Ecology or Catastrophe

For nineteen years, I was the companion and collaborator of Murray Bookchin (b. 1921), a social theorist and political activist for much of the twentieth century. Indoctrinated as a Communist in his childhood and adolescence, he shook off Marxism and its authoritarian mentality and remade himself into a political ecologist, or social ecologist, as he called it, with a left-libertarian, communalist mentality.

He wrote a book about a whole range of environmental ills and published it in 1962, a few months before Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. He proceeded to teach the New York counterculture of the 1960s what ecology is, and to revive the all-but-defunct ideology of anarchism, arguing that the logical institutions for popular control of society are citizens’ assemblies.

In the early 1970s he co-founded a school in Vermont, the Institute for Social Ecology, that would teach thousands of young people how to farm organically, use permaculture, create turbines for wind power, and panels for solar power—all innovations back then. Above all, he taught them how to function in community. He also taught at Ramapo College of New Jersey and engaged with the former New Left as it made its way into academia.

In the 1980s he helped build the Green political movement, first in Europe, then in the United States—always promoting its left-libertarian wing. In the 1990s he dedicated himself to writing history, especially the history of popular movements in classical European and American revolutions. He died in July 2006 at his home in Burlington, Vermont.

On his deathbed, I promised Murray that I would write his biography. After five years of research, numerous interviews, and countless hours poring over documents, I’ve come through with Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin. I’m delighted to say that the book will be published by Oxford University Press in February 2014.