Here's to the Second Half: Celebrating Murray Bookchin, by Chaia Heller

I: Half a Movie

One day last fall, I walk out of a local movie theater onto the quiet street of Northampton, Massachusetts. I squint into the late-day sun after a matinee showing of Fast Food Nation, a film based on the book by Eric Schlosser. I am flooded with the kind of sensory disorientation that often follows an afternoon matinee—one that leaves the viewer suspended somewhere between day and night, reality and representation. This disorientation is intensified by the fact that, as I am leaving the theater, I remember that the friend with whom I want to discuss the film is no longer alive.

I can’t help but continue a conversation I’ve been having with my friend for many years before his death and admittedly now, in the months following. At times, I consider the fact that I should just sort of move on and start talking to a living person about my political concerns now that he is gone. The only problem is that no one can fill his shoes.

Let’s just say that my friend had very big shoes, and since there’s just me and the gaping soles of my friend’s empty shoes, I continue the conversation, imagining myself sitting in his living room, sharing a bag of equally imaginary but delectable chocolate chip cookies I’ve brought from the local bakery. Murray and I share the burden and delight of a terrible sweet tooth.

“So Murray, I just saw this film, Fast Food Nation.”

“Fast Food what?” Murray asks, although I can tell he had indeed heard the question. Murray thinks I watch too many movies. He wishes, like many of my generation, that I’d read more. I wish we read more too.

“Fast Food Nation,” I say, “a film based on the book by Eric Schlosser. It wasn’t earth-shattering, but it put together questions of ecology and capitalism in a way that I really haven’t seen before in a mainstream popular film.” Murray looks up from his cookie, slightly intrigued.

“Really,” Murray says, stretching the word out like unfurling a table cloth across a long dining room table. He is half-feigning curiosity, in a good-natured kind of way. Murray is in a good Sunday afternoon type of mood, the kind of mood in which he’s just happy to have a friend visiting, grateful for conversation.

“They looked at the question of beef production,” I continue, “and they show all the facets of the problem, the sexist exploitation of Mexican illegal immigrant workers in the beef processing plant, the alienation and surveillance of fast food workers, the moral dilemma of a fast food executive who slowly realizes the horror of the whole scene, the plight of local ranchers disenfranchised by industrial ranching and suburban sprawl. It even showed an anemic, but defiant little group of college eco-activists concerned about animal cruelty and environmental fallout from the fecal waste of the beef processing plant.”

It’s not that I think this kind of analysis will impress Murray. After all, he anticipated such analyses almost a half a century ago. In the late 1950s, after breaking with Marxism, Murray was among the first leftists to discuss the impending contradiction between capitalism and nature. At the time, many in the left thought him crazy for challenging the notion of “industrial progress.” Today, some of Murray’s early ideas are as commonplace as the overpriced organic popcorn sold in my local art-house movie theater.

Murray leans back in his recliner. A few cookie crumbs tumble onto the front of his shirt. He smiles and sweeps them away. “Well,” he says, looking up, “it sounds like you saw a good movie—or half a movie.”

For years, Murray has been lamenting that radical scholars keep writing “half an article” or delivering “half a speech.” “Oh yes,” Murray will say about a mutual friend, one he likes well enough, but whose work he generally finds disappointing, “I wish someone would finish at least one article….People of your generation keep writing the same half-article, over and over. I keep looking around for the missing pages.” On such occasions, Murray will give a wry laugh, pretending to look around in his lap for fallen sheets of paper. When he looks back at me, his eyes sparkle with mischief.

“But Murray, at least they finally got the capitalism and nature part right,” I say, snapping off a piece of my own cookie. “Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that no one could manage to put ‘ecology’ and ‘capitalism’ together in the same sentence?” I am reminding Murray of something he has certainly not forgotten. The 1980s was a dark moment in ecological history. It was a time full of red baiting, a period in which no one cited capitalism as a cause of ecological destruction. People used instead euphemisms such as “industrial society,” “technology,” or “western civilization.” The country was simply too close to the cold war to see and name capitalism for what it was.

