they too are the objects of speculation in future markets and between middlemen in the circuit from farm to retail outlet.

In this impersonal domain of food production, it is not surprising to find that a "farmer" often turns out to be an airplane pilot who dusts crops with pesticides, a chemist who treats soil as a lifeless repository for inorganic compounds, an operator of immense agricultural machines who is more familiar with engines than botany, and perhaps most decisively, a financier whose knowledge of land may be less than that of an urban cab driver. Food, in turn, reaches the consumer in containers and in forms so highly modified and denatured as to bear scant resemblance to the original. In the modern, glistening supermarket, the buyer walks dreamily through a spectacle of packaged materials in which the pictures of plants, meat, and dairy foods replace the life forms from which they are derived. The fetish assumes the form of the real phenomenon. Here, the individual's relationship to one of the most intimate of natural experiences—the nutriments indispensable to life—is divorced from its roots in the totality of nature. Vegetables, fruit, cereals, dairy foods and meat lose their identity as organic realities and often acquire the name of the corporate enterprise that produces them. The "Big Mac" and the "Swift Sausage" no longer convey even the faintest notion that a living creature was painfully butchered to provide the consumer with that food.

This denatured outlook stands sharply at odds with an earlier animistic sensibility that viewed land as an inalienable, almost sacred domain, food cultivation as a spiritual activity, and food consumption as a hallowed social ritual.

Read the report (PDF).

Post Scarcity Anarchism (Murray Bookchin)

By Murray Bookchin - Ramparts Press, 1971

This book is a collection of essays by Murray Bookchin, first published in 1971 by Ramparts Press. Bookchin outlines the possible form anarchism might take under conditions of post-scarcity. It is one of Bookchin's major works, and its radical thesis provoked controversy for being utopian in its faith in the liberatory potential of technology.

Bookchin's "post-scarcity anarchism" is an economic system based on social ecology, libertarian municipalism, and an abundance of fundamental resources. Bookchin argues that post-industrial societies are also post-scarcity societies, and can thus imagine "the fulfillment of the social and cultural potentialities latent in a technology of abundance". The self-administration of society is now made possible by technological advancement and, when technology is used in an ecologically sensitive manner, the revolutionary potential of society will be much changed.

Bookchin claims that the expanded production made possible by the technological advances of the twentieth century were in the pursuit of market profit and at the expense of the needs of humans and of ecological sustainability. The accumulation of capital can no longer be considered a prerequisite for liberation, and the notion that obstructions such as the state, social hierarchy, and vanguard political parties are necessary in the struggle for freedom of the working classes can be dispelled as a myth.

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Our Synthetic Environment

By Murray Bookchin - 1962

In his very first published book, Murray Bookchin, writing under the pseudonym "Lewis Herber", warns of the dangers of pesticide use, and espouses an ecological and environmentalist worldview.

Our Synthetic Environment was one of the first books of the modern period in which an author espoused an ecological and environmentalist worldview. It predates Silent Spring (1962) by Rachel Carson, a more widely known book on the same topic widely credited as starting the environmental movement.

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