Jason McQuin and George Walford: From a Reply to a Reply

IC 56 printed a review of Beyond Politics from Anarchy, a Journal of Desire Armed, together with a reply. Anarchy has now reprinted the reply with a response by Jason, one of the editors. Here we present that response together with the reply to it which has been sent. S.I. distinguishes the ideology expressed in anarchism as that of repudiation; note the final sentence of the response.

Jason responds

HIGHLY DECEPTIVE IDEOLOGY

Gallant effort, but I’m afraid it won’t fly in Missouri, George! Like the argument made in the book, your reasoning here consistently falls short of its mark.

For example, it’s impossible to say what ‘not limit(ing) the term [ideology] to systematic political theories but giv[ing] prominence to the expedient, unsystematic, untheorized, ideology of the non-politicals’ has to do with any attempt at proving that this ideology of ideologies isn’t better described as ‘positivist’ in orientation than as ‘critical.’ In fact, it would instead seem to only reinforce my argument, by demonstrating an uncritical tendency (like other positivist doctrines) to always claim to occupy neutral ground (thus concealing the actual interests served by the theory) from which everything can be accounted, classified and administered.

And again, just because no explicit argument is made in Beyond Politics that its ideology of ideologies is claimed to be ‘scientific’ does not prevent it from being accurately described by me as ‘pseudo-scientific.’ A reader need only observe the quest for academic respectability, the fetish for mechanical classification, the ideological reductionism and the resulting wooden ‘explanations’ exhibited in Beyond Politics to appreciate how much systematic ideology resembles other pseudo-scientific social-psychological theories. The metaphor is fitting.

Similarly, my description of the awkward, ‘mechanical’ relations generated from the ‘ideological series’ propounded in Beyond Politics is in no conceivable way disproved by a metaphorical ‘boiling, bounding, bubbling ferment’ appended to a previous 138 pages of reified, mechanical thinking in the book.

Contrary to the assertion ‘the claim that [Walford] assume[s] anarchy to be “essentially impossible by nature”‘ was quite well documented with Walford’s own words by an example given in my review: ‘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.”‘ Could Walford’s meaning be any more clear?

As for the case of the anarchists in Spain during the Spanish Revolution, certainly my necessarily quick description of the contradictions involved when ‘authoritarian elements were able to separate themselves from the rest of the movement’ raise many other questions. A whole book would be required to come to adequate terms with this complex episode of a minority anarchist movement (itself torn between two completely opposite strategic impulses) suddenly forced by circumstances to find its bearings at the head of a non-anarchist national majority while isolated internationally by competing capitalist and state-Communist power blocs. On the other hand, your ‘explanation’ reduces the situation to a complete absurdity, since for you, if anarchists don’t act as you think anarchists should act regardless of the actual historical circumstances they find themselves in, then they aren’t really anarchists at all. A similar case could be made that 99% of all the people the world over who have called themselves Christian or Marxist weren’t really Christians or Marxists after all because they didn’t adhere to a particular interpretation of the New Testament accounts of the injunctions of J. C. or because they didn’t really understand Capital. But what function does this type of argument really serve?

Unlike Walford’s positivistic ideology of ideologies, genuinely critical, radical theories of ideology explore the hidden motives behind positivistic social theories which claim to be objective, systematic and predictive of an eternally unchanging hierarchal and exploitive social structure. Thus my highly critical review of Walford’s highly deceptive ideology. Could one expect anything less from an anti-ideological journal?

REPLY TO THE RESPONSE

Dear Editors,

In your review of my book Beyond Politics (Anarchy #31) you gave a firm (in fact, rather mechanical) account of what you called the ‘more positive (and usually positivist) sense of “ideology.”‘ Part of my reply was directed at that. Your comment (#33) on this reply confuses the issue by treating positivism less definitely. On Spanish ‘anarchism’ also you draw back, not trying to support the blunt assertiveness of your original review. On these two issues you have changed your position. GOOD! That’s what I’m aiming at.

Unfortunately, there are other matters on which you have not changed. My reply drew attention to the absence of any support for some of the charges levelled in the review, and the greater part of your comment says, in effect, that you intend to maintain your accusations while still not offering any evidence in support of them. You do try to support one of them, the false accusation that I believe anarchism to be ‘impossible by nature,’ by quoting a passage in which the book draws a parallel with the absurdity of having ‘human beings subsisting without food, air or earth to stand on.’ Replace those few words in their context and it becomes obvious this condition is not offered as a parallel for anarchy.

In this passage the book is speaking about the ultimate objectives of the eidodynamics, and these do not have to be fully achieved before their various forms of the favoured society can be established. Even the purists of the (A-)SPGB tell us they need not a virtual totality but only an overwhelming majority of (anarcho-)socialists in order to set up (anarcho-)socialism, and your own contention, that people giving their lives in support of the Spanish Republican government were anarchists in your sense, shows that for you anarchism does not have to exclude armed support of government.

It is virtual elimination of the less developed ideologies that is as absurd as a concept as people living without food, air or earth to stand on. This elimination has not been demanded by the (A-)SPGB, Freedom, Black Flag, Class War, William Godwin, Murray Bookchin, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Proudhon, Malatesta, or Anarchy, a Journal of Desire Armed. Anarchy as these use(d) the term is not impossible. But there is nearly two centuries of evidence to show that it is so improbable as not to offer a reasonable objective.

We all begin adult life accepting without question the social conditions in which we find ourselves. To the extent that our political thinking develops we turn against things as they are and towards working out our ideas about what social conditions ought to be. In the course of this development numbers fall away; the more advanced the thinking, the smaller the numbers supporting it. The outcome is that anarchists attempting to put their ideas into practice find their efforts blocked by the presence of an overwhelming majority holding other ideas. That presence has defeated the anarchist movement so far; this provides the starting-point for systematic ideology and Beyond Politics.

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

from Ideological Commentary 57, August 1992.