“Chaia, Dawlin’, I wrote Ecology and Revolutionary Thought in 1964 or ’65. So thirty-odd years later some filmmaker links together the idea of social domination, capitalism, and ecological degradation? Dawlin’, it takes more than a movie.”

I love when Murray calls me Dawlin’. When I hear his drawl, another world unfolds: I see crowded and bustling Bronx streets full of excited young radicals, standing literally on soapboxes, practicing their oratory skills for the next revolution, as workers jostle to and from their dreary jobs.

“Whoever made that movie isn’t interested in the collision between capitalism and nature, per se,” Murray says, brushing a few more cookie crumbs from his green work-shirt. “They’re just taking a few good potshots at corporations and the government. They just want a nicer version of capitalism, one that won’t completely destroy the planet.”

“I know, Murray,” I say, “social democrats, or worse, populists, they want to reform the state and capital in various ways, rather than create a nonhierarchical society.”

I sit back in my chair, staring at Murray, who is now running his hands through what is left of his milk-white hair. I can’t remember when his hair turned so perfectly white. There is just a light shadow of black, down toward the bottom, at the nape of his neck. So much time has passed since we first met, and yet so little has really changed. “I guess the movie was a bit ridiculous,” I say, feeling demoralized.

“I didn’t say it was ridiculous,” Murray said, now visibly guilty at having rained on my parade. “I haven’t even seen the thing. I’ll look forward to seeing it when it comes out on video.” As Murray has been suffering for years from crippling osteoarthritis, he rarely has the opportunity to leave the apartment he shares with his companion, Janet Biehl. Books, videos, telephones, and an occasional scooter ride through town are his primary lifelines to the world.

In addition to being merely anticorporate (rather than explicitly anticapitalist), Fast Food Nation is, in the end, just half a film. It gives a decent enough critique of the beef and fast food industries—one far broader and more complex than what one might have seen, say, during the 1980s—but it fails to provide “the second half,” the part of the story that deals with questions of what to do next, the question of political reconstruction.

During my first summer at the Institute for Social Ecology (a now dream-like place where, for over thirty years, radical activists and intellectuals swam in a pond, quarreled about the virtues or foibles of vegetarianism or veganism, all while contemplating revolutionary theory and praxis), I remember listening to one of Murray’s more delicious lectures. I sat on the scrubby floor, scribbling in my spiral ring notebook, “Critique is unfulfilled without reconstruction.”

“Murray, the film did suck,” I finally admit, turning back to Murray.

Since 9/11, with its fall-out of eroding civil liberties, a protracted and immoral war, and a generally bleak political landscape, I can’t help but look for little specks of hope. Like many others, I still look to the movies for escape and solace.

“Chaia, Dawlin’, what can I tell you,” he says, patting me on the hand. “Nothing, Murray…I know,” I say, grasping his hand in return.

I continue to walk through downtown Northampton. That feeling of total immersion that only a movie provides is draining from me like drops of water after rain. I walk into a jewelry store on Main Street, looking for some glittery unaffordable thing to distract me from the funk I have now gotten myself into. Looking around at Northampton isn’t making things much better. Whenever I used to talk about Northampton to Murray, I’d call it a “boutique town,” the kind of town where you can find about twenty kinds of whimsical candleholders but not a single sensible long-burning candle—the kind you might actually find useful in the event of a “real” disaster.

After fifteen years of living in this town, it does not feel like home to me the way Burlington, Vermont did. There are too many colleges, too many people moving in and out of town. After meeting Murray at the Institute for Social Ecology in central Vermont in 1984, he convinced me to move to Burlington to join his study group and to also become active in the Burlington Greens, a local chapter of a budding national movement that at that time held promise in Murray’s eyes as a potential avenue for real political reconstruction.

