The New York Review of Books, “How My Father’s Ideas Helped the Kurds Create a New Democracy”

One mild spring day in Vermont in April 2004, my father, the historian and philosopher Murray Bookchin, was chatting with me, as we did almost daily. We’d talk about everything and everyone—friends, family, and thinkers from Karl Marx and Karl Polanyi (whom he admired) to then-president George W. Bush (whom he did not) and George Smiley, the fictional John Le Carré character whom he identified with and was fond of. He paused, and out of the blue disclosed what seemed an odd piece of news: “Apparently,” he said, “the Kurds have been reading my work and are trying to implement my ideas.” He said it so casually and off-handedly that it was as if he didn’t quite believe it himself.

My father, eighty-three years old at the time, had spent six decades writing hundreds of articles and twenty-four books articulating an anticapitalist vision of an ecological, democratic, egalitarian society that would eliminate the domination of human by human, and bring humanity into harmony with the natural world, a body of ideas he called “social ecology.” Although his work was well-known within anarchist and libertarian left circles, his was hardly a household name.

Unexpectedly, that week, he had received a letter from an intermediary writing on behalf of the jailed Kurdish activist Abdullah Öcalan, head of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). As its co-founder, sole theoretician, and undisputed leader, Öcalan had a larger-than-life reputation—but nothing about his ideology seemed in any way to resemble my father’s.

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