In the years before his death, my father wrote a series of books entitled The Third Revolution. In them, he analyzed transformative revolutionary moments in history, beginning with the late medieval uprisings and German Peasant Wars of the 16th century, and ending, four volumes later, with the Spanish Civil War. Studying this revolutionary history gave my father solace — it took him back to a time when revolutionary ideals animated everyday life, when utopian cries lived on the lips of ordinary people.
It also gave him immense hope, best exemplified by his choice to dedicate each of the four volumes of The Third Revolution to his young granddaughter. To be sure, he loved her quite madly as an individual, one whom he felt shared many of his early talents as a musician, an artist and, above all, a writer. But his dedication also indicated his belief in the promise of a new generation, one that might take up the banner in the struggle for a more rational society — a banner that had lost its sheen in the decades before his death, when the left was struggling to combat rising neoliberalism, authoritarianism and rampant ecological destruction.
In many ways, my father was ahead of his time. His ideas were often ridiculed or dismissed during his lifetime — his belief that climate change would become a serious threat to our survival laughed off as alarmist by the New York Times in the 1960s; his pleas to the left in subsequent years to put in the hard and unglamorous work of building an organized network of local democratic assemblies often bypassed in favor of street insurrection.
Yet throughout his life my father remained optimistic. He refused to give up hope that these ideas, his ideas — borne from seven decades of consideration about what kind of society would maximize the human potential for creativity, imagination and harmony with the natural world — would one day imbue people in the future with the same transformative zeal that he had found in the revolutionary past.
In one of his earliest essays, “Desire and Need,” my father wrote that, “A good idea can slip from the hands of its creator and follow its own dialectic.” While this was originally intended as a critical comment on artists who are unaware of the power of their own art, it seems to me that today these words can be viewed in a new, positive light. They remind us that ideas have unlimited potentiality; that the seed of an idea can expand far beyond what the original thinker might have expected, reaching across the globe to touch peoples and minds previously unimaginable; becoming in turn transformed by those people, ultimately achieving a transcendent richness, beauty and concretization that can exceed and outlast the originator’s wildest dreams.
It would be my father’s great joy to know, a hundred years after his birth and nearly 15 years after his death, that the hope he placed in the future was well-founded; that even amidst intense global turmoil and the increasing threat of an ecological holocaust, aspects of his vision of a rational society have been taken up around the world, serving as a model for anyone who seeks to engage with them.
Many of the voices in these tributes reflect individuals who have been influenced by my father, from Fearless Cities municipalists to alterglobalization activists — who absorbed his ideas and enlarged them to fit their social contexts, building new and emancipatory political ways of being. In particular, I know my father would have been profoundly moved by the courage and dedication that has gone into the Kurdish project of democratic confederalism in Rojava, and I consider it a personal tragedy that he died before having the opportunity to see that triumph of feminist, egalitarian self-determination that the Kurdish people have achieved.
For me, my father’s enduring legacy is the dialectical cast of mind he brought to social problems: the impetus to see nature and society in process, never in stasis — always evaluating things not merely as they are but as they have the potential to become. On this 100th anniversary of his birth, he would have wanted us to celebrate the power of ideas to remake the world; to never despair; to keep educating ourselves, our brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends; and to carry forward his legacy by, above all, putting our ideas into practice.
— Debbie Bookchin
Over the years, Murray Bookchin has dedicated his remarkable talents and energy to many different domains: history, technology, social organization, the search for justice and freedom and much else. In every case, he has brought illumination and insight, original and provocative ideas and inspiring vision. With appreciation for many years of enlightenment and inspiration.
— Noam Chomsky
Member of the leadership council of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Rojava, an architect of the Social Contract governing the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria and author of the book “Why Jineology.”
The state and power have produced many problems, rendering a state of structural crisis upon the world system. Capitalist modernity has declared war against society with its four weapons: nationalism, religionism, sexism and scientism. Through these ideologies, capitalist modernity has imprisoned humanity in an iron cage.
To face these crises, the philosopher and thinker Murray Bookchin proposed rigorous analyses of power and the state. He developed advanced alternatives, thereby opening new horizons for us in light of the chaos and crises we are encountering. These analyses were expressed best in his books The Ecology of Freedom, Urbanization Without Cities and Toward an Ecological Society. The latter, indeed, was a manifesto for the 20th century.
Bookchin’s work evokes humanity’s cry to get out of the iron cage. He revealed an extraordinary truth, in which he showed the organic relationship between ecological problems and social problems. The main difference between Bookchin and other thinkers is that he not only voiced critiques against the capitalist system but also proposed alternatives to go beyond it. For example, his “ecological society” model, which is based on the liberation of humans and nature from domination, and the idea of direct democracy which rests on local confederations, are important and valuable achievements.
What was proposed by Bookchin had a great impact on Kurdish revolutionaries, who are working to achieve freedom, equality and justice for their people and the rest of our global society. Bookchin’s ideas were a major source of inspiration for us to build a model of democratic self-administration in Rojava and North-East Syria. We built communes and local councils, a system of co-presidency between women and men and enabled the participation of all ethnic, religious and ideological components in the region’s administration. We have worked to develop democratic power in place of the state system while, at the time, ensuring that our polity is socially and ecologically conscious. All these revolutionary steps have been achieved.
We, as the revolution of women and a diverse range of peoples, are inspired by all humanistic values, and we consider the ideas and philosophy of Murray Bookchin as part of these great values that will remain immortal in the consciousness of humanity.
