Monday, August 07, 2006

Murray Bookchin RIP

Communist becomes anarchist becomes environmentalist

Murray Bookchin, dead at 85, got a nice write-up in today's NY Times. He wrote 27 books, and was basically an anti-capitalist, saying that the need for growth will continue to harm the environment.

Mr. Bookchin (great name) has some good ideas, not least of which is the dissolving of the nation-state into a federation of municipalities with New England-style town meetings as the policy making body. Eg talk it out in public and see with your own eyes who wants and does what with collective action and public monies. (I saw this first actually in Northern Colorado where a town got together to discuss its first major expenditure, a water system. To this day the measurement system created in Colorado is used internationally to measure water supply). He also called strict environmentalists, those wishing to hold down the human population, as "eco-fascists".

He had a varied and interesting life, as a guard at Fort Knox, factory worker at General Motors, and tenured professor. In 1973 the FBI broke into his apartment in the East Village looking for members of the Weather Underground, whom he despised. His pamphlet, Listen, Marxist! was widely-read in the 1960s underground movement.

I guess where he had it wrong is that yes, capitalism has its excesses, and yes the rich get richer quicker than the poor get richer and this bothers people. But without growth nobody gets richer, least of all the poor. You need to have the dynamics of the market system to keep prices down and distribute things the most efficiently. Where capitalism fails is when the state gets into bed with rent-seeking corporations which have grown too big and inefficient and therefore seek to buy favors instead of produce things of value to society. Mr. Murray knew this too and thats why he called himself an anarchist.

Additionally economic growth moves one out of poverty, and allows the purchase of goods beyond the subsistence level. Clean environments are a good. A more wealthy society can afford to buy more of a cleaner environment than can a poorer society.

Mr. Bookchin might take some satisfaction that anarcho-syndicalism (worker ownership and management of the means of production) is happening in the USA, where more than 50% of Americans own stock (mostly of course through their pension funds). Additionally, only 50% of Americans work for companies with more than 100 people, meaning that half of all Americans work for themselves or small companies where worker alienation may be less than the larger ones.

Bookchin wrote under psuedonyms to avoid the wrath of the anti-communists and other scondrels hiding behind the flag, and denounced some of his own writings later on in life as wrong-headed thinking.

My brother told me this, which I agree with: "If you're not a communist when you are 20 you don't have a heart, and if you're not a capitalist when you are 40 you don't have any brains". Mr. Murray had both.