David McDonagh: George Walford, Ideology, Marxism and the SPGB
I liked George Walford, but I do not think that he was a wise man or even a very bright man. Nor do I hold myself to be very wise or bright, but the facts relating to the Socialist Party of Great Britain [SPGB] and Harold Walsby are not very difficult to see.
I was an enthusiastic member of the SPGB from 1968 to 1974. I left it owing to the economic calculation argument [eca], that is explained at book length by my friend D.R. Steele in his From Marx To Mises (1992). Despite giving a review of this book, and being told, from 1973 on, of its major argument, I think it is a fact that George never put himself out to comprehend it. It is not too hard to grasp but it is way more theoretical than is the thought of the SPGB and also than is Harold Walsby’s ideas. But George did not like to think; nor did he like to argue.
Many who knew George will automatically feel this to be plainly false. Surely, they will think, George loved debating things over. Yet the major thing George showed me, by repeated example, was that he hated argument. And he showed me this not only with myself but he repeated his habits with others in writing in the Ethical Record, and also in person with others. He approached debate as a small boy approaches chess. They love the game but only if it does not go on too long. “Scholar’s mate” is their ideal ending (this is also called “Fool’s mate”) and if both players miss it then chess soon gets boring for both the very small boys. On a boxing analogy, George liked a quick knock out in debate and if it had to go to a points decision then he usually wanted it to do so at the end of the first round. Now and again, he might tolerate the amateur three-round decision but the professional fifteen rounds was way too much for George to tolerate. George was never like Socrates who would follow the argument wherever it went and would be willing to keep it up till it got to where it might be going. George was eager to start debates, but, like Pilot who never waited for an answer, George was far more eager to close an argument as soon as possible than he ever was even to begin one. But it is true that he did like to begin debates. I surmise that this keenness to end them can only be owing to the fact that he did not like the actual process of arguing at all. There are many who are a bit like George in this trait, especially in the so-called anarchist movement (statists to a man, in my experience of them) but none so clear in it as was George. I may not have noticed this ironical phenomenon at all had not George made it so clear to me by his conspicuous habit. I then did see it in others later, and, on reflection, I recalled that many others did much the same earlier also.
George had, in common with most other people today, a high regard for his own opinion and a habit of protecting it from refutation. For most people this takes the form of a pathetic and indeed a quite painful arrogance. In arrogating their own ideas as to what the truth is they tend to become emotionally involved with them in a sort of extended egoism. They identify with their opinions such that they tend to take criticism of their opinion as a painful attack on their person. This makes debate rather unpleasant for them. They even habitually see expositions on the media as an attack on them personally, as they hold the opinions that may be undergoing criticism in the television or radio programme. This is not a wise way to go on, and the Stoics advised against it some 2000 years ago. Their epigones in Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy gives similar advice against this folly today. People who ignore that advice may well very often get upset. The pain involved leads such people to dodge debate, and it has caused the classical liberal idea of tolerance to be inverted for J. S. Mill, in On Liberty (1859), had it as tolerance for debate as a means of reaching the truth and that became the nineteenth century fashion. During the twentieth century, however, tolerance became the idea that one should not criticise the opinions of others but respect them by refraining from doing so. Mores were set up against discussing either religion or politics just in case it might cause offence. Everyone had a right to their opinion. That had earlier meant we should all tolerate free speech but later it meant that one should not upset others by criticising them. Today, the quest for truth is often thought to be intolerant, and so is the aim of eliminating the opinions of others. Systematic Ideology fits this later intolerant meme of “tolerance” well when it holds that it is naïve to think that an ideological stance can be eliminated, and the idea that all the different ideas are actually functional also fits the Politically Correct [PC] outlook very well. So today’s common sense now backs up this corruption of the pristine liberal idea of tolerance into its opposite of a taboo on critical expression. People are socially indulged into worshipping their own whimsy and to hang onto mere opinions, current ideas or past ideas as to what the facts are, as if it were a substantial part of their own body. That is all too often what the opinionated tend to feel is virtually the case. Ideas become ends, dogmas, rather than a mere means to the truth.
