An Introduction to Four Essays on the Life and Work of Murray Bookchin, by Mark Lance

The following four essays provide a retrospective look at the life and work of Murray Bookchin. Murray was a central figure in the development of anarchist theory and practice in the 20th century, and also something of a grandfather of the Institute for Anarchist Studies. Personally, I never met Murray, but his spirit and his ideas so permeate the community that brought me into explicitly anarchist work that I feel that I knew him. Murray was, of course, the central figure at the Institute for Social Ecology, an institution that nurtured so many fabulous young minds in careful radical thought, including most of those who founded the IAS and this journal.

Among the people who work on IAS projects, Murray was teacher to some, friend to many, comrade in numerous political struggles to others, and a formidable and important intellectual figure to all of us. As one of the newest members of this loose community of committed and brilliant activist-scholars, I can say that I sense his voice, his ideas, and his legacy, whenever we engage with one another.

The following four articles are written by people who were in one way or another connected to Murray’s life and work. Brian Tokar surveys Murray’s vast contribution to radical environmental thought. He reminds us of how far ahead of the rest of the world Murray’s ideas were, and also of how much they still have to offer a movement that frequently loses its radical edge in favor of accommodation with the very social forces that ground our antagonistic relationship with the Earth in the first place.

Next, John Clarke takes up Murray’s well-known attack on contemporary anarchist practice, specifically his charge that anarchism as it exists in contemporary society has moved towards a shallow sort of individualism. Clarke’s discussion is highly critical, but offers just the sort of intellectual and argumentative ferment that Murray reveled in.

Chaia Heller offers a personal reflection on her many years as a close colleague of Murray’s. She reflects on him both as a thinker and as a friend, offering us images of how we might move forward in the work to which he devoted his life, drawing political lessons as much from the nature of the friendship as from the ideas in his books.

Finally, Chuck Morse, a student and comrade of Murray, offers a detailed and at times highly critical look at his organizing strategy. Though informed by Chuck’s deep understanding of Murray’s theoretical vision, the focus is on the ways Murray sought to institutionalize that vision, with the ultimate conclusion that it was deeply flawed.

In my view, Murray was the most important anarchist theorist of the 20th century. I’m sorry I never met the man in person, but am honored and pleased to have found a home in a community to which he was so central. I am pleased as well to have had a small role in bringing you these essays that continue engagement with his life and work into a new century.

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