Leaving the twentieth century, leftism of every stripe is in disarray and defeat — anarcho-leftism included. And Murray Bookchin’s Social Ecology is certainly no exception to this trend.

Bookchin, one of the best known of contemporary North American anarchists, has spent much of his life staking out his own personal eco-anarchist ideological territory under the banners of Social Ecology and Libertarian Municipalism. He is the author of a steady stream of books from the sixties to the present, including his classic collection of essays titled Post-Scarcity Anarchism published in 1971, his excellent volume on the history of the Spanish anarchist movement written in the seventies, and his failed attempt in the eighties at constructing a philosophical magnum opus in The Ecology of Freedom.

Bookchin has never been content with merely constructing one more radical ideology in competition with all the others. His dream has always been to lead a coherent left-wing ecological radical grouping into a serious contest with the powers that be. However, his attempts at constructing such a grouping (from the Anarchos journal group in the New York of the sixties to the recent Left Green Network within the Greens milieu) have never met with much success.

In his latest book, Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism, Bookchin aims to pin the blame for his lifetime of frustration (despite his decades of valiant effort!) on an evil anti-socialist conspiracy which has subverted his dreams at every turn: the dreaded specter of “Lifestyle Anarchism.” For Bookchin, lifestyle anarchism is a contemporary manifestation of the individualist anarchist currents which have always bedeviled the world anarchist movement proper. The fact that the anarchist “movement” itself has always been more of a polymorphous insurrectionary milieu encompassing everything from anarcho-syndicalists, anarcho-communists and anarcho-futurists to anarchist feminists, anarchist primitivists and anarcho-situationists doesn’t really matter to him. The important thing is that he has finally been able to name the anti-organizational cabal which opposes him and to explain the esoteric links between its often seemingly unrelated or even mutually contradictory efforts!

Enter Bob Black.

Now a lot of people don’t like Bob Black. Many anarchists would be alarmed if he moved in next door. Anyone with good sense would probably be upset if he started dating her younger sister. Most everyone is loathe to provoke his anger or face it head on.

And not without reason. Bob may be a brilliant critic and hilarious wit, but he’s not a nice guy. His infamous reputation isn’t built on fair play or good sportsmanship.

Maybe this is why Murray Bookchin’s latest rant, Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm, never criticizes Bob Black directly. In fact it never so much as mentions Bob’s name. Even though it’s obvious from the book’s contents that by all rights Bob should have received the same type of attempted (though ultimately feeble) thrashing Bookchin reserved for George Bradford, John Zerzan, Hakim Bey, et al.

Obviously, Murray knows better than to challenge Bob to a duel, even a rhetorical one. But that hasn’t stopped Bob, in an uncharacteristically generous spirit, from giving Bookchin his due anyway.

Bob’s defense of anarchy in Anarchy after Leftism isn’t meant to express solidarity with those targeted in the latest attacks framed by Bookchin’s pidgin dialectics. Nor is Bob really interested in rescuing anarchist ideology from itself. He just wants to set the record straight by clearing away worse than useless polemics. Defending the potential for anarchy is merely an unpleasant task of menial anti-ideological labor that Bob has performed because no one else volunteered to wash these particular dirty dishes,1) while he wants to get on with cooking another meal.

But that’s by no means all that’s going on here. Disposing of Murray Bookchin’s ideological and rhetorical rubbish gives Bob the chance to develop the grounds for a more general attack on the remaining vestiges of leftism while he’s at it. Cleaning house of leftism is a much bigger task than dealing with one man’s leftist career. So in one sense, by drawing attention to his ineffectual polemic, Bookchin has made himself an excuse for the beginning of a much larger process of critique, a process that will undoubtedly continue to unfold with increasing militance into the coming century. It will require awareness and effort from all of us to finish this task, but it will be done.

Bob’s double critique in Anarchy after Leftism only gains incisiveness from the attitude of lumpen noblesse oblige he has adopted for his task. Rather than letting his own sordid past (and present) get in the way, the lack of any revenge motive (seemingly Bob’s favorite muse) allows him to unleash his pen with just as much wit, but with fewer red herrings, obscure put-downs and tortured self-justifications than ever. The result is a modest feast made up of consistently entertaining prose, an immanent critique of a would-be eminent social critic, and one more nail in the coffin of obsolete leftism, anarchist-style.

You might not want to invite Bob into your house. I certainly wouldn’t. But at least thank him for doing the dishes. And let’s get on with the next feast!

Jason McQuinn
Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed
Alternative Press Review

The Fifth Estate’s David Watson (aka George Bradford) has just written a valuable critique of major themes in Bookchin’s work titled Beyond Bookchin: Preface for a Future Social Ecology, published by Autonomedia (Brooklyn, NY) and Black & Red (Detroit, MI). It was also stimulated by Bookchin’s abysmal Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism. However, Watson’s work is aimed more towards defending anarcho-primitivism and rehabilitating a non-Bookchinist Social Ecology than towards the critique Bob takes on in this volume of Bookchin’s leftover leftism served in biodegradable ecological and municipalist wrappings.