Ike Benjamin and Trevor Blake
I never had the pleasure of meeting George Walford. Not even once, nor did we ever speak on the phone. But his work as a student of systematic ideology and as a bookseller has had a direct and long-lasting effect on my life. When I first heard from George in 1991/92 I was still living in Tennessee.
I received, unsolicited, a copy of his magazine Ideological Commentary. Stuffy title, no pictures, dry design -I thought it was some socialist paper of no interest and put it in my ‘in’ mailbox for several weeks. But in time I read it, as I tried to read all my mail. To my surprise, there were several articles that had me thinking and laughing almost right away. I read through it several times, and wrote a letter of thanks. There were articles that seemed just right for a computer bulletin board I was thinking of starting, and George gave me permission to copy them. Not long after I moved to Portland, Oregon.
I began transcribing the articles and corresponding with George. One day he sent me the entire catalogue of IC as well as his last two books, Angles on Anarchism and Beyond Politics. I returned the challenge by sending him a collection of my works. We enjoyed a regular exchange of letters until the time of his death.
George answered my questions about systematic ideology; sometimes in letters, sometimes in the pages of IC. Some questions and conversations we never had the chance to finish, but I feel I had enough of an exchange to have some understanding of his understanding of the theory.
I never was able to solicit much about him as a person, though. It wasn’t until near the end of our exchange that we learned we both had little formal education and worked in the book trade. When I wrote that I’d like to come to England to buy books, he responded “When you come I shall want to get down to s.i. with you, not have you waste time enjoying yourself in bookshops!” He never said much about his personal politics or personal life, always turning the conversation back to the theory with the explanation that he didn’t want his ideas to be confused with the theory.
So it wasn’t until after George died that I got some sense of who he was as a person, from his friends and family and coworkers. The Walford family as well as many others have extended a great deal of hospitality to me as I have sought out more information on George and on the theory; I have tried to return it by sharing what I have learned on the Internet, where it may be accessed for free anywhere in the world.
I also learned about George from the decades of writing he left behind. For while he was free with his current thinking, ideas from his past that he felt had been superseded or that weren’t fully developed he kept well hidden. I must surely be showing my stripes as a bibliophile to find such pleasure in traveling across an ocean to spend days on end sorting through moldy papers… but a true detective adventure it was, assembling the history of systematic ideology backwards through its literature. There were few fished unpublished manuscripts but many works in progress, some very lengthy, in his papers. I am glad they are now safely archived for the public at the International Institute for Social History (where they join Harold Walsby’s papers).
George impresses me as someone with a great deal of focus and drive, with much support for his friends and family and not even the time of day for those who he felt squandered his time. He worked hard and he played hard, he thought hard and he wrote in a script that was hardly legible. He kept his life compartmentalized: those he knew through systematic ideology were not always aware of his personal history, and those he knew through work may have had little insight into his writing. He was a dedicated husband and father, very physically active (even to his own risk) and always looking for a debate.
George didn’t always provide me with clear answers, but he did ask the best questions to get me thinking and keep me thinking. He returned interest with interest, and he (and his family) was very supportive of my branching out on my own as a used & rare children’s bookseller. I regret his passing before I had the chance to thank him in person, but I hope the work I have done will guide others to appreciate his work and his life.
It is rare that a relationship with someone can be summarized, more rare still that it is done as a closing line to a last letter. But this, the final paragraph in the final letter George sent me, could not have been more perfect if it had been scripted. I had just been given a raise at my job when he wrote: “Congratulations on the expected promotion! If one has to make a living, I know of no better way to do it than bookselling (except perhaps one of the trades that involve sailing small boats).”
continue reading George Walford, A Memorial (1998):
Introduction | Notes and Quotes | Trevor Blake | Alan Bula | George Gook | Mary Anne Knukel | Encounter in Autumn by Dr. Zvi Lamm | Seeking George Walford by Paul Minet | Peter Shepherd | John Rowan | George R. Russell, SPGB | Thoughts on Ideological Minimalism by Eric Stockton | Reminiscences of George Walford and the Walsby Society 1976 to 1994 by Adrian Williams | Jack as I Knew Him by Brenda McIntosh | Alison Walford, Sharon Goodyear, Richenda Walford