Bookchin on the New Left

murray bookchin smiling

In this wide-ranging interview, Murray Bookchin discusses the New Left in its cultural, social and political dimensions.  He recollects about what he saw and experienced, particularly in the Lower East Side of New York City in the 1950s and '60s, including his own involvement in the anti-nuclear and Civil Rights movements.

Bookchin traces the evolution of these movements, discussing his own time with the East Side chapter of Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). He also describes the emergence of and his encounters with the early feminist movement, the counter-culture of the hippies, beatniks, and pacifists, and organizations such as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The counterculture became possible because of the "fat" of capitalist affluence, Bookchin says.

He discusses the times not only as a personal recollection but also as an assessment of their ideas, including the trajectories and tensions that existed amidst the tendencies and movements. The anti-war and peace movements are discussed in detail.

The high point of radicalism in "The Sixties," Bookchin says, was 1966. The infusion of movements with Marxism -- Leninism, Trotskyism and Maoism in particular -- is also discussed, a crucial change that negatively affected the tenor of the decade. Bookchin talks about the development of his own ideas, including post-scarcity and his hand in the resuscitation of anarchism in America.

The May-June events of 1968 in France are also discussed. Bookchin himself went to France during this time, and recalls his own observations and conclusions about that period.

It would be remiss not to note that these interviews were conducted during a time when Bookchin still viewed anarchism as a viable social theory. Years later he would reject anarchism as a psychology focused on individual behavior. The views expressed in the interview were not his "mature" ideas. For his "final" views on social theory, including the political conception that Bookchin considered the most promising for changing capitalist society, those interested should consult "The Commuanlist Project." 

The interviews were conducted by Doug Morris.

Viewers interested in learning more about these times, including Bookchin's own involvements, should consult Janet Biehl's excellent biography, Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin (Oxford University Press, 2015).