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CLARK, John P.- Bridging the Unbridgeable Chasm: On Bookchin’s Critique of the Anarchist Tradition

Friday 27 November 2009, by ps

Perspectives 2009

One of Murray Bookchin’s best-known works is Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm.1 In it, he argues that two quite distinct and incompatible currents have traversed the entire history of anarchism. He labels these two divergent tendencies “social anarchism” and “lifestyle anarchism,” and contends that between them “there exists a divide that cannot be bridged.”

The idea that there is an “unbridgeable chasm” between two viewpoints that share certain common presuppositions and goals, and whose practices are in some ways interrelated, is a bit suspect from the outset. It is particularly problematic when proposed by a thinker like Bookchin, who claims to hold a dialectical perspective. Whereas nondialectical thought merely opposes one reality to another in an abstract manner, or else places them inertly beside one another, a dialectical analysis examines the ways in which various realities presuppose one another, constitute one another, challenge the identity of one another, and push one another to the limits of their development. Accordingly, one important quality of such an analysis is that it helps those with divergent viewpoints see the ways in which their positions are not mutually exclusive but can instead be mutually realized in a further development of each.

Nevertheless, Bookchin contends that there is an absolute abyss between two tendencies within contemporary anarchism. One is what he depicts as an individualist and escapist current that he sees as increasingly dominating the movement, while the other is a communally oriented and socially engaged form of anarchism, which he sees as in a process of continual retreat. Bookchin argues that this stark dichotomy has its roots in the history of anarchism, and that certain flaws in the very mainstream of historical anarchism have contributed to the ways in which the contemporary movement has gone astray. He presents his “unbridgeable chasm” thesis as follows: “Stated bluntly: Between the socialist pedigree of anarcho-syndicalism and anarcho-communism (which have never denied the importance of self-realization and the fulfillment of desire), and the basically liberal, individualistic pedigree of lifestyle anarchism (which fosters social ineffectuality, if not outright social negation), there exists a divide that cannot be bridged unless we completely disregard the profoundly different goals, methods, and underlying philosophy that distinguish them.”

View online : Read the whole article from the Institute for Anarchist Studies