However, to be functional, what we think to be so should be held quite impersonally – for the facts are usually very distinct from the thinker who may realise them. This is how it is in most practical affairs. But there one rarely has opinions, i.e., ideas of the facts made explicit and presented to others as entertainment in conversations. Most practical thought is tacit and not worth talking about. We do make assumptions in tacit thought and use theoretical ideas, but it is distinct from formal theory, that is more like opinion, in that it will be fostered and revised over time. This is most likely to be done in writing and thus be linear so that it will tend to be an end rather than a instrumental means of dealing with reality (as tacit and panoramic thought usually is). Moreover, most practical thought will be trivial whilst this will not be so of our opinions, and still less of explicit theory that we commit to writing.
It is in theory, or in the value paradigms of religion and politics, that both Bacon’s false idols (cf. The New Instrument, 1620) and the pathetic arrogance emerge. Ideology was part of the labelling of the ideas that Bacon called the false idols. Marx and Engels in The German Ideology (1845) had it thus: “Hitherto men have constantly made up for themselves, about what they are and what they ought to be [[unintelligible]] The phantoms of their brains have got out of their hands. They, the creators, have bowed down before their creations.” (p. 23 1965 Lawrence and Wishart edition). False idols and ideology are ideas used for mere consumption rather than as a practical means to an end, and hence they are less likely to be put to a realistic test. If they are dysfunctional then this is not going to be so clear, as they are not tested in practice. Yet they can be dysfunctional as they can lead to terrorism owing to the resentment they may build up, as is the case during the last hundred years with nationalism, communism and religions like Islam.
Harold Walsby felt that he had found a layer of social cement that he held to be functional that he termed “ideology,” and George agreed. But neither of them showed the public that they managed to address the domain of ideologies any more than did the SPGB show us the economics of common ownership. Instead, they beat about the bush. In this, they were like the few Christians who claim they have of evidence for miracles. We may safely assume that they would not beat about the bush if they had a bird in their hand.
I use “ideology” here as Marx used it, for what Bacon called false idols, which are consumer goods or ends in themselves rather than a practical means to an end. Thus they will not normally be tested. Ideology as a functional cement of society, as George claimed to exist, seems to me to be a false idea. To make clear my view of George’s outlook I will give a very short account of things I feel he did not comprehend. Here, I will deal with the meme spectrum of the left and right wing in politics, the impact of the Fabian society in the hopelessly confused current common sense regarding that spectrum, with common sense itself, with science, with technology, with Marxism and finally with the SPGB.
Dr Johnson found on the fall of Walpole in the early eighteenth century that the new government endorsed many of the policies, that, as the opposition, they had habitually scorned. He was shocked. But after a while he concluded that there was not really such a practical difference between the Whigs and the Tories as he had supposed. He was right to do so. The main difference between them was ideological rather than practical and the ideas of the ideology were ends rather than means. There was two sorts of politics, the practical politics of running the state and the theoretical politics of ideals. Dr Johnson was a Jacobite idealist, which was at the far extreme of Toryism and rather favoured the return of the heirs of James II. That outlook was confined to the streets and taverns. Only the milder form of Toryism, that accepted 1688, was viable, even as mere ideas, in the House of Commons. Marxism and libertarianism are two extreme paradigms that can hardly be viable in the House of Commons today. But within the House of Commons, the difference between Whig and Tory was ideological rather than practical, and so quasi-tribal, or a sort of uniform to differentiate the politicians in the House. In practice all tended to follow the same ideas in practical politics and the ideology did not have a great impact on what they attempted to carry out; though it might, occasionally, make some slight difference. Whenever it did, it would make the partisans feel good about practical politics for a time. But this could also be very dysfunctional. Thus most Politically Correct law that stands is owing to the recent ideology of the Labour Party and most of it is damaging to British society.
