anarchy after leftism
(1997) by bob black.. via anarchist library [https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/bob-black-anarchy-after-leftism]
preface – by jason mcquinn
Bookchin has never been content with merely constructing one more radical ideology in competition with all the others. His dream has always been to lead a coherent left-wing ecological radical grouping into a serious contest with the powers that be. However, his attempts at constructing such a grouping (from the Anarchos journal group in the New York of the sixties to the recent Left Green Network within the Greens milieu) have never met with much success.
In his latest book, Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism, Bookchin aims to pin the blame for his lifetime of frustration (despite his decades of valiant effort!) on an evil anti-socialist conspiracy which has subverted his dreams at every turn: the dreaded specter of “Lifestyle Anarchism.” For Bookchin, lifestyle anarchism is a contemporary manifestation of the individualist anarchist currents which have always bedeviled the world anarchist movement proper. The fact that the anarchist “movement” itself has always been more of a polymorphous insurrectionary milieu encompassing everything from anarcho-syndicalists, anarcho-communists and anarcho-futurists to anarchist feminists, anarchist primitivists and anarcho-situationists doesn’t really matter to him. The important thing is that he has finally been able to name the anti-organizational cabal which opposes him and to explain the esoteric links between its often seemingly unrelated or even mutually contradictory efforts!
Enter Bob Black.
Now a lot of people don’t like Bob Black. Many anarchists would be alarmed if he moved in next door. Anyone with good sense would probably be upset if he started dating her younger sister. Most everyone is loathe to provoke his anger or face it head on.
And not without reason. Bob may be a brilliant critic and hilarious wit, but he’s not a nice guy. His infamous reputation isn’t built on fair play or good sportsmanship.
Maybe this is why Murray Bookchin’s latest rant, Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm, never criticizes Bob Black directly. In fact it never so much as mentions Bob’s name. Even though it’s obvious from the book’s contents that by all rights Bob should have received the same type of attempted (though ultimately feeble) thrashing Bookchin reserved for George Bradford, John Zerzan, Hakim Bey, et al.
Bob’s defense of anarchy in Anarchy after Leftism isn’t meant to express solidarity with those targeted in the latest attacks framed by Bookchin’s pidgin dialectics. Nor is Bob really interested in rescuing anarchist ideology from itself. He just wants to set the record straight by clearing away worse than useless polemics. Defending the potential for anarchy is merely an unpleasant task of menial anti-ideological labor that Bob has performed because no one else volunteered to wash these particular dirty dishes, while he wants to get on with cooking another meal.
Cleaning house of leftism is a much bigger task than dealing with one man’s leftist career. ..The result is a modest feast made up of consistently entertaining prose, an immanent critique of a would-be eminent social critic, and one more nail in the coffin of obsolete leftism, anarchist-style.
This small book is nothing more than a critique of another small book, Murray Bookchin’s Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm. His consists of the title essay plus “The Left That Was: A Personal Reflection.” Published in 1995, it was an unexpected intervention in an intramural debate which had been going on for at least twenty years between traditionalistic anarchists — leftist, workerist, organizational, and moralist — and an ever more diverse (and an ever more numerous) contingent of anarchists who have in one way or another departed from orthodoxy, at least in Bookchin’s eyes.
Bookchin caught a lot of us heterodox anarchists by surprise. Most of us have read some of Bookchin’s books and many of us, myself included, have learned from them, especially the earlier books from the 1970s. Bookchin’s subsequent and ever-intensifying preoccupation with municipal politics we were mostly inclined to ignore as an idiosyncrasy. He seemed to take no notice of what we were up to. He was absent from publications like the Fifth Estate, Popular Reality, Front Line, The Match!, and Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed. It was as if he took the anarchists for granted. They didn’t know that Bookchin thought they were sinking swiftly into ideological and moral decay.
They do now. Bookchin views-with-alarm almost every new tendency in anarchism except his own specialty, ecology. What’s more, the nefarious novelties exhibit malign thematic affinities. Not only are they pernicious, they are pernicious in essentially the same way. They represent a recrudescence of an old heresy, “individualism,” decked out in trendy post-modernist fashions in a configuration Bookchin calls “lifestyle anarchism.” Much worse than a falling-away from some aspects of classical left-wing anarchism, lifestyle anarchism is (he insists) fundamentally opposed to the defining tenets of anarchism. (How this could have happened on his watch he does not explain.)
endnote: ‘I request the forbearance of readers who think that in explaining the almost-obvious I am talking down to them. I expect that nearly all of my readers are either familiar with this citation system or else would have no difficulty figuring it out. I chose to use it to supply at least the rudiments of references simultaneously with what I make of them. I choose to explain the system here from an excess of caution.. I expect the Bookchinist counterattack to rely heavily on confusionist quibbling about details, including bibliographic details. Some anarchists are unduly impressed by the trappings of scholarship, unaware that, if carefully scrutinized, they are sometimes only claptrappings. Some are even susceptible to typeset text as such, as if typesetting were some sort of guarantee that the text is presumptively important and/or true.. To a considerable extent, Bookchin’s seeming scholarship is shallow or sham, and that’s especially true of Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism. To demonstrate that, as this essay does, my scholarship will have to be much better and much more honest. Careful referencing, and a clear understanding of my method of referencing, is crucial to that demonstration. For you, gentle reader, the worst is now behind you. Let the games begin!’
For Bookchin, then, lifestyle anarchists are not just errant comrades, they are traitors. As such they are even worse than avowed opponents of anarchism. He mistreats them accordingly. His jeremiad is downright nasty. There aren’t many epithets he doesn’t work in somewhere or another, and never mind if they sometimes contradict each other (for instance, “individualism” and “fascism” applied to the same people). They don’t have to be true to be effective. Bookchin started out as a Stalinist, and it sure shows in the abusive style and unscrupulous content of his polemic. He wants no dialogue with his self-appointed enemies, only their irreparable discredit.
