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Preliminary Inventory to the Murray Bookchin Papers TAM 160

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
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Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Collection processed by Tamiment staff, 2009

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on August 13, 2018
Description is in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Historical/Biographical Note

Murray Bookchin (January 14, 1921- July 30, 2006) was a libertarian socialist, political philosopher, speaker and writer. The founder of the social ecology movement within libertarian socialist and ecological thought, Bookchin is noted for his synthesis of the anarchist tradition with modern ecological awareness. He was the author of two dozen books on politics, philosophy, history, and urban affairs as well as ecology. Bookchin was a radical anti-capitalist and vocal advocate of the decentralization of society, in particular in his writings on libertarian municipalism, a theory of face-to-face, grassroots democracy. He was a staunch critic of biocentric philosophies such as deep ecology and the biologically deterministic beliefs of sociobiology.

Bookchin was born in New York City to Russian Jewish immigrants and was imbued with Marxist ideology from his youth. He joined the Young Pioneers, the Communist youth organization, at the age of nine. He worked in factories and became an organizer for the Congress of Industrial Organizations. In the late 1930s he broke with the Communist movement and gravitated toward Trotskyism, working with a group publishing the periodical Contemporary Issues. Then gradually becoming disillusioned with the coercion he saw as inherent in conventional Marxism-Leninism, he became an Anarchist, helping to found the Libertarian League in New York in the 1950s. Bookchin began teaching in the late 1960s at the Free University, a counter-cultural Manhattan-based institution. This led to a tenured position at Ramapo State College in Mahwah, NJ. He also co-founded, in 1971, the Institute for Social Ecology at Goddard College in Vermont.

His book, Our Synthetic Environment, published under the pseudonym Lewis Herber six months before Rachel Carson's  Silent Spring, described a broad range of environmental ills but received little attention. His essay "Ecology and Revolutionary Thought" introduced ecology as a concept for radical politics. His 1969 essay "Listen, Marxist!" warned Students for a Democratic Society against the threat of takeover by a Marxist group.  The Ecology of Freedom, which he published in 1982, had a profound impact on the emerging ecology movement.  From Urbanization to Cities(originally published as T  he Rise of Urbanization and the Decline of Citizenship) traces the democratic traditions that influenced his political philosophy and defines the implementation of the libertarian municipalism concept. A much smaller work,  The Politics of Social Ecology, written by his partner of twenty years, Janet Biehl, briefly summarizes these ideas. In 1999, Bookchin broke with anarchism and placed his ideas into the framework of communalism.

In addition to his political writings, Bookchin wrote extensively on his philosophical ideas, which he called "dialectical naturalism." The dialectical writings of Hegel, which articulate a developmental philosophy of change and growth, seemed to him to lend themselves to an organic, even ecological approach. His later philosophical writings emphasize humanism, rationality, and the ideals of the Enlightenment. Bookchin's last major published work was The Third Revolution, a four-volume history of the libertarian impulse in European and American revolutionary movements. He died of heart failure on July 30, 2006 at his home in Burlington, Vermont at the age of 85.

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