Found in Translation: Murray Bookchin’s Social Ecology in Turkey

Written by Stephen Hunt


In the present day, many political activists in Turkey are familiar with Murray Bookchin’s ideas, especially in the Kurdish-majority region of the South East. When Abdullah Öcalan adopted and adapted Bookchin’s political theory, he significantly amplified his influence. Commentators such as Carne Ross have spoken of the “remarkable” nature of the relationship that “bizarrely connects” the American social ecologist and communalist with the Kurdish freedom movement’s imprisoned figurehead.1 Janet Biehl and others have ably analysed Bookchin’s inspiration in reconfiguring the Kurdish revolutionary project.2 So, we know much about why Öcalan called for the movement to read Bookchin’s works in the 2000s, but we know less about how he came to read them. Yet while the connection may at first seem unlikely, it was not, of course, the outcome of random chance. The first links between social ecology and the Turkish left were established earlier, in the 1980s. This is a brief account of the translation and uptake of Bookchin’s ideas and influence in Turkey, especially and increasingly among the Kurdish population. What follows reveals more about, in the words of Janet Biehl, Bookchin’s partner and biographer, the “unsung heroes” who have translated and disseminated Bookchin’s ideas in Turkish.3

The earliest translations of Bookchin’s essays appeared in a small-circulation Turkish anarchist magazine called Kara during the 1980s. Kara was the first Anarchist magazine in Turkey, running for twelve issues, from October 1986 to November 1987, and was published in Istanbul.4 The choice of texts is telling, appropriately representative of commentary on the times that could resonate across borders. Issue 2 (November 1986) featured “Liberterlik ve Ekoloji,” literally “Libertarianism and Ecology.” Translated by Handan Tayyar, this is an extract from Bookchin’s 1964 essay “Ecology and Revolutionary Thought,” being an early, indeed groundbreaking, exposition of Bookchin’s view of social ecology. In the following spring, the complete text of “Utopianism and Futurism” appeared in Issue 7 of Kara (April 1987). Translated by Nesrin Çelen as “Ütopizm ve Fütürizm,” this essay had been published as the conclusion to Toward an Ecological Society in 1980. Here, Bookchin disdained what he considered to be the misframed predictions of the future that were gaining popularity through contemporaries ranging from Alvin Toffler and Richard Buckminster Fuller to Garrett Hardin. For Bookchin, even supposedly adventurous visions were confined to a mere “extrapolation of the present.”5 This betrayed futurism’s shortcomings as a set of predictions that too often looked to a horizon still constrained by historic and present social structures based on hierarchical power relationships. Such entrenched “social limitations,” served to undermine human potential for actualization through emancipation, and lacked the spirit of authentic transformational development to be found in classic utopian discourses. The inclusion of Bookchin’s essays in Kara is significant as the first known publication of his texts in Turkish translation. He may have known that “Utopianism and Futurism” was available in Turkish since it appears in the bibliography of published works that Janet Biehl collated to mark his seventieth birthday in 1991.6 While inclusion in Kara would have raised awareness of his pioneering version of social ecology among non-English readers in Turkey, however, according to Turkish social ecologist Metin Guven this “rather eclectic” anarchist journal “was not widely read.”7

Turkish readers had to wait until the 1990s to access further articles and more lengthy texts, when the systematic translation of Bookchin’s work was undertaken. In 1994, Melih Înal’s translations of “The May–June Events in France,” featured in the Turkish anarchist journal, Apolítika, also published in Istanbul.8 Bookchin had written these twin articles as the teargas had scarcely dissipated following the événements of May 1968. The countercultural mobilizations of the late 1960s and 1970s were the foundation for multiple new social movements, of which strands such as anti-colonialism and student protest in particular were to include the Kurdish freedom movement. Öcalan characterised countercultural impulses as various as nationalism, communism, positivism, feminism, and ecology collectively as “anti-system forces” in The Sociology of Freedom (the title of which is an allusion to Bookchin’s The Ecology of Freedom).9 The Turkish libertarian socialist magazine Birikim also included a translation of the first section of Bookchin’s Toward an Ecological Society (1980), being “The Power to Create, The Power to Destroy,” in a special edition on ecology, in early 1994. This was Metin Guven’s first encounter with Bookchin’s ideas.10 Guven was a founding member of the Istanbul Social Ecology Group which was to become a major influence in spreading the philosophy when it was launched the following year.