I get the distinct impression that Bookchin, an elderly man said to be in ill health, is cashing in his chips as a prominent anarchist theorist and staking all his influence and reputation on demolishing all possible alternatives to his own creed, what he calls “social anarchism.” A parting shot.
He missed the target. He had to miss the target, since there is none. There’s no such thing as “lifestyle anarchism.” There are only a lot of anarchists exploring a lot of ideas — a lot of different ideas — that Bookchin disapproves of. It follows that this book is not a defense of “lifestyle anarchism.” There’s no such unicorn, so I couldn’t defend it even if I wanted to. The very phrase is Bookchin’s invention, much as Stalin invented a nonsense category, the “bloc of Rights and Trotskyists,” to collect all his political enemies for their more convenient disposal. At the time, Bookchin believed this, and everything else, the Party told him to believe. He hasn’t changed much; or, if he did, he’s changed back.
If I were only taking Bookchin to task for his incivility, I’d be a hypocrite, for I’ve penned plenty of blunt critiques of various anarchists and anti-authoritarians. A Dutch anarchist, Siebe Thissen, has described me — not as a criticism — as the severest critic of contemporary anarchism (1996: 60). Maybe I am, although criticism of anarchists takes up only a fraction of the content of my previous three books. But I’ve often been tough on anarchists I considered authoritarian, dishonest or stupid.
Often harsh but, I like to think, rarely unfair. Some people, especially those I’ve criticized, mistake my being articulate for my being rude, or mistake my noticing them for being obsessed with them. Be that as it may, for me to set myself up as the Miss Manners of anarchism would not be appropriate. I do think Murray Bookchin needs a lesson in manners, and I’m going to give him one, but incivility is the least of what’s wrong with his dyspeptic diatribe. It’s what he says, far more than how he says it, that I mean to have done with.
I am not, except incidentally, defending those whom Bookchin targets as “lifestyle anarchists.” (For the record, I’m not one of his identified targets.) I am debunking the very category of lifestyle anarchism as a construct as meaningless as it is malicious. And I am coming down with crushing force on “an ugly, stupid style and substance of doctrinal harangue” (Black 1992: 189), the worst survival of Bookchin’s original Marxism. I’ve done it before and, frankly, I rather resent having to do it again. Bookchin has made the cardinal author’s mistake of falling for his own jacket blurbs. Otherwise he could never write such a wretched screed and hope to get away with it. His previous contributions to anarchism, even if they were as epochal as he likes to think, are no excuse for this kind of gutter-gabble. His swan-song sounds nothing but sour notes. And sour grapes.
Which is why I think there’s a place for my polemic. If even the great Bookchin can’t get away with talking trash, maybe less eminent anarchists will be less tempted to talk trash. If even the quasi-academic Bookchin’s quasi-scholarship doesn’t hold up under even modest scrutiny, maybe some unduly impressionable anarchists will learn to question the authority of footnotes and jacket blurbs. Better scholars than Bookchin live in dread of somebody someday looking up their footnotes. I’ll be getting around to several of them, too. But, worst things first.
1 – bookchin – grumpy old man
Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism may well be the worst book about anarchists that any of them has ever written.
According to the cover blurb, Murray Bookchin, born in 1921, has been “a lifelong radical since the early 1930s.” “Radical” is here a euphemism for “Stalinist”; Bookchin was originally “a militant in the Young Pioneers and the Young Communist League” (Clark 1990:102; cf. Bookchin 1977:3). Later he became a Trotskyist. At one time Bookchin himself, “as one who participated actively in the ‘radical’ movements of the thirties” (1970: 56), put the word “radical,” considering the context, in quotation marks, but now he is nostalgic about that milieu, what he calls the Left That Was (66–86).
About 25 years ago, Murray Bookchin peered into the mirror and mistook it for a window of opportunity. In 1963 he wrote, under a pseudonym, Our Synthetic Society (Herber 1963), which anticipated (although it seems not to have influenced) the environmentalist movement. In 1970, by which time he was pushing 50 and calling himself an anarchist, Bookchin wrote “Listen, Marxist!” — a moderately effective anti-authoritarian polemic against such Marxist myths as the revolutionary vanguard organization and the proletariat as revolutionary subject (Bookchin 1971:171–222). In this and in other essays collected in Post-Scarcity Anarchism (1971), Bookchin disdained to conceal his delight with the disarray of his Marxist comrades-turned-competitors. He thought he saw his chance. Under his tutelage, anarchism would finally displace Marxism, and Bookchin would place the stamp of his specialty, “social ecology,” on anarchism. Not only would he be betting on the winning horse, he would be the jockey. As one of his followers has written, “if your efforts at creating your own mass movement have been pathetic failures, find someone else’s movement and try to lead it” (Clark 1984: 108).
Bookchin thereupon set out to conquer the anarchists for the eco-radicals (the Greens), the Greens for the anarchists, and all for one — the great one — Murray Bookchin himself. He would supply the “muscularity of thought” (Bookchin 1987b: 3) that they lacked. By now he’s been “a prophetic voice in the ecology movement for more than thirty years,” if he does say so himself (Institute for Social Ecology 1996: 13) (Bookchin co-founded the ISE). He cranked out several well-padded, largely repetitious books. The Ecology of Freedom (1982; rev. ed. 1991) is the one he apparently regards as his magnum opus. At any rate, one of his jacket blurbs (Bookchin 1987a) quotes a revolutionary anarchist weekly, the Village Voice, to that effect (cf. Clark : 215).
The material base for these superstructural effusions was Bookchin’s providential appointment as a Dean at Goddard College near Burlington, Vermont, a cuddle-college for hippies and, more recently, punks, with wealthy parents (cf. Goddard College 1995). He also held an appointment at Ramapo College. Bookchin, who sneers at leftists who have embarked upon “alluring university careers” (67), is one of them.