The left and right spectrum emerged in France in 1787, a few years prior to the “revolution” of 1789. In that year, King Louis XIV called up an Assembly in which the left wing were bourgeois that mainly stood for free trade whilst the right wing were aristocrats that mainly favoured protectionism. The left tended to favour individualism and the right the community; the left the most extensive liberty compatible with a similar liberty for all whilst the right the nation and the proper rule of the state. The right related to the court or Tory outlook in England and the left to the country or Whig outlook. The Tories tended to be landowners and the Whigs tended to be the owners of industrial wealth. Economics held that there were three factors of production: Land, Labour and Capital. And Marx thought they represented economic interest groups that he supposed had opposing class interests. He tended to think that Land was about to fade as a distinct interest group as it was fused with that of capital whilst the main clash of interests due was that between capital and labour. But he gave no clear account of such interests and ironically his only example of class conflict is in wage bargaining, which is really a counter example.
To make this irony explicit, we can use game theory, that was first introduced in The Theory of Games and Economic Behaviour (1947) John Von Neumann and Oscar Morgansen. We will take just three types of games from the theory viz. the zero-sum game, the positive-sum game and the negative-sum game. The zero-sum is best known to common sense. It does not flout arithmetic. In any game, be it tennis, Chess or football, one side gains at the expense of the other, or they draw. There is nothing added during the transaction to the sum; zero-sum. The positive-sum game, by contrast, has something added by the end of the transaction. The negative-sum game has lost something by the transaction. The sum relates to the transaction as a whole and the gains or loses could be on one side only, but usually it is losses and gains to both sides. Trade is an example of a positive sum game and in the Common Sense of Political Economy (1910) P.H. Wicksteed postulated that in every transaction there was a consumer surplus and a producer or seller surplus to each side of any actual price as either side might settled for another price but only as long as they did gain from the price. If the price went up too much for the buyer then he would not buy, and if it went too low for the seller then he would not sell. Thus trade is positive-sum and both sides gain, ipso facto. However, within the narrow range of the mutual surplus, the haggling range, there is a pocket of zero-sum. If the traders were to haggle over the price then the haggling would be zero-sum but it would be confined to the overall positive-sum game where there was something in the deal for each side. It would be a pocket of zero-sum within a positive sum game. Collective bargaining over wages is within this range; it is haggling. And this is Marx’s sole example of the diametrically opposed interests in the class struggle between the proletariat, or the employees, and the capitalists or bourgeois class, that Marx holds to be the employers. But it is an example of mutual interests rather than of diametrically opposed interests. Marx gives us a counter example as his sole example.
Marx’s whole idea of the class struggle is unrealistic romance. There has never been anything like it, in fact. But maybe many give it credit owing to the disutility of labour, to the fact that many, if not most workers, do not like their jobs. On the market, we all actually work for the consumers: ourselves as buyers. But we do not like to court trade on our own account and we are rather keen to get the work over with and then to go home. Few people like participation, but that is a fact that is lost on the enthusiastic democrat, as well as most in the colleges. As so many do not like to court for trade the firm arises which effectively puts the courting for custom on an extended division of labour. But many simply do not see this reality, despite its being simple. The man who is willing to court the consumers for trade says that he is self employed or that he works for himself! If he sets up as an employer, after a time on his own, he will say he has workers who work for him and the workers will also say that they work for him! Given that they may not like their work and that they habitually think they are working for him they may even get to dislike him as a result. This sort of fallacious way of thinking seems to be part of what is behind the widely accepted idea of the class struggle. But the whole idea of the class struggle is as unrealistic as God; and it is far more obviously false for it is a matter way easier to check up on.
