George Walford: Editorial (63)

At last! This issue contains the four extra pages to make up for the shortfall in IC 61.

On November 27th last year Freedom, the anarchist fortnightly, started a Good News column, intended to present instances of positive, practical anarchism growing within the capitalist system. So far the instances given have comprised: homeless people getting together to build themselves houses; a doctor inducing the Illinois state authorities to use their coercive power upon employers, making them guard their workers’ health; NHS practices in Sheffield stressing the connection between work and health (and using less authority than medicos usually do); a government inspector deciding in favour of gypsies; a doctor in Spain performing abortions at the cost of repeated imprisonment.

These can all be accepted as positive contributions to human welfare, but not one of these activities has anything distinctively anarchist about it. Each of them falls within the range covered by pro-state reformers.

Only one of them has led to conflict with the state, and even that would find official acceptance in some countries outside Spain; one calls for more active use of state power. Each of them takes place within the state, showing what can be accomplished in its presence. Rather than moving towards a stateless society these activities help the state overcome some of its problems, rendering it more acceptable.

This attempt by Freedom to establish a positive role for anarchism ends by confirming the s.i. interpretation of it as a negative movement. When anarchism attempts positive, constructive action, it does no more than duplicate the work of the reformers. It performs its distinctive role in negative, critical activity, remorselessly bringing to light the failures and shortcomings of present society. The title of a recent history suggests that anarchism demands the impossible; that is not strictly so, for nothing is impossible. Anarchism makes its unique contribution to social development by demanding the unfeasible, for only in this way can the limits of the feasible be found. In the issues of 22 January, 5 and 19 February, no Good News column appears; have Freedom themselves seen the weakness of it?

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Systematic ideology stresses the importance of assumptions. We think of ourselves as responding to objects or phenomena; strictly speaking, we react to our assumptions about them. The test case arises when people are faced with an object requiring, for its interpretation, assumptions they do not possess. Having trouble with the Dowayo words for ‘lion’ and ‘leopard’ Nigel Barley, an anthropologist, showed his informants a photograph of each. It did not help; familiar with these local animals, they had not met photographs before and could not link them with their subjects. (Barley later found that on the compulsory identity cards one photograph often served for several Dowayo).

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Americans identifying themselves, in response to questionnaires, as middle-class: 1952 37 per cent; 1964 44 per cent; 1993 80 per cent. Doesn’t sound very promising for The Revolution.

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More working-class communists: Wogan Philipps, Second Baron Milford, and his wife, Cristina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon.

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Communists and anarchists blame the state or the bosses (they believe them to be conservatives) for what goes wrong; conservatives blame agitators and extremists (meaning the communists and anarchists). Each side credits the other with power that it knows itself not to possess. Society shows little regard for the efforts of those who set out to direct it. How does this come about?

Over five thousand million people affect this society, each of them exerting force in a different direction from the others. In addition, these organise themselves into uncountable groups, movements, organisations and institutions, each of these again pursuing a purpose of its own. With thousands of millions of forces acting upon it, nearly all of them at cross-purposes with the others, is it any wonder that society follows a course independent of the wishes of any one person or group?

A memorial to David Hume is proposed. Subscriptions to (or an information leaflet from): David Hume Appeal, Saltire Society, [address].

from Ideological Commentary 63, February 1994.