Something went awry. Although Dean Bookchin was indeed widely read by North American anarchists — one of his acknowledged sycophants (Clark 1984: 11) calls him “the foremost contemporary anarchist theorist” (Clark 1990: 102; cf. Clark 1982: 59) — in fact, not many anarchists acknowledged him as their dean. They appreciated his ecological orientation, to be sure, but some drew their own, more far-reaching conclusions from it. The Dean came up against an unexpected obstacle. The master-plan called for anarchists to increase in numbers and to read his books, and those parts came off tolerably well. It was okay if they also read a few anarchist classics, Bakunin and Kropotkin for instance (8), vetted by the Dean, with the understanding that even the best of them afford “mere glimpses” of the forms of a free society (Bookchin 1971: 79) subsequently built upon, but transcended by, the Dean’s own epochal discovery, social ecology/social anarchism. Bookchin does not mind standing on the shoulders of giants — he rather enjoys the feel of them under his heel — so long as he stands tallest of all.
He must have had no doubt that he would. He seemed to have no competition intramurally. Paul Goodman, “the most widely known anarchist” (De Leon 1978:132), untimely died. Tweedy British and Canadian anarchist intellectuals like Herbert Read, Alex Comfort and George Woodcock shuffled off into the literary world. Aging class-struggle fundamentalists like Sam Dolgoff and Albert Meltzer could be counted on to just keep doing what they were doing, whatever that was, and with their usual success. “We all stand on the shoulders of others,” as the Dean generously allows (1982: Acknowledgements). Dean Bookchin could stand on the shoulders of midgets too. The footing was even surer there.
What the Dean did not expect was that anarchists would start reading outside his curriculum and, worse yet, occasionally think for themselves, something that — in all fairness — nobody could have anticipated. They read, for instance, about the ethnography of the only societies — certain of the so-called primitive societies — which have actually been operative anarchist societies on a long-term basis. They also read about plebeian movements, communities, and insurrections — Adamites, Ranters, Diggers, Luddites, Shaysites, Enrages, Carbonari, even pirates (to mention, to be brief, only Euro-American, and only a few Euro-American examples) — seemingly outside of the Marxist-Bookchinist progressive schema. They scoped out Dada and Surrealism. They read the Situationists and the pro-situs. And, yes, like earlier generations of anarchists, they were receptive to currents of cultural radicalism. Indeed, instead of listening to “decent music” (64 n. 37), they often preferred punk rock to Pete Seeger and Utah Philips (“the folk song,” he has explained, “constitutes the emotional, aesthetic, and spiritual expression of a people” [Bookchin 1996: 19]). And usually their hair was either too long or too short. Who sent them down this twisted path?
In some cases it was the “self-styled anarchist” (1, 2,9) — this is a favorite Bookchin slur — who wrote: ‘The graffiti on the walls of Paris — “Power to the Imagination,” “It is forbidden to forbid,” “Life without dead times” [sic], “Never work” — represent a more probing analysis of these sources [of revolutionary unrest in modern society] than all the theoretical tomes inherited from the past. The uprising revealed that we are at the end of an old era and well into the beginning of a new one. The motive forces of revolution today, at least in the industrialized world, are not simply scarcity and material need, but also the quality of everyday life, the demand for the liberation of experience, the attempt to gain control over one’s destiny [emphasis in the original]. This was not a solemn revolt, a coup d’etat bureaucratically plotted and manipulated by a “vanguard” party; it was witty, satirical, inventive and creative — and therein lay its strength, its capacity for immense self-mobilization, its infectiousness.‘
The lumpen-bohemian crazy who penned this paean to “neo-Situationist ‘ecstasy’” (26) is the prelapsarian Murray Bookchin (1971: 249–250, 251), These are all, in fact, situationist slogans. Some of us believed him then. Now he tells us we were wrong, although he never tells us he ever was. Why should we believe him now?
The Hard Right Republicans like Newt Gingrich along with the Neo-Conservative intellectuals (most of the latter, like the Dean, being high-income, elderly Jewish ex-Marxists from New York City who ended up as journalists and/or academics) blame the decline of Western civilization on the ‘60s. Bookchin can’t credibly do that, since it was in the ‘60s that he came out as an anarchist, and built up the beginnings of his reputation as a theorist. In his golden years, he has to tread very carefully on this dark and bloody ground: ‘For all its shortcomings, the anarchic counterculture during the early part of the hectic 1960s was often intensely political and cast expressions like desire and ecstasy in eminently social terms, often deriding the personalistic tendencies of the later Woodstock generation (9).‘
By definition “the early part of the hectic 1960s” is presumably the years 1960–1964. This is the first time I’ve heard tell of an “anarchic counterculture” during the Kennedy Administration. As manifested in — what? the Peace Corps? the Green Berets? And while there were personalistic tendencies in the early 1960s, no one then anticipated, and so no one derided, the specific “personalistic tendencies of the later Woodstock generation.” Not Bookchin, certainly, who concluded prematurely that “Marxian predictions that Youth Culture would fade into a comfortable accommodation with the system have proven to be false” (1970: 60).
What did the all-seeing Dean do to combat these nefarious trends in the 20-odd years they have been infecting anarchism? Nothing. He had better things to do than come to the rescue of the anarchist ideology he considers the last best hope of humankind. On the one hand, he was consolidating his alluring academic career; on the other, he was making a play for ideological hegemony over the Green movement. Were we all supposed to wait up for him?
If your fundamental critique of contemporary North American anarchists is that they have failed to assemble in a continental federation, surely you should have told them what is to be done, and how, a long time ago. The involvement of so distinguished a militant as Bookchin might energize an organization which might otherwise appear to be a sect of squabbling, droning dullards, perhaps because, in each and every instance, it is a sect of squabbling, droning dullards.
