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White, Damian - Bookchin. a Critical Appraisal

White, Damian - Bookchin. a Critical Appraisal

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Published by Renee Henderson

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Published by: Renee Henderson on Sep 07, 2011
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Bookchin’s engagement with, and critique of, post-war or ‘advanced’
capitalism develops from both his historical understanding of
pre-capitalist societies and his view that sociological and cultural
transformations of capitalism in the post-war era have significantly
problematised classic Marxist modes of critique. Three key themes
can be identified in his writings on post-war capitalism.
Firstly, in writings dating as far back as the Contemporary Issues
era, Bookchin argues that the international consolidation and
stabilisation of US and global capitalism in the post-war era, and
the political management of slumps and booms coupled with
the incorporation and shrinking of the proletariat in the US (and
elsewhere in the affluent world), have transformed capitalism. Such
developments have rendered implausible the classic Marxist claim
that advanced capitalism will be undermined through a conflict
between wage labour and capital (PSA, 1969; AMFL, 1999: 46–7,
PSA, 3rd Edition). All Bookchin’s essays of the late 1960s onwards
additionally contend that the US is best characterised as experiencing
major cultural shifts that have given rise to ‘class decomposition’
(PSA: 208). Class exploitation in the US and the West in general has
not disappeared, but the ‘traditional class struggle ceases to have
revolutionary implications’ (PSA: 208). ‘Social decomposition’,

White 01 intro 64
White 01 intro 64

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Social Ecology as Modern Social Theory 65

however, is not simply understood as occurring at the level of class.
Bookchin argues that it is a process equally affecting the patriarchal
family, authoritarian modes of upbringing, and traditional attitudes
to sexuality, work, religion and politics.
Second, it is argued (Herber, 1952; OSE; PSA) that the most
advanced sectors of post-war capitalism in the US have experienced
significant transformations in their internal composition. Specifically,
Bookchin’s writings of the 1950s and 1960s focus on the extent
to which US capitalism is increasingly dominated by ever larger
corporate and multinational entities in electronics, chemistry, nuclear
and ‘cybernetic’ technologies. These developments – prompted in
part by Cold War military spending – have re-orientated the basic
economic and industrial structure of the US. This has given rise to a
‘new industrial revolution’ allowing for vast economic growth, but it
is now premised on a new project, namely, ‘the total industrialization
of nature’ (Bookchin, 1974: xxxii).
A third theme of Bookchin’s writings from the mid 1960s onwards
(CIOC, LOTC) is that any credible critique needs to attend to how US
society in the post-war period has experienced further dramatic trans-
formations in the built environment. Specifically, critical attention
needs to be paid to the new forms of urbanism, characterised by the
growth of vast megalopolises, sprawling suburbs, ex-urbs and even
huge urban belts (see CIOC, LOTC, FUTC) that now spread across
the US landscape.

How then should we re-orientate our critical engagements in such
changed circumstances? Broadly speaking, Bookchin argues that such
developments require a new style of critique with five features.

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