A Friendly Critique of Bookchin’s Politics

A Friendly Critique of Bookchin’s Politics

From Usufruct Collective by Usufruct Collective

Bookchin is our favorite political philosopher. Which does not mean we think he is right about everything. Despite us agreeing with most of Bookchin’s political philosophy, we also think it is important to critique it. And yet, most every critique of Bookchin’s political philosophy, even when true, leads to an overall politics less coherent and liberatory than his own. Critiques of Bookchin–from those more close and distant to his views– usually straw man him or fail to properly sublate him: That is they often do not take the most liberatory parts from his philosophy, while critiquing him and synthesizing his best views with other philosophical and political dimensions in such a way that closer approximates coherence, rationality, and ethics. Our goal is to sublate Bookchin; not to straw man him, not to discard liberatory dimensions of his political philosophy and praxis, and not to treat him like he is beyond critique.

Some people will say that the big problems with Bookchin’s philosophy emerge later in his life. And there is both some truth and falseness to such an evaluation. Older/Later Bookchin simultaneously includes 1. Places where Bookchin made some of his most crucial errors but also where he made 2. Some of his greatest elaborations of philosophy, ethics, and political form, and content. Additionally, from the 1960’s until 2004 there are continuous features to his overall politics– continuous features that do not amount to a mere skeletal lower common denominator but arguably the most essential features of his worldview in general. Such continuous features include: social ecology, direct democracy, means and ends of communal and inter-communal self-management, the development of oppositional and reconstructive politics as part of a revolutionary process, non-hierarchy, direct action, mutual aid, and libertarian communism specifically. These features are consistent in his work from “Post Scarcity Anarchism” until “The Communalist Project” (Bookchin 2007, Bookchin 2018). And we are in agreement with the above features of Bookchin’s politics. That being said, there are also ways he did change his mind overtime for better and for worse. By discarding features of Bookchin’s politics that we think are errors while adding features to his political project that are not present or sufficiently present in his recorded philosophy and worldview, we would still be agreeing with the most important features of his philosophy and worldview– or at least what we consider to be as such. In this sense, our attempt at a ruthless critique will be relatively friendly.

What we love about Bookchin’s political philosophy

Starting in a controversial place, Bookchin has great polemics and critiques of various worldviews. This includes his critiques of the ecological crisis, hierarchy, capitalism, the state, patriarchy, racism, nationalism, lifestyle anarchism, deep ecology, market society and culture, religion/supernaturalism, etc. Even though at times his critiques contain some errors in them or are otherwise unnecessarily divisive, the more important features of his critiques usually hold true. Additionally, his overall ecological philosophy blossomed more fully in the 1990’s. Such a development can be seen in his book “Philosophy of Social Ecology”— where he posited a dialectical conception of nature and society and a philosophy that has branches in everything from epistemology, ontology, to ethics, and politics (Bookchin 1995). Despite some disagreements with Bookchin around the edges of dialectical naturalism, we agree with the general and most essential features of dialectical naturalism. And social ecology is to this day the best overall framework for understanding the current ecological crisis and its causes in social hierarchy– and the potential reconstructive solutions in horizontal organizations and relations (Bookchin 2007, Bookchin 2018).


Categories: Anarchism/Anti-State

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