The only possible justification is that — to do justice to the Dean (and do I ever want to do exactly that!) — he laid down two requirements, not just one. A directive organization, yes — but with “a coherent program.” Such time as remained after the performance of his administrative and academic responsibilities (and the lecture circuit) the Dean has devoted to providing the coherent program. No doubt Bookchin can organize the masses (he must have had a lot of practice, and surely great success, in his Marxist-Leninist days). So can many other comrades — but no other comrade can concoct a coherent program the way Bookchin can. It is, therefore, only rational for a division of labor to prevail. Less talented comrades should do the organizational drudge-work, freeing up Dean Bookchin — after hours — to theorize. It’s an example of what capitalist economists call the Law of Comparative Advantage. All of that Kropotkinist-Bookchinist talk about rotation of tasks, about superseding the separation of hand-work and brain-work — time enough for that after the Revolution.
The Dean’s booklet thunders (in a querulous sort of a way) that “anarchism stands at a turning point in its long and turbulent history” (1). When didn’t it? In the time-honored sophist manner, the Dean offers an answer to a nonsense question of his own concoction. “At a time when popular distrust of the state has reached extraordinary proportions in many countries,” etc., etc., “the failure of anarchists — or, at least, many self-styled anarchists — to reach a potentially huge body of supporters” is due, not entirely of course, but “in no small measure to the changes that have occurred in many anarchists over the past two decades… [they] have slowly surrendered the social core of anarchist ideas to the all-pervasive Yuppie and New Age personalism that marks this decadent, bourgeoisified era” (1).
Now this is a curious claim. Anarchism is unpopular, not because it opposes popular ideological fashions, but because it embraces them? It’s unpopular because it’s popular? This isn’t the first time I’ve identified this obvious idiocy (Black & Gunderloy 1992).
Simple logic aside (where Dean Bookchin cast it), the Dean’s empirical assumptions are ridiculous. North American anarchism is not “in retreat” (59), it has grown dramatically in the last twenty years. The Dean might have even had a little to do with that. It is leftism which is in retreat. That this growth of anarchism has coincided with the eclipse of orthodox anarcho-leftism by more interesting varieties of anarchy doesn’t conclusively prove that the heterodox anarchies are the growth sector, but it sure looks that way. For instance, the North American anarchist publication with the highest circulation, Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed, is on Bookchin’s enemies list (39, 50).
As for the supposition that “Yuppie and New Age personalism” are “all-pervasive” in our “decadent, bourgeoisified era,” this says more about Dean Bookchin and the company he keeps than it does about contemporary society. If you are an upper middle class academic in an affluent leftist enclave like Burlington or Berkeley, you might well think so, but to generalize those impressions to the general society is unwarranted and narcissistic (“personalistic,” as it were). America (or Canada) is still much more like Main Street than Marin County. If the Dean really thinks the brat-pack collegians in his Burlington ashram are representative North American youth, he doesn’t get out enough.
Berating “Yuppies” for their self-indulgence, something Bookchin carries to the point of obsession (1 & passim), doesn’t defy media-managed popular opinion, it panders to it. As is typical of progressives, Bookchin is behind the times. Not only are the ‘60s over, as he has finally figured out, so are the ‘70s and the ‘80s. The Old Left that he nostalgically recalls, what he calls the Left That Was (66–86), extolled discipline, sacrifice, hard work, monogamy, technological progress, heterosexuality, moralism, a sober and orderly if not downright puritanical lifestyle, and the subordination of the personal (“selfishness”) to the interest of the cause and the group (be it the party, the union or the affinity group): ‘The puritanism and work ethic of the traditional left stem from one of the most powerful forces opposing revolution today — the capacity of the bourgeois environment to infiltrate the revolutionary framework. The origins of this power lie in the commodity nature of man under capitalism, a quality that is almost automatically translated to the organized group — and which the group, in turn, reinforces in its members.‘
This passage might have been written by Jacques Camatte, whose essay “On Organization” has exerted an anti-organizational influence on a lot of us “lifestyle anarchists” (Camatte 1995: 19–32). By now the reader will be on to my game (one of them, anyway): the above-quoted author is once again Bookchin the Younger (1971: 47; cf. Bookchin 1977: ch. 11). Again: ‘In its demands for tribalism, free sexuality, community, mutual aid, ecstatic experience, and a balanced ecology, the Youth Culture prefigures, however inchoately, a joyous communist and classless society, freed of the trammels of hierarchy and domination, a society that would transcend the historic splits between town and country, individual and society, and mind and body (Bookchin 1970: 59).’
Bookchin the Elder’s values, in contrast, are precisely those of the New Right and the neo-conservatives who have set the country’s current political and ideological agendas — not the New Age bubbleheads Bookchin may meet in Vermont’s socialist Congressman Bernie Saunders’ hot tub.
“Yuppie” is, on the Dean’s lips, an ill-chosen epithet. It is (lest we forget) a neologism and semi-acronym for “young urban professional.” To which aspects of this conjuncture does Dean Bookchin object? To urbanism? Bookchin is the apostle of urbanism (1987): he thinks that “some kind of urban community is not only the environment of humanity: it is its destiny” (1974: 2). To professionalism? A college professor/bureaucrat such as Bookchin is a professional. The high technology Bookchin counts on to usher in post-scarcity anarchism (1971: 83–135; 1989: 196) is the invention of professionals and the fever-dream of techno-yuppies. So if Dean Bookchin, an old urban professional, disparages young urban professionals, what is it about them that he hates so much? By a process of elimination, it cannot be that they are urban and it cannot be that they are professional. It must be that they are young, as the Dean is not. Actually, a lot of them aren’t all that young — most are baby boomers entering middle age — but to a Grumpy Old Man of 75 like Dean Bookchin, that’s young enough to resent. But it’s not their fault, after all, that most of them will live on long after Murray Bookchin is dead and forgotten.
And one more thing: Now that we know why the heretical anarchists have “failed to reach a potentially huge body of supporters,” what’s his excuse? One of his editors calls him “arguably the most prolific anarchist writer” (Ehrlich 1996: 384). (Although he has yet to outproduce the late Paul Goodman, who “produced a stream of books containing some of his enormous output of articles and speeches” (Walter 1972: 157) and he is likely to be soon surpassed by Hakim Bey — a far better writer — which may account for some of the insensate hatred the Dean displays for Bey.) So the truth is out there. Where, after all these years, are the Bookchinist masses?
