Lev Chernyi: Review of Beyond Politics and Angles on Anarchism

From Anarchy, a Journal of Desire Armed, No. 31.

The concept of ideology has fairly recent origins. The word was coined by the French writer A. L. C. Destutt de Tracy in 1796 to name his ‘science of ideas.’ Since that time use of the term has been divided between two general senses, one positive and one negative. In its more positive (and usual positivist) sense ideology is used as an objective or ‘scientific’ term for any systematic political theory held by an individual or group. In its more negative (and critical) sense ideology is used to indicate those aspects of any theory which are complicit with structures of social domination, exploitation or alienation. The positivist sense of the word is most useful to those who defend dominant (or would-be dominant) institutions, while the critical sense is most useful to radicals and revolutionaries. Unsurprisingly, in the world of academic discourse the positivist sense of the word is king.

George Walford’s book Beyond Politics and his pamphlet Angles on Anarchism are both attempts at popularizing a particular positivist conception of ideology first attributed by Walford to Harold Walsby, whose only book, The Domain of Ideologies, was published in 1947. For Walsby, this conception of ideology was intended to explain why it was that 100 years of socialist organizing had failed to move the world closer to a genuine socialism of ‘common ownership and democratic control of the means of production’ (Beyond Politics p. 2). However, in attempting to explain this notable discrepancy between the originally idealistic expectations of the socialist movement and the miserable social realities of this century, Walsby was only able to construct a categorical schema of ‘systematic ideology’ which naturalized existing relationships of domination at the same time as it idealized even further the impulses to radical social change. In effect, Walsby and Walford attempt to ‘explain’ current social reality by reifying it, by assuming it is only natural to begin with! That this strategy is akin to any other ideological (in the critical sense of the term) defense of domination, such as that of the patriarchal domination of powerful men over women, never seems to occur to them. Yet, because Walsby and Walford’s entire perspective is based upon this fallacious naturalization (or reification) of social domination, most of the arguments which ensue in Beyond Politics and Angles on Anarchism range from amusingly naive to downright bizarre. That some people will take this confused array of pseudo-scientific categorization seriously would be merely unfortunate if it wasn’t for the fact that Walford seems to have targeted the anarchist movement for dissemination of these essentially anti-anarchist ideas. Walford maintains a pretense of sympathy for the ideologies of libertarian socialism and anarchism, all the while undermining most genuinely libertarian impulses with arguments that assume anarchy is essentially impossible by nature!

The backbone of Walford’s ‘systematic ideology’ is his mechanically conceived progression or series of primary ideologies, which he divides into two classes, the ‘eidostatic’ and the ‘eidodynamic’ ideologies. ‘Eidostatic’ is Walsby’s academic neologism for ruling ideologies, while ‘eidodynamic’ is his codeword for radical or revolutionary ideologies. The eidostatic and eidodynamic ideologies are further divided into a range which runs from the non-political through conservatism and liberalism, to socialism, communism and anarchism.

In fact, this ideological series amounts to a sort of pidgin philosophy of political history, since Walford assigns each ideology to its own historical period, beginning with the non-political ‘expediency’ of primitives, moving to the conservatism of ‘principle’ of the empires and the ‘precise’ liberalism of the modern nation-state. The revolutionary theories (of ‘reform,’ ‘revolution’ and ‘repudiation’) also figure in this progression, though generally only in an impossible ideal future.

To this ideological series of broad categories, Walford also attaches several relationships which he claims to correlate with it either directly or inversely as the case may be. Thus, for example, he explains that the more eidodynamic (radical) ideologies oppose ‘private ownership, togetherness(!), economic competition, institutional religion, hierarchy, authority, low valuation of theory, respect for success in life, [and] willingness to defend the national group’ (Beyond Politics p. 101) and the farther along the ideology is in his mechanical series, the more it opposes these ‘eidostatic’ values. Obviously, some of these will correlate, since a few are tied rather directly to the very definitions of the radical theories Walford deals with. But just as obviously, some of these have no necessary connection with any particular ideologies or group of ideologies. Yet Walford never lets such details get in his way. In fact, when he demonstrates a single (usual erroneous) counterexample to what he conceives as the accepted wisdom in anarchist circles, he generally takes it as sufficient to destroy any view he opposes – while his own views are so porous that counterexamples can be found by the dozen.

Since the ‘ideology of anarchism’ is at the extreme, idealistic end of Walford’s ideological series, when he speaks of anarchist theory and history some of his most bizarre prejudices are revealed. For example, Walford makes much of his unsupported generalization that those holding eidostatic (ruling) ideologies ‘value practice and experience above theory as guides to action’ (Beyond Politics p. 107). And according to his scheme of things, since anarchists are at the extreme end of his mechanical series, they are the most impractical idealists of all! For this supposed anarchist sympathizer, attempting to create an anarchist world is like having ‘human beings subsisting without food, air or earth to stand on.’ This is because any attempt at practical or positive action always ‘falls short of, or contradicts, anarchist principles’ (Beyond Politics p. 123).

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that Walford repeatedly mistakes the idealized characteristics ‘predicated’ by the mechanical logic of his ideological series for the actual characteristics of really existing anarchists. Thus, for Walford, the entire anarchist revolution in Spain is a figment of anarchists’ imaginations! He devotes an appendix in Beyond Politics to use some of the contradictions within the Spanish movement to ‘explain’ that it wasn’t an anarchist movement anyway, because authoritarian elements were able to separate themselves from the rest of the movement and gain varying degrees of power during the war. However accurate this description might be as a critique of the Spanish movement, however, doesn’t eliminate the anarchist actions of millions of revolutionaries during this difficult time.