In the fall of 1985, I packed my things into a few duffel bags and headed for Burlington where I was, unbeknownst to me, in for an education of a lifetime. During the precious years of Murray’s study groups in Burlington, I filled piles of notebooks with detailed notes.

“There are two key moments to the revolutionary process,” Murray would say to all seated in his ex-wife (and lifelong friend) Bea Bookchin’s living room. We’d be huddled on Bea’s old couches, listening to Murray’s passionate orations, moving our Bic pens as fast as we could go. I remember noticing how fast I had learned to write while
Murray spoke. I wanted every precious morsel.

“Critique is crucial,” Murray would say. “We need to look critically at history, we have to understand the potentialities, the revolutionary potentialities that never came to fruition, as well as understand the causes and implications of what did unfold instead.”

Murray would sit in Bea’s overstuffed armchair, leaning forward, his elbows on his knees, his eyes resplendent with the aura of revolution.

“But without a reconstructive vision,” he would continue, “without a clear and coherent understanding of how to get from here to where we ought to be, then critique is deprived of fulfilling its revolutionary potential.”

After studying ancient Greek and “continental” philosophy during my undergraduate years, I couldn’t believe I was sitting in the living room of a real, live philosopher. I also couldn’t believe that this one used the word “revolutionary.” In college, my professors never talked about ethics in a socially relevant way. We never talked about “what ought to be.”

The problem with films like Fast Food Nation (or the even more politically conservative, yet earnest, An Inconvenient Truth) is that they fail to talk about how to actually replace the current systems of power with one more humane and ecological. After viewing An Inconvenient Truth shortly after Murray’s death, I couldn’t help but sit in the theater
bawling. While most were crying about global warming, I was weeping over the fact that the “reconstructive vision” was left to the last few minutes of the film, and included trying to elect an environmentally oriented Democrat to office in 2008. Perhaps most horrifying, was that the “what to do” section was left for a few one-liners that floated across the screen during the film credits. The reconstructive vision was a grocery list of tasks that individuals might do to conserve energy, recycle products, and generally consume less “stuff.”

II. Dual Power: Talking About a Reconstructive Vision

A few days after I saw Fast Food Nation, my friend Brooke from the ISE called to ask if I’d do a talk at a college in upstate New York. She is in the process of developing a new kind of educational institute up in that region, not a new Institute for Social Ecology, per se (I guess no one could do that), but one that incorporates many of Murray’s ideas into its vision. She’s hoping to create a local lecture series that will help raise interest and awareness of some of the issues she hopes to include in the new institute.

“Can you do something on dual power?” she asks over the phone. Brooke herself is a seasoned activist and lecturer. She was a key organizer for the events that went down in Seattle in 1999, quite capable of giving the lecture herself. I guess she wants to throw some older folk like me into the mix.

While Murray was certainly not the first to advance the idea of dual power (it was discussed by Trotsky among others), Murray was among the first to articulate the idea in the context of the new social movements emerging out of the 1960s.

For Murray, dual power was the process through which revolutionaries create a set of new directly democratic political counter-institutions, alongside of the existing power structures, to create a contest of power and legitimacy. According to Murray, a revolutionary movement has to create significant tension with existing nodes of power such as the state and capital. Rather than just destroy an existing society 19th century insurrection-style (with armored vehicles and so on), a dual power approach builds grassroots political counter-institutions from the bottom up.

“I’d love to talk on dual power,” I reply to Brooke. Unbeknownst to my friend, I’m eager to launch into a discussion about Fast Food Nation with a real, live person. I want to tell Brooke that there are just too many critics out there telling the populace what’s wrong but unable to explain how to transform the system along revolutionary lines. I want to tell her how sad it is that the ISE no longer offers the summer institute, because, among other things, I’d want to show the film and get the chance to talk about the missing “second half.” Just as I’m about to say, “The story about dual power would be the ‘second half’ to Fast Food Nation,” I can hear Brooke’s cell phone playing a movie soundtrack in the background.