The Dean’s vocabulary of abuse evokes what he calls the Left That Was (66) but hardly the fondness he feels for it. His epithets for unorthodox anarchists are the standard Stalinist epithets for all anarchists. He berates anarchist “decadence” over and over, to which he often appends abstract denunciations of “bourgeois” or “petty bourgeois” tendencies. “Decadence” is an epithet so indiscriminately applied that a spirited case has been made for retiring it from responsible discourse (Gilman 1975). Even without going quite so far, undeniably “’decadent’ as a term of political and social abuse has a generous range of applications,” especially as deployed by Marxists and Fascists (Adams 1983: 1).
To speak of the Dean’s denunciations of le bourgeois as “abstract” is my characteristically courteous way of hinting that he of all people had better pick his words more carefully. I say “abstract” because a college dean is a member of the bourgeoisie if, in any objective sense, anybody is. Bookchin surely has a higher income than anybody he’s targeted. Dean Bookchin has to be deploying the word in a subjective, moralistic, judgmental sense which, however, he isn’t defining.
It never used to bother the Dean that “many militant radicals tend to come from the relatively affluent strata” (Bookchin 1971: 25) — as his student disciples still do. Who else can afford to sit at his feet? For 1996–1997, the two-semester masters’ program in Social Ecology costs $10,578 (Goddard College 1996). Back then he considered it a “historic breach” that it was “relatively affluent middle class white youth” who created the implicitly revolutionary Youth Culture (Bookchin 1970: 54–55).
No one can possibly pronounce with any confidence upon the class position of present-day North American anarchists in general, much less the class positions of “individualists,” Bookchinists, etc. (Although my impression is that most anarcho-syndicalists are campus-based and none of them are factory workers. Work is much easier to glorify than it is to perform.) Nor does it bother the Dean that almost the only luminaries unconditionally admitted to his anarchist pantheon, Bakunin and Kropotkin, were hereditary aristocrats. Class-baiting is evidently a weapon to be deployed with fine discrimination.
For Bookchin, as for Stalinists, class is not a category of analysis, only an argot of abuse. Long ago he dismissed “workeritis” as “reactionary to the core” rendered meaningless by the trans-class decomposition of contemporary society (1971: 186–187). So completely did class disappear from Bookchin’s ideology that a review of one of his goofier books (Bookchin 1987) exclaimed that “it is what is missing altogether that renders his book terminally pathetic. Nowhere does he find fault with the most fundamental dimension of modern living, that of wage-labor and the commodity” (Zerzan 1994: 166). He now reverts to the hoary Marxist epithets — “bourgeois,” “petit-bourgeois” and “lumpen” — but with no pretense that they have, for him, real social content. Otherwise, how could he apply all these words to the same people? In their relations to the means of production (or lack thereof), lifestyle anarchists cannot be both bourgeois and lumpens. And how likely is it that out of these “thousands of self-styled anarchists” (1), not one is a proletarian?
Where Bookchin accuses rival anarchists of individualism and liberalism, Stalinists accuse all anarchists of the same. For example, there was that Monthly Review contributor who referred to Bookchinism as “a crude kind of individualistic anarchism” (Bookchin 1971: 225)! In other words, ‘...capitalism promotes egotism, not individuality or “individualism.”…The term “bourgeois individualism,” an epithet widely used today against libertarian elements, reflects the extent to which bourgeois ideology permeates the socialist project —‘
— these words being, of course, those of Bookchin the Younger (1971: 284). That the Dean reverts to these Stalinist slurs in his dotage reflects the extent to which bourgeois ideology permeates his project. Fanatically devoted to urbanism, the Dean was being complimentary, not critical, when he wrote that “the fulfillment of individuality and intellect was the historic privilege of the urban dweller or of individuals influenced by urban life” (1974: 1). Individuality’s not so bad after all, provided it’s on his terms.
As for “decadence,” that is an eminently bourgeois swear-word for people perceived to be having more fun than you are. By now the word has lost whatever concrete meaning it ever had. Calling post-leftist anarchists “decadent” is just Dean Bookchin’s way of venting his envy and, as Nietzsche would say, ressentiment that they are not afflicted with the hemorrhoids, tax audits, or whatever it is that’s raining on his Mayday parade.
2 – what is individualist anarchism
A digression on the, for lack of a better word, ethics of punctuation marks is in order here. “Quotation marks,” wrote Theodor Adorno, ‘...are to be rejected as an ironic device. For they exempt the writer from the spirit whose claim is inherent in irony, and they violate the very concept of irony by separating it from the matter at hand and presenting a predetermined judgment on the subject. The abundant ironic quotation marks in Marx and Engels are the shadows that totalitarian methods cast in advance upon their writings, whose intention was the opposite: ..The indifference to linguistic expression shown in the mechanical delegation of intention to a typographic cliché arouses the suspicion that the very dialectic that constitutes the theory’s content has been brought to a standstill and the object assimilated to it from above, without negotiation. Where there is something which needs to be said, indifference to literary form almost always indicates dogmatization of the content. The blind verdict of quotation marks is its graphic gesture (Adorno 1990: 303).‘
The point is that the ideology didn’t have to make sense to matter. It was vague and inconsistent so as to appeal to as many people as possible who desperately needed something to believe in, something to free them from freedom, something to command their loyalty. It didn’t have to be the same come-on for everyone. The Nazis, fishers of Menschen, understood that you need different bait to hook different fish, that’s all.
