Murray Bookchin: Anarchism without the Working Class Reply

A critique of Bookchin from a classical anarcho-syndicalist/anarcho-communist perspective.

By Wayne Price

Anarchism Needs a Working Class Revolution

Murray Bookchin was an influential and prolific writer and thinker on anarchism. Recently his work has been in the news. While he made significant contributions, he made a major error in rejecting the working class as important for an anarchist revolution. This article reviews why he believed this and why, on the contrary, the working class must be a major force for a successful anarchist revolution.

Murray Bookchin in 1989
Murray Bookchin in 1989


Anarchism Needs a Working Class Revolution

Although he died in 2006, Murray Bookchin is recently in the news.  Staid bourgeois newspapers report, with apparent shock, that part of the Kurdish revolutionary national movement has been influenced by the ideas of Murray Bookchin, a U.S. anarchist (Enzinna 2015).  However, I am not going to discuss this development here. My topic is not how Bookchin’s political philosophy may apply to the Kurds in Rojava (important as this is), but how it might apply to the U.S.A. and other industrialized and industrializing countries.

Nor will I review the whole range of Bookchin’s life and work (see White 2008).   Bookchin made enormous contributions to anarchism, especially—but not only—his integration of ecology with anarchism.  At the same time, in my opinion, his work was deeply flawed in that he rejected the working class as playing a major role in the transition from capitalism to anti-authoritarian socialism.  Like many other radicals in the period after World War II, he was shaken by the defeats of the world working class during the ‘thirties and ‘forties, and impressed by the prosperity and stability of the Western world after the Second World War. Previously a Communist and then a Trotskyist, he now turned to a version of anarchism which rejected working class revolution.

This was not the historically dominant view held by anarchists.  Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, Makhno, Goldman, Durrutti,  the anarcho-syndicalists and the anarcho-communists—they believed that  “anarchism is a revolutionary, internationalist, class struggle form of libertarian socialism…. Syndicalism [revolutionary unionism—WP] was a form of mass anarchism…and the great majority of anarchists embraced it.” (Schmidt & van der Walt 2009; 170)  For them, the “broad anarchist tradition” was “‘class struggle’ anarchism, sometimes called revolutionary communist anarchism….

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