Bridging the Unbridgeable Chasm:On Bookchin’s Critique of the Anarchist Tradition
By John P. Clark
Bridging the Unbridgeable Chasm: On Bookchin’s Critique of the Anarchist TraditionJohn P. Clark
[Published in Perspectives on Anarchist Theory (Fall, 2006): 33-41. A revised version appears as Ch. 7, “Bridging the unbridgable chasm: Personal transformation and social action in anarchist practice” in JohnP. Clark, The Impossible Community: Realizing Communitarian Anarchism (New York and London: Bloomsbury, 2013), pp. 169-192.]
One of Murray Bookchin’s best-known works is Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: AnUnbridgeable Chasm. In it, he argues that two quite distinct and incompatible currents have traversed the entire history of anarchism. He labels these two divergent tendencies “social anarchism” and “lifestyle anarchism,” and contends that between them “there exists a divide that can not be bridged.”The idea that there is an “unbridgeable chasm” between two viewpoints that share certain common presuppositions and goals, and whose practices are in some ways interrelated, is a bit suspect from the outset. It is particularly problematical when proposed by a thinker like Bookchin, who claims to hold a dialectical perspective. Whereas non-dialectical thought merely opposes one reality to another in an abstract manner, or else places them inertly beside one another, a dialectical analysis examines the ways in which various realities presuppose one another, constitute one another, challenge the identity of one another, and push one another to the limits of their development. Accordingly, one important quality of such an analysis is that it helps those with divergent viewpoints see the ways in which their positions are not mutually exclusive, but can instead be mutually realized in a further development of each. Nevertheless, Bookchin contends that there is an absolute abyss between two tendencies within contemporary anarchism.