The inseparable association of anarchism with terrorism commenced for Americans with a specific event: the Haymarket tragedy in Chicago in 1886. As the police were breaking up a peaceable workers’ rally, someone threw a bomb into their midst, killing or wounding several of them. Eight prominent anarchists involved in the union movement, but indisputably innocent of the bombing, were convicted of murder and four of them hanged (one committed suicide) on the basis of their anarchist agitation and beliefs. If there is one fact about the history of anarchism known to everyone who knows at least one fact about the history of anarchism, it is this: “Thereafter, anarchism, in the public mind, was inseparably linked with terrorism and destruction” (Avrich 1984: 428; cf. Schuster 1932: 166; Woodcock 1962: 464). And the anarchism with which the link was forged was the collectivist anarchism of the Haymarket defendants. That they were, as individuals, innocent is irrelevant to the genesis of the mad-bomber legend. Innocent in act but not necessarily in intention: “One of them, [Louis] Lingg, had the best alibi: he wasn’t there… he was home, making bombs. He was thus convicted of a crime he would have liked to commit” (Black & Parfrey 1989: 67). In contrast, one historian refers to “the peaceful philosophy of Individualist Anarchism” (Schuster 1932: 159).
3 – lifestyle anarchism
But the essay is acute in distinguishing the self-sacrificing militant from the selfish revolutionary: “Any revolutionary who is to be counted upon can only be in it for himself — unselfish people can always switch loyalty from one projection to another” (For Ourselves 1983) — for example, from Stalinism to Trotskyism to Anarchism to….
marsh label law et al
We need, not for people to be less selfish, but for us to be better at being selfish in the most effective way, together. For that, they need to understand themselves and society better — to desire better, to enlarge their perceptions of the genuinely possible, and to appreciate the real institutional (and ideological) impediments to realizing their real desires. By “real desires” I don’t mean “what I want people to want,” I mean what they really want, severally and together, as arrived at — as Benbow so presciently put it — by unconstrained, general, unhurried reflection, “to get rid of our ignorant impatience, and to learn what it is we do want.” And also what we “do not need” (Bookchin 1977: 307).
4 – on organization
We do not reject organization because we are ignorant of the history of anarchist organizations. We reject it, among other reasons, because we know that history only too well, and Bookchin is one of those who has taught it to us. Nobody is surprised that business corporations, government bureaucracies, hieratic churches and authoritarian political parties are in practice, as in theory, inimical to liberty, equality and fraternity. (Also incompetent: as Paul Goodman put it [1994: 58], central organization “mathematically guarantees stupidity.”) What at first surprises, and what cries out for explanation, is that egalitarian and libertarian organizations sooner or later — usually sooner — end up the same way.
Times have changed: North American syndicalists aren’t numerous, aren’t able, and least of all are they generous-minded, although most may be “well-educated” if you equate a good education with college — something that I, having taught American college students, don’t do.
..Direct democracy is not, and for all anybody knows, never was, all it’s cracked up to be by the Dean. Most of the extant authors from classical antiquity, who knew the working system better than we ever will, were anti-democratic (Finley 1985: 8–11), as Bookchin elsewhere admits (1989: 176). The word “democracy” was almost always used pejoratively before the nineteenth century — that is, when it referred only to direct democracy: “To dismiss this unanimity as a debasement of the currency, or to dismiss the other side of the debate as apologists who misuse the term, is to evade the need for explanation” (Finley 1985: 11; cf. Bailyn 1992: 282–285).
The Athenian polis, the most advanced form of direct democracy ever practiced for any extended period, was oligarchic. It’s not only that, as Bookchin grudgingly concedes (59), the polity excluded slaves, numerous other noncitizens (one-third of free men were technically foreigners [Walzer 1970: 106]), and women, i.e., the polis excluded the overwhelming majority of adult Athenians. Even the Dean acknowledges, but attaches no importance to, the fact that maybe three-fourths of adult male Athenians were “slaves and disenfranchised resident aliens” (1987: 35).
In modern Vermont as in ancient Athens, most people think they have better things to do than attend political meetings, because most people are not political militants like the Dean. Several sorts of, so to speak, special people flock to these get-togethers. These occasions tend to attract a person (typically a man) who is an ideological fanatic, a control freak, an acting-out victim of mental illness, or somebody who just doesn’t have a life, and often someone favored by some combination of the foregoing civic virtues.
Face-to-face democracy is in-your-face democracy. To the extent that the tireless typicals turn up, they discourage those not so afflicted from participating actively or returning the next time. The Dean, for instance, speaks glowingly of “having attended many town meetings over the last fifteen years” (1987: 269) — they aren’t even held where he lives Burlington — .. The same types who’d get themselves elected in a representative democracy tend to dominate, by their bigmouthed bullying, a direct democracy too (Dahl 1990: 54). Normal non-obsessive people will often rather appease the obsessives or even kick them upstairs than prolong an unpleasant interaction with them.
For even if technology reduced the hours of work, it would not reduce the hours in a day. There would still be 24 of them. Let’s make-believe we could automate all production-work away. Even if we did, technics couldn’t possibly do more than shave a few minutes off the long hours which deliberative, direct democracy would necessitate, the “often prosaic, even tedious but most important forms of self-management that required patience, commitment to democratic procedures, lengthy debates, and a decent respect for the opinions of others within one’s community” (Bookchin 1996: 20; cf. Dahl 1990: 32–36, 52). (I pass over as beneath comment Bookchin’s avowal of “a decent respect for the opinions of others.”) Having to race from meeting to meeting to try to keep the militants from taking over would be even worse than working, but without the pay.
imagine if we just focused on listening to the itch-in-8b-souls.. first thing.. everyday.. and used that data to augment our interconnectedness.. we might just get to a more antifragile, healthy, thriving world.. the ecosystem we keep longing for..
As for the “economic and political coordination” which renders the Swiss “nation-state utterly superfluous” (Bookchin 1987: 229), if the Swiss nation-state is utterly superfluous, why does it exist at all? As it does, as surely as exist the Swiss banks whose numbered accounts safeguard so much of the loot of the world’s dictators and gangsters (Ruwart 1996: 4). Is there possibly a connection? Might Switzerland’s rakeoff from loan-sharking and money-laundering underwrite its direct democracy (such as it is) just as slavery and imperialism underwrote the direct democracy of Athens? A Swiss parliamentarian once referred to his country as a nation of receivers of stolen goods.