Developing from the interest sparked through the articles and extracts, translations of Bookchin’s more substantial, book-length texts were undertaken during the 1990s. The publisher Ayrıntı Yayınları took the lead in this respect with the publication of The Ecology of Freedom in 1994 (1982, translated by Alev Türker), followed by Toward an Ecological Society (1970, translated by Abdullah Yılmaz, 1996), and Urbanization Without Cities (1992, translated by Burak Özyalçın, 1999). The first two Ayrıntı translations are known to have been read by Öcalan in prison and to have “influenced him deeply,” according to Reimar Heider, Öcalan’s German translator and the intermediary in the correspondence between the latter and Bookchin in 2004.11 While Heider passed on that Öcalan “regretted that there were some shortcomings” in the translations that he read, to convey the nuance of Bookchin’s ideas accurately must have been a challenging undertaking with discrepancies perhaps to be expected.12 Importantly, however, such deficiencies were corrected in Sümer’s later editions. Ayrıntı have subsequently stopped selling Bookchin’s titles, in part because they were unable to reach the copyright holders for permissions, but also because they believe that his titles are not selling so well in Turkey in the present day.13

At least two other publishers were involved with the Turkish discovery of Bookchin during the 1990s. Another Istanbul publishing house, Kabalcı, published the 1990 text The Philosophy of Social Ecology: Essays on Dialectical Naturalism in Rahmi G. Öğdül’s translation in 1996. At the close of the 1990s, the publication of Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm provoked a minor controversy when it appeared in translation with an introduction written by Bookchin specifically for Turkish readers. Deniz Aytaş translated this 1995 book for the anarchist publisher Kaos, based in Taksim, which released the Turkish edition in 1998.14 The following year, Turkish and Kurdish members of the Fifth of May Group sent a letter of objection to Bookchin, concerned at what they felt to be the mischaracterisation of their movement. The major, tacit charge was that, while Bookchin had taken the trouble to address Turkish and Kurdish readers, the introductory text was deemed to have ethnocentric aspects, in perhaps assuming that issues within the American anarchist scene could be readily transferred to the Turkish context. Their opening criticism was that Bookchin was misinformed about the appearance of Eastern belief systems among activists within Turkey, whereas in reality it was felt to be entirely absent as an issue of discussion, sympathetically or otherwise. A more substantial charge was that concerns expressed about the prevalence of individualistic forms of anarchism had little relevance or application to the nascent movement in Turkey. Accepting that Bookchin would not be personally familiar with the Turkish and Kurdish movement, the 5th May critics were disappointed that he had received inaccurate information from the publisher, or more seriously, they alleged had been “knowingly misled” to “manipulate the situation.” It is important to note that the main text was seen as a valuable topic of discussion and that the letter writers’ tribute that the book’s arrival “overtook every other practical matter in our group” was a priority and an expression of respect for Bookchin. That the introduction did not land well, therefore, was due to the perception that it was a form of cultural mistranslation:

a particular approach or criticism may well be relevant to a particular movement or a country but that particularity would not necessarily apply to another country which has its own unique particulars and is going through entirely different phases.15

Bookchin responded with an explanation that was forthright but comradely in tone. He acknowledged that he had received guidance from the publishers, Kaos, given the cultural gap in his knowledge of Turkish anarchist politics, conceding that he also held reservations about “lifestylism” as a relevant source of concern in that context. Nevertheless, he cited several areas that felt underscored the argument of Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism. These included evidence of the absorption of alternative music and fashion from the West, the influence of Nietszche and Situationism, and the publication of an article by John Clark, a fellow social ecologist with whom a rift had emerged, in part due to the latter’s linking of Taoism and other spiritual traditions with anarchism. Bookchin deemed all to be instances of lifestyle tendencies that could potentially make the seminal Turkish movement prone to the distractions and dilution that he believed were compromising anarchism.16

Istanbul Social Ecology Group

During the 1990s, Istanbul was the centre of interest in Bookchin and wider perspectives in social ecology. The launch of Toplumsal Ekoloji, the Istanbul Social Ecology Group, in January 1995, was an important marker for the development of philosophically informed civil activism inspired by social ecology.17 It was active in convening conferences, organising direct action, and building bridges with other social ecologists internationally. At least one other Turkish social ecology group was set up, in Ankara. The Istanbul Social Ecology Group issued a major statement following conferences in alliance with compatible organisations in the Alternative Habitat Platform, in summer 1996.18 This Alternative Declaration made a sound diagnosis of intractable planetary crises, an assessment even more true today than when it was declared nearly three decades ago, in its critical analysis of the limited effectiveness of many NGOs’ strategies, and calls for an internationalist, democratic, and ecological approach. Striving to operate on a democratic, non-hierarchical basis, in keeping with the praxis they espoused, the Istanbul Social Ecology Group were to take a prominent role in disseminating Bookchin’s work, and social ecology more broadly, within the Turkish left and ecology movement.

