George Walford: Invisible Women

Judy Greenway recently addressed an anarchist discussion group on the subject: INVISIBLE WOMEN: PROBLEMS IN ANARCHIST-FEMINIST HISTORY. Her theme was that although the anarchist movement could hardly have functioned without the women selling literature, writing, taking printed sheets from the press and performing other unsung tasks, most of them remain unmentioned in the histories. Using the mysterious techniques known only to historians she has traced some of these women, but many have disappeared from the record. The difficulty of tracing is greatly increased by change of name on marriage; there is often no way of linking Mrs. George Brown with the Mary Smith who worked so hard selling FREEDOM. In recording the contribution made by women, the speaker held, the anarchist movement has not lived up to its proclaimed concern for the importance of the individual person.

The talk was closely based on extensive research in primary sources; the speaker presented solid evidence that a number of women who had made contributions to the anarchist movement had been ignored by the historians. It seemed to us, nonetheless, that the point being made could have been more solidly established.

The speaker’s theme was that women get written out of anarchist history, and she meant women in particular, women and not (or not to the same extent) men. She argued the first half of this and supported the argument with evidence, but the second half, that men do not get written out, or get written out to a lesser extent, was taken for granted, and this hardly seems sufficient. It may well be true that women get overlooked more often than men – our own impression is that they do – but the fact, if it be one, needs demonstrating.

Until that has been done the argument remains open to the answer that although most women do get written out, so do most men. The speaker claimed there had been discrimination against women but did not show that the proportion of women appearing in the histories of anarchism is lower than the proportion in the movement at the relevant times. The argument seems to need that for its completion. And, if the,discrimination complained of is held to be still going on, even in face of sharper awareness of the condition of women, some direct evidence of this would be welcome. If the anarchist movement is at fault here it is bound, by its own principles, to mend its ways.

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SYSTEMATIC IDEOLOGY does not claim to predict the behaviour of separate people (except in a loose, general way), but this makes it all the more satisfying when important people follow the pattern predicted for the group to which they belong. The theory suggests that adherents of the ideology of precision (the parastatic) will tend to be particularly associated with the mode of thought used in physical science and with the type of religion in which people do not remain content to accept tradition and authority but seek to find the truth for themselves.

Among the figures often taken to represent science Sir Isaac Newton holds a central place, and – against the belief that would link science with atheistic materialism – he seems to have spent more time and effort studying theology and biblical chronology than gravitation or celestial mechanics. The book first published in 1733 as Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John was composed from several manuscripts left unfinished at his death, and his surviving papers show that in his old age he was bringing his religious writings into line with orthodoxy – a shift carried farther by his heirs. But at the peak of his powers Newton regarded Christianity as no more than one among a number of Gentile corruptions of the religion of Noah, and as no more true than the others. He took the view, that is to say, of the non-conformists, that the valid approach to religion is not to accept authorities or traditions but to work out for oneself what, precisely, are the correct beliefs.

A NEWSPAPER headline cries: ‘Chinese Get to Grips with Sex.’ (Sunday Times 28 Aug 88). Yet they don’t seem to have been too bad at it in the past. There are over a thousand million of them, and they weren’t all found under Chinese gooseberry bushes.

from Ideological Commentary 36, November 1988.