— Translated from Arabic by Jihad Hemmi
Activist from the Mesopotamia Ecology Movement.
Many activists from the Kurdish Freedom Movement heard of Murray Bookchin for the first time in the early 2000s. He was introduced to us by the recently captured Kurdish leader and thinker Abdullah Öcalan, who suggested from his prison cell that we’d study his work. Indeed, Bookchin’s writings supported us in our quest for a liberated, emancipated and egalitarian society. As an ecologist, getting acquainted with Bookchin was fascinating because of the importance he placed in his political writings on nature as the source of all life on this planet.
Over the course of two decades, we have managed to put some of Bookchin’s revolutionary theories into practice in North and West Kurdistan (Bakur and Rojava). Millions of people are now part of a process where a society is rebuild along radically democratic lines, based on principles of communality, broad participation, solidarity and gender liberation in all spheres of life — and of course on solid ecological foundation. We still have a very long way to go and plenty of mistakes we need to reflect on. But despite all the threats we have faced so far, we are still moving forward and are determined to stick around for a long time!
Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of the Sunshine Coast.
Bookchin was an interdisciplinary, eclectic and above all unique thinker. Having never been socialized — “shoehorned” — by the academy, he retained a freedom of thought that remains as helpful for the emancipatory project as ever.
I first came across Bookchin at 16 years old in the Victorian Trades Hall bookshop, which sold an excerpt from The Ecology of Freedom for 20 cents! This shifted my political consciousness like no other text, save perhaps The Communist Manifesto. It stated what remains, in my view, the most fundamental aspect of his legacy: understanding that the roots of the exploitation of man by man and man of nature are located within the same social pathologies of hierarchy.
These pathologies, as widespread as anti-nature, patriarchy, nationalism, statism and capitalism, come to colonize public life. “Communalism” (or “libertarian municipalism”) is one of the few means to combat this radically (that is, tackle the “root” of the problem) by giving freedom institutional form in direct and participatory ways via decentralized social organization and social ecological principles.
It is unpacking this bifurcation between hierarchy and freedom — so simple to see when expressed so clearly by Bookchin — that has the most profound implications for thinking radically today.
Bookchin was a true revolutionary who devoted all of his considerable energy to transforming our society.
Cultural anthropologist, co-founder of the Institute for Social Ecology and author of “The Anthropology of Utopia” (2014).
Murray Bookchin was my mentor, friend and associate: we co-founded the Institute for Social Ecology in 1974. During his lifetime, Bookchin was often a lone voice in the wilderness. As early as the 1950s, he warned us of the dangers of authoritarianism on both the left and right and the enormity of the ecological crisis, as well as its social roots. He was prescient in his predictions of global warming in 1964 and in the 1970s he promoted alternative technologies like solar and wind energy as well as offering a stunning critique of industrialized agriculture.
His magnum opus, The Ecology of Freedom, published in 1981, still stands as the most comprehensive exploration of the dialectical emergence of hierarchy and it’s potential dissolution through the development of a new ecological sensibility and forms of freedom to support and reinforce the emergence of an ecological society.
Over his lifetime he wrote 25 books and countless articles exploring these themes and others. He was a true revolutionary who devoted all of his considerable energy to transforming our society. He developed the ideas of libertarian municipalism (also known as communalism and democratic confederalism) as a political strategy for achieving that transformation.
Bookchin’s work represents what Ernst Bloch called “The Principle of Hope,” and in my opinion, that is his greatest legacy. His work will continue to educate and inspire people all around the world for many years to come.
City councillor for Coalizione Civica per Bologna, Italy.
As a municipalist I cannot stress how great an influence Murray Bookchin’s work has been for so many of us. His inspiring vision of direct democracy is the foundation on which we have built our organizations, our vocabulary, our very sense of activism. In fact, I cannot think of a better embodiment of the adage “think globally, act locally” that we strive towards in our political action.
As a leftist, I am in awe of the brilliant mind behind social ecology and believe his legacy is still so very relevant in relation to one of the greatest challenges of our time: climate change. In exploring the correlation between social and ecological issues, he traced a parallelism in the dynamics of prevarication and supremacy that we see between mankind and nature and between fellow humans. Two faces of the capitalist society we live in, to which Bookchin responded by envisaging a world of ecological egalitarianism, democratic confederalism/communalism and popular participation.
If we may be allowed a wish on this centenary of his birth, let it be for us to bring his radical spirit with us as we embark on the next revolution seeking a new Enlightenment.
Political sociologist and author of the forthcoming book “The Kurdish Women’s Movement: History, Theory, Practice.”
What is the meaning of liberty at a time in which more people are “free” to do what they want while the planet is burning? In times of ecocide and fascism, raising universal questions about the condition of human freedom is a matter of life or death.
Murray Bookchin’s holistic thinking about the world in terms of continuities and connections, his insistence that no life on earth is condemned to violence and domination, provides us with a whole set of questions and proposals to fundamentally rethink our relationship to life itself. Leftist theory and practice is often sectarian and doctrinaire, unable to express the creativity and love that makes up so much of human sociability. Social ecology, however, is not a dogma but a framework and mentality that refuses to see oppression as fate. It reconciles the individual with society. It empowers the individual to define her relationship to society, while enabling her to become an active agent that can transform social relations.
In a neoliberal world that marketizes and commodifies every aspect of our lives and thereby normalizes violence and domination, Bookchin’s ideas allow for a radical, society-loving individuality that is liberationist, not individualistic. It is a healing framework in the alienating era of capitalism.