The publication of the journal Toplumsal Ekoloji, was to become core to the Istanbul Social Ecology Group initiative, running for six issues from spring 2002 to summer 2007.19 The group’s website has continued to post articles and blogs relating to social ecology up to the present day. Impressed by the work of Seattle’s “Society and Nature,” a journal that was initially oriented towards social ecology, with Murray Bookchin and Janet Biehl as contributors and on the International Advisory Board,20 Metin Guven found “that social ecology could provide us a good framework to understand ecological issues and to propose alternative solutions.” When the new ecology group was launched in Istanbul, therefore, it was grounded in these principles. Guven writes:

During my travels I (with my partner at that time) visited Murray Bookchin at his home in Burlington as well as ISE in Plainfield in 2001. We did have a long conversation and it motivated us to publish a Turkish journal on social ecology. We first launched [the] group web site, and published some articles there in the same year. Then we published the first issue of Toplumsal Ekoloji (Social Ecology) next year. It included mostly introductory articles about social ecology and communalism including the first version of Communalist Project which was published only in Turkish before [the] English version. Then the next issue included articles about nationalism including “Nationalism and the ‘National Question” I had read in Society and Nature in 1994. We didn’t know that [the] Kurdish Freedom Movement was discussing that subject at that time. We only realized it after receiving supportive letters from certain prisons.21

Toplumsal Ekoloji published many articles about social ecology and from a social-ecological perspective, including further translations of Bookchin’s essays, together with several by members of the Institute of Social Ecology in Vermont, namely Peter Staudenmaier, Blair Taylor, Brian Toker, and Chaia Heller.22 Issue 1 featured an account of a “Meeting with Bookchin” with Turkish activists, and a translation from Bookchin entitled “Communalist Moment of Decision” (which Guven cites above as the first publication of “The Communalist Project”). In Issue 2 appeared “Nationalism and the ‘National Question,” a powerful and prescient essay, with its compelling call for internationalism rather than the “cultural barbarism” of nation-statism and capitalism. It is, of course, appropriate and important that this influential text should reach an international readership in translation. Issue 5 was to include obituaries and tributes to Bookchin by Andy Price and Emet Değirmenci, with calls for his work to be continued. While the Istanbul Social Ecology Group continues with its website presence and fresh articles are written, the print journal ceased due to financial constraints and a shortage of writers.23

Bookchin and the Kurdish freedom movement

The appearance and gradual proliferation of Bookchin’s texts in Turkish translation from the late 1980s into the early twenty-first century, explains both their availability and the increasing discussion of social ecology within Turkey. From his cell on the island of İmralı,24 Abdullah Öcalan, declared “The world view for which I stand is close to that of Bookchin.”25 Öcalan read Bookchin’s works in Turkish translation with great attention and urged the movement to do so too.26 Biehl dates Öcalan’s intensive reading of Bookchin to 2002 when he read The Ecology of Freedom and Urbanization Without Cities, titles which would have been available in the form of the Ayrıntı editions. Guven suggests that Öcalan’s recommendation to read Bookchin work was even earlier, “actually,” in fact, “as soon as he read in year 2000. It was not a public call, but I have heard of it from someone in prison at that time,” with the more public call around 2002.27