“Sorry, Chaia, I have to go,” Brooke says. As the coordinator of a radical bookstore in New York City, Brooke is too busy for idle conversation. “Just email me some dates you can do the talk, okay?”

Dual power. A few years back, just a year after 9/11, just before the U.S. antiglobalization movement took a nose dive, Brooke and a bunch of ISE folks—along with a scattering of other antiauthoritarians around the country—decided to take the antiglobalization movement one step further. Still suspended in a post-Seattle moment, we were trying to figure out how to illustrate the need to move beyond fighting against global capital, state hegemony, and social and ecological injustice. We decided to try to figure out a way to communicate what we were fighting for.

I remember my own angst in Seattle of 1999, when Michael Moore took to the stage and roused the masses assembled there about the social injustices waged around the world by the U.S. government. While Moore’s criticisms about corporate America were dead on, his vision remained on a critical level only. The “second half” of his talk failed to materialize, leaving the crowd agitated but rather hopeless as to what to do with their moral outrage. Over the years, Moore has become a welcome, but to my mind, rather limited charismatic critic, someone who articulates a well-crafted critique of the present situation, while failing to offer a utopian vision of the future. Even more problematic is the inability of many of today’s charismatic critics to articulate a clear understanding of how we would actually move from here to there.

The question of how to create a dual power situation addresses precisely this problem.

In this spirit, about a year after Seattle, our little group of activists decided to create a confederation of antiauthoritarian groups that would share a common revolutionary charter, one that articulated a clear reconstructive vision. The group failed ultimately to take off. This was due, at least in part, to a wave of disorientation following the outbreak of the “war on terror” as well as a weak and unstable constituency on the ground.

Despite this failure, we did manage to leave behind an incredible piece of work: a set of ethical principles—ones derived from ideals of direct democracy, municipalized economics, social justice, and ecology. We also left behind a lovely trail of short position papers that represents the culmination of over a year of painstaking work by members of the collective.

One of the main questions that absorbed the group was the question of dual power. While we disagreed on various strategies for how to move toward a dual power situation, we shared the desire to do as Murray urged, to move beyond what Isaiah Berlin called “negative freedom,” derived from the French liberté, which implies freedom from what we don’t want. Instead, we yearned to move toward the ideal of positive freedom, derived from the German freiheit, which entails the freedom to create the kind of society we crave.

III. Here’s to Political Power and Consciousness

After my brief phone call with Brooke, I decide to set about writing a talk on dual power. “That’s what I need to do,” I inform my husband, a very patient man who is always willing to hear “what I need to do.” Since Murray’s death, Alan has been eager for me to do what I need to do to feel better about Murray’s passing—and about the disintegration of what remains of the Left since the “war on terror” began and put the kibosh on the first years of the new global justice movement that was percolating at the turn of this new century.

A few days later, I begin to sketch out my talk. Over dinner, I discuss it with Alan. Although Alan is more of a generic type of socialist, he admired Murray intensely. “It’ll be a kind of tribute to Murray,” I say. “The question, as usual, is how to persuade social movement activists that we need to recapture political power—political power as Murray defined it.”

How to comprehend and wrest real political power is something Murray Bookchin devoted a great deal of his life to thinking about. As one of his students and friends, I have tried to give the problem a good deal of thought as well.

I decide the only way to proceed is to interview Murray, my own version of Murray, of course. The great thing about talking to Murray these days is that I have complete artistic control over the conversation. In his later years, Murray was so rapt in unbinding the Gordian knot of revolutionary history that it was often difficult to drag him back to the present, to talk critically, or even optimistically, about current events. Often, when I’d phone, I’d find him down in the trenches, arguing with Spanish anarchists about their ultimate philosophical undoing. I could almost hear the sound of bombs exploding overhead.

“So Murray, I want to give a talk on dual power,” I say, sitting across from my friend.

Murray’s eyes light up and he raises a bold fist into the air of his Burlington living room.

“Now that’s something!” Murray says, chuckling.

