Open Letter Re: Black Rose Books’ plan to publish a Murray Bookchin “Festschrift.”
The following letter was sent through the Institute for Social Ecology mailing list this morning. I'm posting this letter here so that the information in the letter is made widely available, and can be freely and transparently discussed.
Dear social ecologists, fellow activists, colleagues, and friends,
As the trustee of my father’s work, I am writing to ask your help in addressing difficulties posed by Dimitri Roussopoulos and his Montreal-based Black Rose Books publishing house.
My father was Murray Bookchin and I have been the trustee of his work since his death in 2006. As many of you know, my father actively advocated for an egalitarian, non-hierarchical, ecological society through his two dozen books and hundreds of articles.
For most of his life, my father lived on an extremely low income. He was a lifelong, passionate revolutionary and he never expected or wished to become wealthy from his writings. But he also didn’t expect to be cheated by a supposed comrade on the Left.
Yet, that is exactly what happened over a period of years after he entered into a relationship with the left/anarchist publisher Black Rose Books in Montreal and its principal owner, Dimitri Roussopoulos.
Despite signed contracts calling for him to be paid royalties for a handful of books published by Black Rose, for most of his association with Black Rose Books—an association which continued for many years—my father was put in the position of essentially begging Dimitri Roussopoulos for royalty statements and even token amounts of royalties. Roussopoulos and Black Rose, alone, of all the publishing houses my father worked with, refused to honor his contracts and pay my father, who sometimes had almost no other source of income except royalties. Beyond a few initial royalty payments decades ago, my father was glad-handed and largely ignored when he asked Roussopoulos for an accounting of his royalties and payments over many years.
In the past, when confronted with his failure to pay other authors, Roussopoulos has made various excuses about how most Black Rose writers do not expect to be paid, or how he could not reach certain authors. In the case of my father, he stated that Bookchin understood that Black Rose had financial difficulties and that their relationship was resolved, implying that my father accepted non-payment. This is simply untrue.
Here is just one example from a letter my father sent to Roussopoulos on 19 November 1999 asking for an accounting of royalties owed and payments:
“I am writing this note to remind you I have not received from Black Rose any royalty statements for the sale of my books for at least a year and a half. I’m ill, I’m broke and at 79, I’m old – and badly in need of whatever monies I can get. Could you please send me what is due to me as well as a report on the status of my books…”
Long after Roussopoulos claims that his relationship with Murray was resolved, my father resented the fact that because Roussopoulos was a publisher from another country, Canada, it was almost impossible for my father to have legal recourse to obtain the money he was owed and which he desperately needed to survive. In the years before he died, he insisted that Roussopoulos was the one person that he did not want to attend any celebration of his work or memorial of his life.
As you can imagine, my father would be mortified to learn that Black Rose is now planning a so-called Murray Bookchin “Festschrift,” apparently to celebrate 50 years of being in the publishing business. This new, planned book of essays about Murray can only be viewed for what it is: another effort by Black Rose to exploit my father’s name for its own profit. Most of the writers most familiar with my father’s work: Dan Chodorkoff, Brian Tokar, Chaia Heller, Federico Venturini, and authors of the two most important books about Bookchin, Andy Price and Damian White, have all declined to participate in this project.
Several months ago, I asked the coeditor of this planned volume, Bruce Wilson, to please take into consideration the views of Bookchin’s family and halt this project, which is deeply upsetting to us. At a certain point, he simply stopped answering my emails.
Before my father died, he very intentionally established a Trust specifically to safeguard the integrity of all of his work and to protect the copyrights, which he ultimately wished to be held by his granddaughter. In contrast to the many other publishers I’ve dealt with, Roussopoulos and Black Rose have never once contacted his estate, despite bringing Murray’s books in and out of print, and using his articles at whim in various collections. Roussopoulos and his protégé, Nathan McDonnell, have remained unresponsive to requests from his estate about accounting. Most recently, in March, my daughter wrote to Roussopoulos and McDonnell asking about royalties because she would like to use them to help support her grandmother Bea Bookchin, Murray’s former wife and closest friend, who worked alongside Murray for 57 years supporting and contributing to his work. My daughter’s communication was ignored.
This kind of authoritarian, patriarchal behavior goes against everything that social ecology stands for. I am writing to ask you to please consider these facts and urge Roussopoulos and Black Rose Books not to proceed with this “Festschrift” project, to stop pirating my father’s work, and to present an audited accounting and pay back royalties to the Trust. I urge others in the broader left to boycott any future project by Roussopoulos and Black Rose Books until this matter is resolved.
If our movement is to have any credibility when it comes to espousing such concepts as mutual aid, respect for individuals and communities, ethical social relations, feminism, and anti-authoritarianism, surely we must practice the values we espouse and not allow such behavior to go unchecked. While it pains me to have to write this letter publicly, this newest insult to my father’s memory at the hands of Roussopoulos leaves me no other choice. I ask you to please consider endorsing this letter and sharing it widely as a way of showing your support.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions or further information. Sincerely, Debbie Bookchin and the Bookchin family
We, the undersigned, endorse this letter and support its demands:
David Graeber, Professor of Anthropology, London School of Economics
Meredith Tax, writer and activist
Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus, MIT
Molly Crabapple, author and illustrator
Allan Antliff, Professor of Art History and Visual Studies, University of Victoria, Canada
Marisa Holmes, Occupy organizer, activist, and filmmaker
Kelly Roache, municipalist organizer and writer
Dr. Shannon Brincat, senior lecturer, University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia
Aaron Vansintjan, writer, municipalist organizer, Co-editor for Uneven Earth
Lisa Fithian, Occupy organizer and labor and human rights activist
Dr. Martin Weber, Senior Lecturer, University of Queensland, Australia
Dan Chodorkoff, co-founder, Institute for Social Ecology
The Institute for Social Ecology (ISE) Board of Directors
Eleanor Finley, writer, activist and PhD candidate University of Massachusetts
Mason Herdson-Hord, municipalist organizer and writer
Katie Horvath, municipalist organizer and writer
Dr. Federico Venturini, University of Udine, Italy
Dr. Damian White, Dean of Liberal Arts, RISD, author Bookchin: A Critical Appraisal
Dr. Laura Roth, activist and researcher
Andy Price, author, Recovering Bookchin: Social Ecology and the Crises of our Times
Dr. Chaia Heller, ISE Board member and author, Ecology of Everyday Life
Kate Shea Baird, member Executive Committee, Barcelona en Comú
Carne Ross, author, The Leaderless Revolution
Dr. Andrew H. Lee, Curator, New York University
Dr. Marina Sitrin, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Binghamton University, SUNY
L.A. Kauffman, organizer and movement historian
Dr. Damian Gerber, author, The Distortion of Nature’s Image
Dr. Ruth Kinna, Professor of Political Theory, Loughborough University, editor, Anarchist Studies
Dr. Dana Ward, Professor Emeritus of Political Studies, Pitzer College, editor, Anarchy Archives
Dr. Vijay Kolinjivadi, Canadian Society of Ecological Economics (Research & Education Officer)
Dr. Mark Lance, Professor of Philosophy, Georgetown University
Dr. Pep Puig, emeritus, Autonomous University of Barcelona, engineer, green activist
Helen Arnold, French translator of Bookchin’s work
Daniel Blanchard, French translator of Bookchin’s work