In search of an alternative conceptual framework to catastrophically failing neoliberalism and the recently collapsed Soviet model of Marxist-Leninism, Öcalan and many within the broader Kurdish movement sought to create a new synthesis of radical ideas that were neither discredited by the misplaced dogmas and dictatorial excesses of Stalinism and Maoism, nor compromised and recuperated in a way that characterised much liberal humanist thought. As Biehl records, in so doing Öcalan was following a similar political path to that Bookchin undertook many years earlier.28 As is well known by those who have followed the evolution of the Kurdish freedom movement, this new approach was to find expression in the programme of “democratic confederalism.” In 2005, on Newroz (the Kurdish new year), Öcalan announced this new paradigm of thinking that had been several years in germination, embracing social ecology, participatory democracy, and gender equality.29 Democratic confederalism was in part forged from the ideas of Bookchin and books by other Western thinkers available to him in Turkish translation in prison, the most influential of which, according to Debbie Bookchin, were Ferdinand Braudel, Immanuel Wallerstein, Maria Mies, and Michel Foucault.30 Across the Atlantic, Bookchin, by that time near the end of his life, was surprised and gratified to discover that his writings had had a direct influence on the Kurdish freedom movement. Although Bookchin was not the only influence upon the rejection of state socialism and the emergence of the new turn in the Kurdish struggle, his ideas, nevertheless, were impactful and strongly represented. Core elements of direct democracy and the creation of a solidarity economy, are compatible with Bookchin’s legacy, bringing together resistance and a reconstructive approach.31 It is important to note that the turn towards ecology, democracy, and Jineolojî (the science of women and anti-patriarchy), also drew heavily upon anti-colonialism and indigenous traditions, notably the Alevi beliefs of Kurdish revolutionaries, such as Sakîne Cansiz.

Bookchin in the twenty-first century

In the present day, it is likely that a larger proportion of the population is familiar with Bookchin’s ideas within Turkey than in the United States. The current publisher, Sümer Yayıncılık, distributes many of Bookchin’s key texts which are available in corrected Turkish translations, as well as other authors who have written about social ecology, such as Dimitrios Roussopoulos and Brian Morris.32 They are the main, and indeed only, publisher that continues to publish Bookchin’s works in Turkey.33 Titles that Sümer have published include The Ecology of Freedom (1982, translated by Mustafa Kemal Coşkun, published 2015), The Modern Crisis (1986, translated by Abdullah Yılmaz, published in 2017), Remaking Society (1989, translated by Kaya Şahin, published 2013) Urbanization Without Cities (1992, translated by Burak Özyalçın, published 2014), and Social Ecology and Communalism (2007, translated by Fuat Dara Elhüseyni, published 2017).

Bookchin’s legacy is secure since he continues to be a familiar thinker in Kurdish activist circles and within the Turkish left in the present day. During an interview I conducted in 2017, Ercan Ayboğa, co-founder of the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement, commented:

Murray Bookchin is very well known. Almost all activists in the MEM have heard of him, and many have read him, for almost ten years ago, not just now, but since when Öcalan [recommended his works] 15 years ago. Every kind of person in the Kurdish freedom movement, many people started to read him. I can say at least several thousand people. And, also, people outside of the Kurdish freedom movement started to read him in Istanbul and Izmir. There are groups also referring to him, Turkish leftists, libertarian groups. And his books are printed again and again in Turkey.34

Metin Guven corroborates this, finding the interest in Bookchin and social ecology more generally, much weighted towards Kurdish areas:

Bookchin is read by certain circles. Unfortunately, his books are not really widely read in Western part of Turkey – not as much as they are read in Kurdish region of Turkey. It is the same for other publishings on ecology. For example there is an ecology magazine started this year and published three issues so far. It is focused on social ecology. Half of its readers (maybe more than half) are in Diyarbakır (about 700 distributed out of 1500 printed). But I guess comparing with other countries Bookchin is still read and discussed widely in Turkey. There is even a book on Marxist critique of Bookchin was published early this year.35

Hamit, responding on behalf of the present Turkish publisher Sümer, stresses that the reasons why they make Bookchin’s works available are philosophical and largely non-commercial. In this sense it is believed that the attraction for Turkish readers is Bookchin’s significance in undertaking a deep, critical examination of human history and developing a “new philosophy of social life.” The importance accorded to Bookchin is indicated by the fact that Sümer have published more titles by him than any other author. From the perspective of Sümer therefore, the decision to publish Bookchin’s works, and other thinkers from the tradition of Western dissident political philosophy in Turkish translation is “not popularity, but integrity and impact in the intellectual field.”36 The far-reaching political implications of social-ecological ideas in their presentation of an alternative to the state and their utopian aspirations tend to restrict publication to smaller, committed publishing houses, rather than mainstream publishers.