“But, Murray, you have to remember I’m talking to my generation.” I’m always trying to remind Murray that I come from the generation of the unread. I hail from an American postwar culture with an impoverished leftist sensibility and with what Murray rightly calls “an undeniable absence of character.”

“Dual power has political and economic dimensions,” Murray begins. As we are now once again in my fantasy, there are more sweets in this story. Murray takes a particularly thoughtful bite into a cookie and scatters the crumbs that float in the small tufts of hair that sprout above the neck of his v-neck, white t-shirt.

“Dual power is a revolutionary strategy for reclaiming real political power or the power of a self-governing populace to make public policy on its own behalf.” Murray puts emphasis on the word “power,” unfurling it like a long black flag—a black flag speckled with red and green jewels. “For centuries, the Left has struggled to understand power. They had no idea what it is, how to recapture it, or what to do with it once it is won. Today, many in the so-called Left just ignore the question completely.”

Whenever I’m with Murray, I try to sound knowledgeable and committed, as if I could make up for my disappointing generation. I end up sounding like a cliff-notes version of Murray, sort of like fizzy cherry soda gone flat.

“Why don’t you tell me about dual power,” Murray implores. “I’d like to listen.” He looks tired today. He leans back in his chair and mops his forehead with a white handkerchief.

“To move toward a dual power situation,” I exclaim, “we must create an ongoing tension between decentralized, directly democratic political assemblies on the one hand, and the state and capital on the other. This entails establishing legitimate political institutions, general assemblies.”

The sound of my voice echoing in Murray’s apartment makes me wince. At times, I find it difficult to maintain my own intellectual dignity in Murray’s presence. His mind is not just encyclopedic, it is truly limitless; it is a poetic and wild-winged thing, something that cannot be contained within the perimeters of a room, a book, a page.

I continue my narrative, at least in part, as an attempt to encourage Murray, to prove I have learned something from the years in which he has been a generous and encouraging teacher. I remind him, whenever I can, that he has left a mark on so many people and movements. I just wish the mark he made on me was more legible.

“Through the general assembly,” I continue, “we move toward the second, economic dimension of dual power. The power to make economic policy must be in the hands of everyday people—regardless of their vocational or worker status. As we democratize economic policy, as we take back the power to make decisions about what we will produce, how we will produce it, and about how we will distribute it, we begin to create a counter-power to capitalism; we begin to create a moral economy, one determined by people who live and work in real communities, providing for the common good.”

Murray leans back in his armchair, his hands folded on his chest. He is listening with eyes closed. This means either that he is entirely content with my oration or entirely depressed.

Murray slowly sits up in his chair, wipes his brow with the back of his hand. He takes a deep breath. He is in considerable pain today—arthritis. Even though this exchange is my own concoction, the arthritis boldly makes its way into the scene.

“There remain several central problems,” I continue. “First, creating popular assemblies is not enough to create the good society. In Seattle…” I continue.

I like to talk to Murray about Seattle. Seattle is perhaps the only event in my own life that in some way approximates what Murray experienced in what I consider to be a “real” political confrontation.

“In Seattle, Michael Moore got on stage and went on and on about what was wrong with corporate America. He gave what you’d call ‘the first half’ of his talk. But imagine if he had tried to elaborate the ‘second half’ in an unmediated and undialectical way.”

I’ve captured Murray’s interest.

“If Michael Moore, “ I continue, “were to miraculously grasp the need for direct democracy, and were to then call for the immediate creation of popular assemblies across the land, it would open a Pandora’s box, the contents of which would not be pretty . And this is because there is nothing inherently liberatory about popular assemblies or direct democracy.”

Murray smiles, his eyes still closed. Again, I’m not sure if he’s happy with my oration or if he’s just found a more comfortable position, some relief from pain.

I continue my rant, hopeful that the smile is due to the former.