Like the ‘end of ideology’ arguments which became fashionable in academia in the 1950s, Walford’s ‘systematic ideology’ functions effectively as a stick to club unruly radical ideas into civilized pigeonholes where it is hoped they won’t be as likely to cause any damage to ruling ideas and practices. Walford maintains that ‘the ideological system is so integrated as to be self-adjusting, self-correcting, self-stabilizing, and it tends towards a condition in which the influence of each major ideology diminishes as it stands closer to the anarchist end of the range’ (Beyond Politics, p. 134). And this is exactly why genuine anarchists have no stake in Walford’s ideology of ideologies. What is the real point of books whose essential message is that we are all condemned to suffer under conditions of slavery of one sort or another, whatever we do? Even if, in fact, no one succeeds in abolishing institutions of social and political domination, does this mean that people should never have tried to do so? In his academic terminology, the ‘eidodynamics… want to cut off the branch they are sitting on’ (p. 134). But he’s got it a bit wrong. If they have any sense, they’ll just want to cut off the stick he’s beating them with.

COMMENT by George Walford

I have to thank Lev Chernyi and Anarchy for this review of Beyond Politics and Angles on Anarchism; they have provided one of the most informative notices yet. Concentrating on Beyond Politics, Lev shows open dislike of it, and readers of the review need to allow for this. They should note, for example, that by the review’s own definition Beyond Politics does not use ‘ideology’ in the positivist sense; it does not limit the term to systematic political theories but gives prominence to the expedient, unsystematic, untheorised, ideology of the non-politicals. Making no claim to share in the prestige (such as it now is) of science, it does not stand open to condemnation as ‘pseudo-scientific.’ Neither does it commit the absurdity of presenting social domination as natural. The review used ‘strategy’ as a loaded term to impute a hidden motive, and the repeated use of ‘mechanical’ (one of the ways in which Lev conveys his dislike) obscures the strong dynamic element in the book; the ideological system presented, and the society through which it finds expressions, are emphatically evolving systems. The book ends with these sentences: ‘More than ever before, our world is a boiling, bounding, bubbling ferment of ideological novelty, and the rate of change is accelerating. If the ideological system has reached completion it is only in the sense that a newborn child is complete.’ Mechanical? An attempt to club down unruly ideas?

Readers need to ask themselves, for each charge the review brings against the book, whether it is supported with evidence. ‘Naive,’ bizarre’ (twice), ‘erroneous,’ ‘porous,’ all these are used, but (in the fine old phrase) not a jot or tittle of support offered for any one of them; if counterexamples can be found by the dozen, why not name a couple? The claim that I assume anarchy to be ‘essentially impossible by nature’ floats unsupported and is in fact false; I do not believe or assume this, and the book does not suggest it. Neither does it suggest that people should stop trying to abolish social domination. Just the contrary; the theory of systematic ideology gives ground for expecting these efforts to continue.

To say that in Spain ‘authoritarian elements were able to separate themselves from the rest of the movement,’ raises more problems than it tries to solve; if this movement was anarchist (as that term is used outside Spain) what were authoritarian elements doing in it to start with? In fact the four members who became Ministers in the Madrid government (one of them Minister of Justice, in charge of prisons) were elected at a plenum of the movement. But overriding these detailed arguments comes the dominating feature of the behaviour of the Spanish movement. Not exceptional individuals, not ‘elements,’ but the movement as a whole supported the Spanish Republican government. These ‘anarchists’ fought, died and killed in defence of a system which used prisons, police and all the coercive apparatus of the state. All honour to them as heroic anti-fascists, but they were doing the one thing above all others which shows their movement not to have been anarchist as that term is used outside Spain.

I started off with thanks for an informative review and have spent most of this letter correcting it, but this is not as absurd as it seems. The reviewer, as I have shown, makes almost no attempt to support his charges. He does not, in fact, seem to mean them very seriously and they are easily dismissed. Once that has been done, and attention focused on his report of what the book says, the review makes a valuable contribution.

from Ideological Commentary 56, May 1992.

continue reading Beyond Politics by George Walford (1990):
Preface | Introduction | Politics as Ideology | The British Political Series | The World Political Series | From Politics to Ideology | Ideology Beyond Politics | The Beginnings | From Village to Empire | After The Empires | The Eidodynamic | The Origins of Ideologies | The Evolution of Ideology | Conclusion | Appendices | Notes & References | Select Bibliography | Index | Synopsis.

continue reading Angles on Anarchism by George Walford (1991):
Class Politics; an Exhausted Myth | Anarchy Renamed | Why So Few? | Gnostics as Anarchists of Old | The Two-Sided Anarchist | The Higher the Fewer | The Anarchist Police Force | Even Worse | In the Beginning | The Competitive Co-operators | I. Q. Against Anarchism | Anarchism in Series | Friendly Reason | Anarchist Research | Are They Not Anarchists? | The Trouble With Success | Of Governments and Gardens | The Poll Tax Lesson | Healthy Freedoms | The Conventional Artist | Underground Activity | The Cretan Egoist.

Angles on Anarchism now available on the Kindle.