Relatedly, there are political and linguistic barriers to the availability of works that promote social ecology. For example, the dissemination of social-ecological ideas by Make Rojava Green Again has been impeded by the seizure and confiscation of books in supposedly liberal Germany.37 As far as is known, Bookchin’s titles have not been subject to direct repression and censorship, in Turkey. Nevertheless, Guven has heard of cases where police searching the homes of Kurdish activists have considered owning Bookchin’s books to be “like a crime.”38 Despite availability in Turkish due to the efforts of activist scholars and translators, the lack of access to Bookchin’s texts across the Middle East has been a further impediment to the spread of social ecology in the wider region. While, to date, Bookchin’s works have been translated into more than twenty languages, only recently has this number included Arabic.39 Now, however, Nuh Ibrahim has translated “The Communalist Project” for the Institute of Social Ecology, while Kurdish scholar Cihad Hammy reports that translations of “Ecology of Freedom” and “Urbanization without Cities” have also been undertaken in Rojava.40 Available since 2020, these have been made available by, دار نقش, a publisher in Qamishli. These Arabic editions have special significance in extending the reach of some of Bookchin’s primary texts into North and East Syria, although it is not believed that editions in Kurmanji, Sorani, or other Kurdish languages are available.

Challenges in translation

The faithful rendering of Bookchin’s ideas from American English into Turkish and other languages presents considerable linguistic, philosophical, and intercultural challenges. These are in addition to the economic costs of translation for texts which have in some cases been in excess of 500 pages, and the intellectual labour that this has entailed. First, the sentences must be true to their intended meaning rather than crude word substitution and all the hazards of misinterpretation that that may entail. They need to be comprehensible, and engaging for, the new readership using radically different vocabulary and syntax – a feat that faces all translators. Secondly, additional to the basic textual translation, Bookchin’s ideas must be understood philosophically if his original concepts are to be represented accurately without distortion, exaggeration, or dilution. The shifting nature of core concepts such as libertarian municipalism or dialectical naturalism across several decades compounds this problem. The inevitable, and often considerable, time lag between Bookchin’s authorship and translated versions meant that they no longer necessarily represented his revised thinking, with the term communalism, for example, later being used in preference to libertarian municipalism, and his eventual disavowal of affiliation to anarchism having political ramifications. Guven, who has had an editorial role in checking Sümer Yayıncılık’s editions of Bookchin since the 2010s, commented on some of the tasks and challenges that translation has entailed:

They were correcting confusing sentences, choosing right words and also making them more fluent in Turkish. Turkish is a very different language than English in terms of structure, sometimes translators try to keep the same structure instead of expressing the idea properly in Turkish. Then it becomes a confusing sentence. Also not choosing the right word sometimes shifts what the author actually mean.41

Finally, and perhaps most problematically, there remains the difficulty of cultural translation. There is important common ground, for example between Bookchin and Öcalan as both moved from state socialism to state-critical versions of socialism, as they became disaffected with the viability of the former, and sought to develop revolutionary alternatives that were workable. At the same time, Bookchin, with his Russian and Jewish background, finding his political development in 1930s New York, had a lived experience in marked cultural contrast to Öcalan’s political coming of age in the ferment of student politics during the 1960s and 1970s, mostly in Ankara. While Bookchin’s ideas were a significant influence for democratic confederalism, social ecology and communalism, they in no way represented a flatpack manifesto which it would be desirable or possible to directly translate to the context and circumstances that have prevailed in the near or Middle East. There are strategic differences between Bookchin’s ideas and the theoretical and practical approach that is being implemented, particularly across Turkey’s border in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, still popularly known as Rojava, since the revolution of 2012.42 To give one example, where there may be divergence as well as convergence, while Bookchin was to become sceptical of the role of cooperatives in essays such as “Municipalization: Community Ownership of the Economy” (1986), they are a valued part of the bid to create a solidarity economy. There has also often been a difference in emphasis. While anti-hierarchy and anti-patriarchy are consistently present in Bookchin’s works, the necessity to transform women’s position has led Öcalan and the Kurdish women’s movement to insist that “the twenty-first century will be the century of women’s liberation,” thus situating feminism, or more accurately Jineolojî, far more at the centre of the political struggle.43