“If Michael Moore called for the immediate creation of directly democratic popular assemblies, waving a magic wand that would wipe out all state and corporate opposition, these assemblies would only be as liberatory as the people and principles that constitute them. If Michael Moore were able to convince Americans to create instant popular assemblies, what would we see? Most likely, we’d see a dystopic circus, a series of popular assemblies peopled by sexists, racists, and all- American bigots of all kinds.”

At this, Murray offers up a slow and serious chuckle. “You wouldn’t believe what people can do in the name of decentralization!” he says, smiling sardonically. “You could have a decentralized confederation of dunces,” he laughs dryly.

“The general assembly,” I continue, “is an emancipatory structure. It is a necessary structure. But it alone, does not represent a sufficient condition for creating the good society.”

I’ve been droning about “necessary and sufficient conditions” for almost twenty years now. I can’t believe I’m old enough to have been talking about anything for over twenty years. Personally, though, I find the idea clarifying. I’m not sure if anyone else finds it useful.

“In the end,” I continue, “it’s the actual people who breathe life into new structures, those who discuss, debate, and decide amongst themselves, that determine the character and reach of new libertarian institutions. Those who forge new understandings of freedom must also be transformed. It is the people who constitute the general assembly who can ultimately bring the potential of that liberatory structure into its fullness. It is the people, and it is their consciousness. It is the very principles that they use to guide their institutions and practices that will help shape the nature of those institutions.”

Murray sits up in his chair and clears his throat. This task entails a long staccato series of tiny coughs that ultimately leave his voice smooth and resplendent. Such attempts are always followed by an overly polite, “Please excuse me.”

“My god, Murray, please don’t apologize for clearing your throat,” I always say, even though I don’t think he’s really seeking to be excused. He is simply a terribly polite person.

Voice cleared, Murray continues, “We need, of course, a clear and coherent set of ethical principles.”

“Of course,” I respond. “We need a set of principles regarding what it means to live as a human being, humanely, among the rest of humanity and the natural world.”

During his life, Murray articulated the need to develop a leftist ethics when he broke with communism in his youth. At sixteen, he witnessed the horrors of Stalinism and other authoritarian faces of communism that were proof enough that overcoming capitalism, or socializing the state, were not enough. Since his youth, Murray understood that the revolution must transcend not only state and economic hierarchies, but must introduce a new social and political humanitarian ethic. He knew that we must overcome a broader logic of antisociality, a logic of dehumanization that thrives in stratified institutions, as well as in unexamined lives.

During his life, Murray was often criticized for emphasizing problems of state hierarchies over hierarchies of class. It’s true that Murray regarded the State as a despotic anachronism, whose legitimacy must be challenged. Yet what Murray brought to the discussion about problems of state and capital, was a rarified and elaborate appreciation of hierarchy in general.

Murray is looking tired. I offer to get him a glass of water, or better, his silver flask of brandy or a glass of fine Port. I know I should just let him rest. But since Murray is Murray, I know that he will not rest, and so I go on.

“The political agenda for freedom,” I assert boldly, “at any given moment in history, at any given general assembly, can only be as broad as the consciousness of the very people who constitute that general assembly. Their reach for freedom will always be limited by the cultural, social, and political constraints that shape what they can think, say, or know at any given time.”

“Go on,” Murray says, both hands covering his eyes in concentration.

“Today, many of us can ‘think-to-say’ that the oppression of women, queers, the denigration of people of color, are conditions to transcend. Today, many of us can ‘think-to-say’ that these matters should be included on the ‘agenda for freedom,’ but this was not true, for instance, during the Old Left. Before the new social movements of the sixties, there existed an Old Left that knew enough to articulate ‘the woman question’ or the ‘negro question’, but had great troubles linking these problems to the broader revolutionary struggle in a truly transformational way.”

Murray nods his head in silent agreement, although I can tell he is not exactly thrilled with this part of my narrative. This theme has sort of been my own trip, mainly influenced by Gramscian notions of hegemony and my own experience as a feminist and, earlier in my life, as a lesbian feminist. It’s not that Murray would disagree with the themes I’m presenting; it’s that his passion lies elsewhere.