5 – bookchin – municipal statist
Anarchists “jettison” democratic decision-making, not because it’s authoritarian, but because it’s statist. “Democracy” means “rule by the people.” “Anarchy” means “no rule.” There are two different words because they refer to (at least) two different things.
I don’t claim — and to make my point, I don’t have to claim — that the Dean’s characterization of anarchism as generalized direct democracy has no basis whatsoever in traditional anarchist thought. The anarchism of some of the more conservative classical anarchists is indeed along these lines — although Bookchin’s version, right down to such details as its philhellenism, is instead an unacknowledged appropriation from the avowedly anti-anarchist Hannah Arendt (1958). Ironically, it is the anarchists Bookchin disparages as individualists — like Proudhon and Goodman — who best represent this anarchist theme. It was the individualist egoist Benjamin Tucker who defined an anarchist as an “unterrified Jeffersonian democrat.” But another theme with as least as respectable an anarchist pedigree holds that democracy is not an imperfect realization of anarchy but rather statism’s last stand. Many anarchists believe, and many anarchists have always believed, that democracy is not just a grossly deficient version of anarchy, it’s not anarchy at all. At any rate, no “direct face-to-face democracy” (57) that I am aware of has delegated to comrade Bookchin (mandated, revocable, and responsible to the base) the authority to pass or fail anarchists which he enjoys to pass or fail college students.
“Policy” is a euphemism for law, and “administration” is a euphemism for enforcement.
Nor are we to experience freedom in the temporary collective fraternizations Hakim Bey calls Temporary Autonomous Zones
6 – reason and revolution
I myself veto no mode of reasoning or expression, although I think some are more effective than others, especially in specific contexts. There’s no such thing, for instance, as the scientific method; important scientific discovery rarely if ever results from following rules (Feyerabend 1975).
Is everybody with me? Bookchin is saying that nature isn’t actually free when it’s really free (where really means “what it is”), when it’s out of control. That’s just “negative freedom” — “a formal ‘freedom from’ — rather than [positive freedom,] a substantive freedom to” (4). We are no longer to let Nature take its course. Nature is actually free when it’s really controlled by its highest manifestation, humans. Humanity is essentially natural (nature for-itself), the rest of nature isn’t (nature in-itself).
7 – in search of primitivist part 1: pristine angles
And these our animalistic ancestors were unhealthy too, claims the Dean. The Neanderthals suffered high rates of degenerative bone disease and serious injury ..Admittedly, our early ancestors were more likely to be eaten by leopards and hyenas than we are (46), but for contemporary foragers, predation is a minor cause of death (Dunn 1968: 224–225). On the other hand, our leading killers, cancer and heart disease, appear infrequently among them (ibid.: 224), and our thousands of occupational diseases never do. Hunter-gatherers have never been afflicted by asbestosis, black lung disease, Gulf War syndrome (as I write these words, the Pentagon is finally admitting there might be such a thing) or carpal tunnel syndrome. Band societies have very low population densities, and “viral and bacterial infections cannot generally persist among small human populations” (Knauft 1987: 98). Paleolithic foragers might suffer serious or fatal injuries, but one million of them were not killed by motor vehicles in just a hundred years.
Gimmickry aside, the evidence suggests that foragers live relatively long lives.
It is true that foragers have always lacked the technology to perpetuate the agony of their incapacitated elders as our insurance-driven system arranges for some of ours. When I visit my father in the nursing home — a stroke victim, a mentally confused cripple usually complaining of pain, 85 years old — I find it hard to consider longevity an absolute value.
huge.. bj miller et al
Almost all archeological studies “conclude that infection was a more serious problem for farmers than for their hunting and gathering forebears, and most suggest that this resulted from increased sedentism, larger population aggregates, and/or the well-established synergism between infection and malnutrition” (Cohen 1987: 269–270). For one thing, work — and when we arrive at agriculture we arrive, unambiguously, at work — is hazardous to your health.
And when we progress from mere agriculture to urbanism — one thing leads to another — health deteriorates even more dramatically. ..“Ancient cities were like tar pits, drawing country folk into their alluring but disease-ridden precincts” (Boyd & Richerson 1993: 127). The Dean is fond of the slogan that “city air makes you free” (1974: 1), but there is considerably more truth to saying that city air makes you sick (ibid.: 66). Urban “internal nonviability” has three sources: (1) high population density “facilitates the genesis and communication of infectious diseases”; (2) such cities “have almost invariably had poor sanitation and hygiene, particularly with respect to water and sewage”; and (3) urbanites depend on outside sources of food, on monocultural food production subject to crop failures and difficulties of transportation, storage and distribution (Knauft 1987: 98).
Industrial cities have only imperfectly coped with these unhealthy influences. They are more overcrowded than ever, with, the Dean has shown, adverse health consequences (Herber 1965). “Urban air is seriously polluted and urban wastes are reaching unmanageable proportions” — furthermore: ‘Nothing more visibly reveals the overall decay of the modern city than the ubiquitous filth and garbage that gathers in its streets, the noise and massive congestion that fills its thoroughfares, the apathy of its population toward civic issues, and the ghastly indifference of the individual toward the physical violence that is publicly inflicted on other members of the community (Bookchin 1974:66,67)‘.
Even the most conspicuous health accomplishment of industrialism, the control of disease by antibiotics, is being rolled back, as resistant strains of disease vectors evolve. Even the food situation is unsatisfactory, if not for precisely the traditional reasons. Most American urbanites have unhealthy diets, and more than a few are malnourished.
And finally, the title of the newspaper story, suggesting a debunking of the myth of “an Eden in ancient America,” has absolutely nothing to do with what Denevan was really writing about, although it has everything to do with the Dean’s anti-primitivist ideological agenda.