In these ways, the necessity for translation to engage in meticulous cross-cultural sense-making to ensure that ideas are clear and comprehensible requires a nuanced conversation between the source author, the translator navigating between two dissimilar languages, and the end reader, if political and cultural misconstruction is to be avoided. This is yet further complicated for many Kurmanji-speaking Kurds who see Turkish as a language that has been imposed upon them in colonial circumstances, while their own mother tongue has been routinely repressed in schools, the media, and political institutions. The translation of Bookchin, as an original and creative thinker, therefore, presents specific political problems. Nevertheless, the relevance of Bookchin’s work is demonstrated, not as a set of sacred social-ecology texts but for its enduring value both in their illuminating historical scope and continuing capacity to spark new approaches for future engagement and development. This explains the willingness of Turkish publisher Sümer to promote Bookchin extensively in the present day, on the basis that he “critically examines history and social models, and gives a very strong basis for the connection of democracy and freedom with the uncovering of the participatory and change-oriented roles of social dynamics.”44 Bookchin’s internationalist perspective and approach adds credence to efforts to keep his work available in multiple languages. Undoubtedly, this would have been welcome to their author, who would often write short prefaces to non-English editions, as we have seen in the case of the Turkish edition of Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism, to endorse a translation and to reach out to its readers in other languages. That he was reportedly “keen on visitors from third world countries,” further indicates that he had particularly valued and respected interest beyond the West.45 Social ecology represents a coherent and sophisticated body of thought, both to attempt to understand the systemic social underpinnings of ongoing and interconnected global poly-crises, and also to propose concrete alternative structures with historical precedents and, moreover, to present another social imaginary.


Murray Bookchin’s ideas had a transformational impact upon the Kurdish freedom movement, as a significant inspiration and conceptual framework underpinning the transition to democratic confederalism after 2005. Representatives of Öcalan, contacted him in 2004, since he had been undertaking a systematic reading of Bookchin’s work in prison and hoped to establish a dialogue. However, we have seen that the story starts earlier, nearly forty years ago, due to the prescience of, in Biehl’s phrase, those “unsung heroes,” the Turkish translators. The groundwork began when articles first appeared in Turkish, during the 1980s. Writing of Bookchin, Recep Akgün’s observation, therefore, that Bookchin had “little effect on Turkey’s leftist politics as a whole during the 1990s,” is only partially true.46 As we have seen, his ideas were already in circulation during this decade, with his major works and several essays in Turkish translation, and social ecology groups active in Istanbul and Ankara. I have endeavoured to show, therefore, that Öcalan’s discovery of Bookchin, while fortuitous, and seemingly improbable, was not a matter of random serendipity.

While there has been some heed to the influence of Bookchin’s thought upon the Kurdish freedom movement, the pre-history of the evolving work of political translation from the mid-1980s onwards has been overlooked. Yet the value of such work should not be underestimated due to the impact of ideas about social ecology and communalism as they have departed from Vermont, journeyed on in translated form from Istanbul to the prison island of İmralı,47 to Diyarbakır (or Amed for Kurdish speakers). These ideas have resounded to the extent that the dynamic and politically advanced Kurdish freedom movement is now in turn an inspiration for social ecologists and other political ecologists and left libertarians back in the West. I have suggested, moreover, that this shifting discourse has featured elements of cultural translation that merit further attention, both in the context of Turkish and Kurdish readers and elsewhere.48 As we have seen, the process of the translation of Bookchin and other social ecologists raises issues beyond the basic conversion of words but also of the meta-translation of philosophical ideas across cultures.

There is consensus that most people reading the texts of Bookchin and other social ecologists in Turkish language translations are likely to be situated in the predominantly Kurdish areas of the South East, while Arabic editions are appearing across the borders that sever the populations of the wider Kurdish region. Given the continuing oppression of Kurdish populations and their fractured identity within Turkey, most practical experimentation with the ideas of social ecology and communalism has been undertaken in the enduring multi-ethnic governance of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. Here too, the progressive programme of democratic confederalism is confronted by serious challenges given armed aggression and conditions of embargo. At the time of writing, since late 2023, there has been an upsurge in Turkish air strikes which have been targeting and eradicating much of the Autonomous Administration’s civilian infrastructure, with regular loss of life.49 Nevertheless, one of the world’s few living revolutions has proved resilient since 2012. Bookchin’s texts are regularly read in translation in the academies of North and East Syria, his image has been stencilled onto walls, and his name has been promoted by international volunteers from the ecology group Make Rojava Green Again. The work of interpretation and adaptation of the ideas of social ecology continues so that it remains a living force for understanding and resistance. As geopolitical rivalries intensify and prolong conflicts, democratic confederalism inspired by Bookchin’s ideas and social ecology represent a rare impetus for multiethnic governance, meaningful participatory democracy, and social justice in the Middle East. It is hoped that their impact may widen and translate into meaningful change.