“Today,” I continue on, despite Murray’s possible dismay, “there are still manifold shades and shapes of dehumanization of which many are still unaware. There are still many forms of unfreedom that have yet to be named, thought or articulated. This is why consciousness raising and education, as central and profound processes of self and community transformation, are crucial to the broader revolutionary process and project. We can only create a nonhierarchical society when and if we embody the ongoing commitment to bring to consciousness the myriad unnamed forms of social hierarchy.

Murray nods, this time offering up a slow smile. I decide to continue in terms that he might relate to a bit more.

“A struggle for dual power then is not just a struggle to ‘replace’ the state and capitalism with new liberatory and directly democratic structures. It is also a struggle to recapture our humanity in the broadest sense. Elaborating dimensions of freedom through a continual process of consciousness-raising and re-humanization is the work of the social movement. It is the work for social justice, freedom, and ultimately, revolution.”

IV. Seeing the Big Picture: A Logic of Sociality

Since this is my fantasy—since all I have left of Murray are a few gilded crumbs—I decide to complete my talk, adding my own take on the whole ‘sociality’ idea. I poached this theme from Murray, peppering it with a few of my own insights.

“Dual power promises to recapture the power to determine the features of our everyday social lives. It also seeks to infuse the policies that shape our lives with a logic of sociality and human freedom. Dual power demands the broadest form of freedom, the freedom to make policy that grounds our understandings of freedom, in a forum that is transparent and directly democratic.”

As for my talk on dual power, the one I am preparing for my friend Brooke, I know my audience. They are going to say “enough with this dual power stuff; we just need to build counter-institutions like coops.”

My audience is people like me, except me twenty-five years ago. They are people who believe they can “coop” their way to a new society, creating a dual power situation by creating social institutions like cooperatively run workshops along side of capitalistic ones. This is not a new idea—it was central to anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-communism of the 19th century onward. It was later a central inclination of those in the new social movements of the sixties and seventies and of many wonderful young people I know today. Just the other day, I ran into a lovely young woman on the streets of Northampton, her eyes ablaze as she described the cooperative farm where she’s working. As we parted, she sang to me over her shoulder, “Little by little, we’ll change the world!”

One thing I learned from Murray, and from my own experiences, is that we can indeed try to change the world little by little, but that we must have a very big picture of the world we are moving toward.

Creating counter-institutions, social institutions such as worker coops, etc., can play a key role toward this end. Such projects help us recapture our humanity; they socialize us into the kinds of people we seek to become. Such experiences make our lives more livable, grounding the principle of hope in something we can live, see, and know in a concrete way. The young woman working on the farm is precisely the kind of socialized, thoughtful, and lovely person I’d like to meet in the popular assembly—after the revolution.

Indeed, these projects must be anchored ultimately in the idea (and eventually the reality of) a general assembly. In order to constitute something more than “economic alternatives” to the dominant capitalist system, these projects must be rooted in political power. Alongside of our social projects, such as worker and other types of cooperatives, we need to begin to think about how to seize power from the bottom up. Some social ecologists believe running candidates in municipal elections provides a way to educate citizens within a city, town, or village, empowering them over time to eventually replace representative democracy with democracy that is direct. I tend to think this is a good idea.

Finale: Letter from the grave

A few months ago, I’m sitting at my desk, rifling through a blinding array of daily emails. I read one with the subject heading, ‘Have You Read This?” I click open the email, sent by a friend, and then click on the link highlighted in the message. Suddenly, a page appears. I read through what seems to me to be a poem. The most poignant and heartbreaking poem I have ever read.

Socialism is the star
by which I navigated my thoughts
however much it has failed me
and eluded my hopes.

