Murray Bookchin (1921-2006)

Murray Bookchin (b. 1921), a social theorist and political activist for much of the twentieth century. In 1962, having shaken off his childhood Marxism, he published Our Synthetic Environment, a book about environmental ills, including pesticides, food additives, air and water pollution, urban stress, and nuclear radiation. The book was upstaged by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which appeared a few months later. His next book, Crisis in Our Cities (1965), warned that the greenhouse effect was a looming catastrophe and raised the idea that to avoid it, our society would have to wean itself from the use of fossil fuels.  He taught New York’s 1960s counterculture that the ultimate cause of ecological ills is capitalism and advanced a vision of an alternative, ecological society, which would exist in harmony with the natural world and be governed by citizens’ assemblies.

In the early 1970s in Vermont he co-founded the Institute for Social Ecology, which taught thousands of young people how to farm organically and compost, how to make turbines for wind power and panels for solar power, and how to build community. As they tilled humus-laden soil, he educated them in social theory, history, anthropology, philosophy, and urban studies and politics. He also taught at Ramapo College of New Jersey.

In the 1980s he helped build the Green political movement, first in Europe, then in the United States, promoting its left-libertarian wing. When the movement was subsumed by conventional party politics, he retired. In the 1990s he dedicated himself to writing the history of popular movements in classical European and American revolutions. He died in July 2006 at his home in Burlington, Vermont.

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