1 Carne Ross, “Power to the People,” Financial Times, October 24, 2015 [via Nexis database].

2 Janet Biehl, “Bookchin, Öcalan, and Dialectics of Democracy,” (2012), Workshop for Intercommunal Study website (orig. pub. New Compass), accessed January 14, 2024,; Damian Gerber and Shannon Brincat, “When Öcalan Met Bookchin: The Kurdish Freedom Movement and the Political Theory of Democratic Confederalism,” Geopolitics 26, no. 4 (2021): 973-997,; Ahmet Hamdi Akkaya and Joost Jongerden, “Reassembling the Political: The PKK and the Project of Radical Democracy,” European Journal of Turkish Studies 14 (2012):

3 Janet Biehl, e-mail to the author, 23 October 2023.

4 A digital archive of all twelve issues has been made available through TÜSTAV (the Social History Research Foundation of Turkey), Kara, accessed 16 January 2024, This contrasts with neighbouring Greece, where, although discontinuous, anarchist publishing dates back to the nineteenth century, Costas Despiniadis, “Murray Bookchin in Greece: The Publication of His Works and the Impact of His Ideas,” trans. by Eleni Dimitriadou, 93-100 in Ecology and Enlightenment: The Legacy of Murray Bookchin in the 21st Century, ed. by Yavor Tarinski (Montréal: Black Rose, 2021), 93.

5 Murray Bookchin, “Utopianism and Futurism,” in Toward an Ecological Society (Montreal: Black Rose, 1980), p. 51, available from Anarchist Library digital archive, accessed 21 January 2024,

6 Janet Biehl, “A Bibliography of Published Works by MURRAY BOOKCHIN in Chronological Order, Including Translations,” (1991, rev. 2006), available from Anarchy Archives, accessed 28 January 2024,

7 Metin Guven, e-mails to author, 13 and 15 December 2023.

8 First published in July 1968, the English language versions were included as chapters in Post-Scarcity Anarchism, and are available from the Anarchist Library, accessed 15 January 2024,

9 Abdullah Öcalan, The Sociology of Freedom [page number req] Manifesto of the Democratic Civilization, Volume III. Translated by Havin Guneser. (Oakland: PM Press, 2020), 284.

10 Metin Guven, e-mail to author, 13 December 2023.

11 Reimar Heider e-mail to Murray Bookchin and Janet Biehl (6 April 2004), part of the “Bookchin–Öcalan Correspondence,” most easily accessed through the Anarchist Library digital archive, accessed 16 January 2024,

12 ibid. Reimar Heider and Oliver Kontny e-mail to Murray Bookchin (5 May 2004).

13 Gökçe Alper, e-mail to the author, 26 January 2024.

14 Kaos are currently located in Çanakkale, according to their website, accessed 19 January 2024,

15 Fifth of May Group, “Letter from Turkish and Kurdish Anarchists to Murray Bookchin,” [1998], from Anarchist Library digital archive, accessed 21 January 2024,

16 Information in this paragraph from “Reply from Murray Bookchin to ‘5th of May Group’ on Turkish Anarchism,” (June 7, 1998), Anarchism in Turkey (& N. Kurdistan) webpage, accessed 21 January 2024,

17 “Istanbul Social Ecology Group,” Toplumsal Ekoloji, accessed 17 January 2024,

18 Alternative Habitat Platform, “Istanbul Alternative Declaration,” Toplumsal Ekoloji website (18 June 1996), accessed 30 January 2024,

19 A digital archive of the six issues is available from the Toplumsal Ekoloji website, accessed 30 January 2024,

20 Society and Nature: The International Journal of Political Ecology was published from 1992-1995, after which date it became Democracy and Nature: The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy which ran until 2003. Bookchin and Biehl resigned from the international editorial board in 1995.