Denevan’s argument, which relates only to the Western Hemisphere, is that when Europeans arrived in the New World, and for some time afterwards, the landscape they encountered — Denevan is a cultural geographer — was not “pristine” if this means it had been barely affected by tens of thousands of years of indigenous human presence. Indian hunting, horticulture, and especially the use of fire had wrought important transformations in many stretches of the landscape. Many North American grasslands, for instance, were produced by human action, and to a lesser extent, so were the park-like woodlands of eastern North America (Morgan 1975: ch. 3; Salisbury 1982: ch. 1). But by the time the Euro-Americans moved west on a large scale, the once-numerous Indians had been decimated and much of the landscape had reverted to a tangled, pre-humanized “wilderness” the settlers mistook for pristine conditions. Denevan plausibly argues for this conclusion but does not, as the Dean does, consider it cause for celebration.
It required the intrusion of industrial society to pose a real risk of extinction with its high-tech, mass-production life destruction.
8 – in search of the primitivists part 2 – primitive affluence
And what’s so intriguing is that the San live their affluence in the arid Kalahari Desert, not someplace approximating the Garden of Eden (Zerzan 1994: 29). If foraging life could be affluent there, it might have been affluent almost everywhere — and almost everywhere is where pre-historic humans lived, as foragers, for 99% of human existence (Lee & DeVore 1968c: 5). The civilized, in contrast, find it very difficult to sustain an affluent lifestyle in the desert outside of a few special locations like Palm Springs and Kuwait (cf. Lévi-Strauss 1962: 5 [quoted in Feyerabend (1987): 112 n. 14)]).
What the Man-the-Hunter revisionists added was precisely what the Dean claims is missing, the social dimension: “Egalitarianism, sharing, and low work effort were stressed, as was the importance of gathering foods and, by extension, women’s direct role in the economy” (Renouf 1991: 89). The Dean’s entire rhetorical strategy is as misdirected as it is malicious. Primitivists contrast the orderly anarchy and the generous egalitarianism of foragers with the chaotic statism and class hierarchy of urban civilization.
9 – from primitive affluence to labor enslaving tech
he Dean is equally wrong about work — and the relationship of technology to work — in other forms of society. In Friendly Fire I summarized some of the evidence (there’s lots more) that as technology advances, the quantity of work increases and the quality of the work experience declines (Black 1992: 19–41). In general, there’s no such thing as labor-saving technology. There’s usually, at best, only labor- rearranging technology,.. t which from the worker’s perspective is sort of like “emigrating from Romania to Ethiopia in search of a better life” (ibid.: 13). Capitalists develop and deploy new technology, not to reduce labor, but to reduce the price of labor. The higher the tech, the lower the wages and the smaller the work-force.
huge.. mufleh humanity law et al
The Deans’s other example is also maladroit. It’s that classic instrument of women’s liberation, the washing machine: “Modern working women with children could hardly do without washing machines to relieve them, however minimally, from their daily domestic labors — before going to work to earn what is often the greater part of their households’ income” (49). In other words, the washing machine reinforces the domestic sexual division of labor and enables women to be proletarianized — to enter the paid labor force at the bottom (Black 1992: 29–30). Thanks to technology, modern working women get to do the unpaid drudge-work, the “shadow work” (Illich 1981) of the patriarchal household, plus the underpaid capitalist drudge-work of the office, the restaurant and even the factory. The washing machine, and household technology in general, never saved women any labor-time. It just raised performance standards (with a Maytag, no excuse any more if your laundry’s not brighter than white) or else displaced effort to other tasks like child care (Cowan 1974, 1983). I doubt Bookchin does his own laundry, and not only because he’s always airing his dirty linen in public.
10 – shut up marxist
As the Green Anarchist reviewer observes, the Dean now “goes on to crudely reduce or reject all that’s best in his Ecology of Freedom,” forsaking dialectics for dualism (Anonymous 1996: 22). In fact he’s gone back on the best of everything he’s written.
“Certainly,” decrees the Dean, “it is already no longer possible, in my view, to call oneself an anarchist without adding a qualifying adjective to distinguish oneself from lifestyle anarchists” (61). That’s the most reasonable proposal in the entire essay. I suggest he call himself a “Bookchinist anarchist” or, if his overweening modesty forbids, an “anti-lifestyle anarchist.” Nobody will know what he’s talking about, so introducing himself that way might stimulate curiosity about his views, much as would introducing oneself as a Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Primitive Baptist.
11 – anarchy after leftism
Class conflict at the point of production holds little interest for campus-based Bookchinist-Arendtist civilogues, but means much to post-college workers reduced, for the duration, to the degradation they briefly thought they’d escaped by graduating from high school. Now they must work to pay off the loans that financed an interval of relative freedom (a Temporary Autonomous Zone, as it were) such as they may never enjoy again, no matter how much they earn. They may have learned just enough along the way to question whether life has to be this way.
A political critique of technology may make a lot of sense to the tenders of high technology who have not experienced anything of its liberatory potential as so often promised but never delivered by the progressives, by the Marxists, syndicalists, Bookchinists and other technocrats. At the very least, trickle-down techno-liberation is as fraudulent as trickle-down enrichment through supply-side economics (make the already rich so much richer that some crumbs are bound to fall from their table). Computer programming is, if more interesting, little more liberatory than data entry, and the hours are longer. There’s no light at the end of the carpal tunnel.
The first is the notion of “normal science,” which refers to the everyday practice of workaday scientists: the working-out of the implications of the prevailing paradigm. Newton’s physics, for instance, kept observational astronomers and experimental physicists happy, or at least busy, for over two hundred years: it assigned them problems to solve and criteria for what counted as solutions to those problems.
like kilpi work law et al..
Bookchinism, “social ecology,” was never an integral part of anarchism, for all the Dean’s efforts to make it so. If it persists awhile after the Dean’s demise, social ecology/anarchism will bear about the same relationship to the new anarchism as astrology to astronomy.