I pull these lines from “The Twilight Comes Early” a short poetic piece that Murray’s companion Janet discovered in his personal notebooks after his death. Janet decided a few months ago to put it online for his friends to enjoy. The piece is at once signature “Murray” and quite the opposite of how he generally presented himself to the world. It reads like a song, a lament really, about Murray’s great sorrow at the failure of socialism during his lifetime, as well as his undying hope for the future. It ends with a few words about the “principle of hope,” which lives within the romantic, a figure to which Murray grants “an abiding place in human affairs.”

I stare at the computer screen, my whole body shaking under the weight of grief, love, personal loss. I have no idea how long I’m sitting in my desk chair roiling in a kind of tender intimacy with someone who has died but is still reaching out, smiling while extending his hand.

Step by step, our potentialities,
like hearing became organized sound,
and the Marseillaise was
born.

Those are the last lines of the last string of Murray’s words that made their way into the world. I love that the piece ends with the Marseillaise, a song he cherished, a song about liberté.

“So Murray,” I ask him a few days later, “would you have put that piece on the Internet yourself? Would you have published it? It was so romantic, so intimate, so, so, well, almost vulnerable…”

“Who knows,” Murray replies, slightly annoyed. “It wasn’t a great piece of writing. I’ve certainly written better. But if you like it, well, good for you…” Murray chuckles a slow hoarse chuckle and begins to cough. After clearing his throat, he grins wildly, “So there you have it, Dawlin’, a letter from the grave.”

Murray is a turquoise river that surges endlessly toward the sea, a conversation that cannot be denied, not even by death.

Years ago, in one of my more morose moods when I was pondering the futility and inevitability of death, Murray tried to cheer me up. He said wryly, “You know, according to Hegel, death does not exist.” When I looked back at him stupefied, Murray added, “Death is not a thing, it is a no-thing; it is the negation of being. Existence is being, which means becoming. So, death means not existing, not becoming. Death does not exist.”

Before his death, I and many others promised Murray that we would do our best to continue to develop his ideas, to build on the tradition for which he lived. I guess we were trying to convince him that his ideas would never die. Personally, my own promises seemed puny. I will be forever limited by my own personal limitations—intellectual, historical, personal—that will prevent me from ever making the kind of contribution that Murray’s legacy so deserves.

But, I can at least try to tell the second half of the story. I can give that talk on dual power. I can try to raise the question of power, how to wrest it, what to do with it once we hold it in our hands.

The world we live in today is in many ways very similar to the one in which Murray was born, but it is also so different. Murray was continually amazed by the ability of capitalism to adapt and morph, wrapping itself around society according to particular cultural, ecological, and social demands. The powers we face are multiple and multifaceted as we move toward an age of increasingly decentralized and diffuse authoritarian power. Institutions such as multinationals, the church, the WTO, and other supranational institutions wield tremendous economic and social power that in turn informs State policy. The fact that the WTO, for instance, can create a revolving door through which thugs move in and out of government and corporate bodies, the fact that the FDA is loaded up with former biotechnology executives, speaks to the undemocratic nature of the current system. We have a lot of work to do—much more than what can be accomplished by charismatic critics.

There are so many ways to continue this work. Raising the question of dual power, for instance, in the context of popular films such as Fast Food Nation, can provide a way to begin a conversation. Libertarian socialists today can help broaden the analysis offered up by popular figures today such as Eric Schlosser, Michael Moore, or even Al Gore for that matter. We can place ourselves dead center of popular debates about healthcare, global warming, corporate arrogance, declining civil liberties, transforming these debates into utopian discussions about creating a new world.

It is up to those who loved Murray or who simply love reason and the ideals of libertarian socialism, to raise awareness of the need to talk about “the second half” left out of the narratives related by to- day’s charismatic critics. We can be the ones to talk about hierarchy in general; we can be the ones to finally seize and sculpt power into a dazzling and democratic thing.

Here’s to the second half of all our conversations. Here’s to the relentless pursuit of freedom in all its complexity.

Here’s to you, Murray. Death becomes you. Let the second half of the Marseillaise begin.

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