21 Metin Guven, e-mail to author, 13 December 2023.


23 Metin Guven, e-mail to author, 3 February 2024.

24 Where he has been held in solitary confinement and mostly incommunicado since 1999.

25 Öcalan’s lawyers reported that he said this in late 2004, according to Joost Jongerden, “Learning from Defeat: Development and contestation of the “new paradigm” within Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK),” Kurdish Studies 7, no. 1 (2018): 72–92,

26 Janet Biehl, Bookchin’s long-term collaborator and biographer tells me that a social ecology group in Istanbul were the “unsung heroes” that undertook English-Turkish translations of Bookchin’s major works during the mid-1990s – personal e-mail to the author, 23 October 2023.

27 Metin Guven, e-mail to author, 3 February 2024.

28 Janet Biehl, “Bookchin, Öcalan, and the Dialectics of Democracy,” [orig. pub New Compass], New Intercommunal Workshop website, accessed 13 January 2024,

29 Abdullah Öcalan, “Declaration of Democratic Confederalism in Kurdistan,” (2005): http://www .free media libra m/ind p/Dec larat ion_o f_Dem ocrat ic_ Confederalism_in_Kurdistan (site discontinued). Accessible via Wayback Machine, March 30, 2021.; http://www. in_Kurdistan.

30 Debbie Bookchin, “How My Father’s Ideas Helped the Kurds Create a New Democracy,” New York Review (15 June 2018), accessed 28 January 2024,

31 That such values were to prevail was by no means certain and follows a schism within the movement which Dilar Dirik refers to as “The battle for the PKK’s soul,” in The Kurdish Women’s Movement: History, Theory, Practice (London: Pluto, 2022), 53-55. For an account of Bookchin’s social ecology in the Kurdish context, see Federico Venturini, “The Value of Social Ecology in the Struggles to Come,” 3-23 in Ecological Solidarity in the Kurdish Freedom Movement: Thought, Practice, Challenges, and Opportunities, ed. by Stephen E. Hunt (Lanham, Md.: Lexington/Rowman & Littlefield, 2021).

32 “Murray Bookchin,” Sumer Yayıncılık website, accessed 28 January 2024, Other authors with links to social ecology such as Janet Biehl and Cindy Milstein are also listed but not currently stocked.

33 Hamit of Sümer Yayıncılık, e-mail to the author, 29 January 2024.

34 Ercan Ayboğa, interview with the author, 18 August 2017.

35 Metin Guven, e-mail to author, 21 December 2023.

36 Quotations in this paragraph from Hamit of Sümer Yayıncılık, e-mail to the author, 29 January 2024.

37 “German authorities accused of attacking free speech after book ban,” Morning Star (8 March 2019), accessed 10 February 2024,

38 Metin Guven, e-mail to author, 3 February 2024. The Turkish Publishers’ Association campaigns for the freedom to publish in Turkey, and worldwide, accessed 20 January 2024,

39 Institute of Social Ecology with the Bookchin Trust, “Arabic Translation of The Communalist Project by Murray Bookchin,” Institute of Social Ecology website [2020], accessed10 February 2024, A comprehensive list of the work of Bookchin and other social ecologists in translation is available from the Institute of Social Ecology, “Non-English Language Resources,” accessed 10 February 2024,

40 Cihad Hammy, e-mail to author, 3 February 2024.

41 Metin Guven, e-mail to author, 3 February 2024.

42 A development that Janet Biehl regrets that Bookchin did not live to see in the epilogue to Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 317.

43 Dirik, Kurdish Women’s Movement, 51.

44 Hamit of Sümer Yayıncılık, e-mail to the author, 29 January 2024.

45 “Murray Bookchin‘Le Buluşma,” [“Meeting with Murray Bookchin”], Toplumsal Ekoloji no. 1 (Spring 2002), 28.

46 Recep Akgün, “Bookchin and the Kurdish Movement in Turkey,” 129-142 in Ecology and Enlightenment: The Legacy of Murray Bookchin in the 21st Century, ed. by Yavor Tarinski (Montréal: Black Rose, 2021), 129.

47 Where Öcalan has been held as a political prisoner, largely incommunicado, since 1999, despite international calls for his release.

48 Several essays in Yavor Tarinski’s edited collection Ecology and Enlightenment: The Legacy of Murray Bookchin in the 21st Century, deal with the impact of “Bookchin’s Influence on Political Practice Around the World.”

49 While largely unreported in the West’s mainstream media, updates on this concerning situation are available from the Rojava Information Centre website:

February 16, 2024

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