A true radical thinker dies at 85

Pub date July 31, 2006
WriterTim Redmond
SectionSF Blog

By Tim Redmond

t’s hard for me to imagine talking about leftist political theory in the early 1980s without the works of Murray Bookchin. His ideas were new, fresh, sometimes to radical for the radicals I hung out with — but always inspiring. Back in the days when I was working with some serious malcontents at the Abalone Alliance, Bookchin referred to our newspaper, It’s About Times, as “the only antinuclear publication that doesn’t make me puke.” We were so proud.

Bookchin, who died July 30 in Burlington, VT at 85, was known as the founder of social ecology, and one of the people who first inspired me (an economics major) to think about economics and ecology as potential partners in a new kind of political theory. (Hazel Henderson and Jane Jacobs were the others.) His base concept, laid out in a book called “Post-Scarcity Anarchism,” went like this: The reason that human beings institute powerful government, with powerful military and police forces, is that we’ve always been engaged in a struggle for survival, fighting each other for scarce resources. In the modern era, for the first time in human history, we have the capability to eliminate scarcity as a basic part of human life — to provide the basics of food, clothing, shelter, education and freedom to all. At some point, Bookchin argued (he was forever an optimist) the entire concept of scarcity would be meaningless — and at that point, the whole idea of a powerful, centralized state would become meaningless, too.

He was often cranky and generally impractical, and never fully accepted by mainstream academia, and I haven’t heard much from him in about a decade, but once upon a time, he was a force in a lot of our lives.