Up till the 1880s, when the Fabian Society formed, left and right were fairly coherent if not felt to be so cogent as it was to become in the twentieth century. It was not so widely used as it later became, but if anything, back then the rather different idea of class was even more in fashion than it has been since. However, this labeling of left and right was less quasi-tribal in the nineteenth century than in the twentieth when it became a major defence mechanism to protect the ideas that were labeled left or right. The classes discriminated socially far more but by idea paradigms far less. There had been a big long-running propaganda debate between the Tories and the Liberals and the latter largely won so that the left was taken to be superior by common sense as a result. The Fabian favoured old Tory ideas of community, and the like, but claimed that they were to the left of liberalism as the left was taken to be progressive and also likely successful in the long run. The liberals had had their day but the coming idea was what the Fabian were on about. They used the word “socialism,” a term introduced into the English language by Robert Owen from the French, for those old Tory ideas. The chief driving force behind this brilliant and exceedingly active propaganda group was eventually run by the former fiancier of the leading Liberal politician of his generation, Joseph Chamberlain, who – like her – had a hatred of economic theory: she was Beatrice Potter who later became Mrs Sydney Webb. G. B. Shaw and H. G. Wells are just two of the better known members of the Fabian Society. The Webbs went on to found the London School of Economics and to get the Labour Party to pass its infamous clause four in 1918. The influence of the group was worldwide, and maybe even greater on Lenin and his epigones than was the influence of Marx; just as the Tory inspired industrial reports were a greater influence on Marx than was Hegel. Chamberlain had himself rather revived old Tory ideas within the Liberal Party, and when he left the Party – owing to Gladstone going over to Home Rule for Ireland in 1886 – for the Conservative Party he was merely going to the place where many of his ideas had originated. The Fabians largely popularised his ideas on management, that Peter Drucker was pushing in his first book some fifty years later as still the new thing. Most of the young MPs that Chamberlain left behind in the Liberal Party were his epigones, but they won the 1906 election on Cobdenite or Gladstonian ideas and in opposition to Chamberlain’s campaign of tariff reform and “Empire Free Trade” (protectionism). It was a swan song, as it elected Chamerlianites to a man, and they went on to pioneer the welfare state. But the left did retain freedom in social matters whilst the Tories took up, not fully but to a greater extent that the Liberal Party in its later years, free trade. So the classical liberal stance is split into two with the social issues continuing to be called left and the economic (though the reality is that this cannot be distinct in practice) or what is thought to be the narrowly economic, being called right. Similarly, the old right remains with the Tories on social issues but they have tended to favour individualism in economic matters. Both positions have thus been incoherent since about 1890, and more plainly so since 1918. And towards the middle of the twentieth century most imagined Hitler at one extreme and Lenin at the other when they held a near identical position, which Lenin was merely more verbose about than was Hitler.
This is the confusion that Harold Walsby and George Walford grew up with and they adopted it largely without thinking much about it, as was the norm of their generation. How unreflective of them, but then they were both largely unreflective men. They preferred common sense to logic. Common sense mainly stands for two things, though they do not exhaust it. 1) The conventional wisdom or what everyone “knows.” These are common conclusions. 2) Elementary logic or what a moment’s thought might allow us to work out. When many people lament that common sense is not more common they usually mean this second meaning of what we might get from a moment’s thought rather than that people do not know much of the conventional wisdom. The second phenomenon tends to cast doubt on the first, that is often vulgar in the pristine sense of the term. Indeed, as John Hartley, the sometime secretary of Birmingham branch SPGB, once said: “common sense is ‘common’ in the sense of common that the teenaged girls of the 1950s attempted to avoid being.” It was cheap and vulgar. But there is one idea in the conventional wisdom that is sound, viz., that we expect all serious books, talks or lectures, and the like, to go beyond the conventional wisdom and if it fails to do so then many might say, in hyperbole, that it says nothing! T. H. Huxley rightly said that “science is organised common sense.” The path into science can usually be taken by using what we can do with a moment’s thought but by also organising our efforts and using some mathematics to aid us in this organisation, as well as being introduced to the conclusions that the scientists have so far reached. Science (a Latin word) means knowledge and it is theoretical and general knowledge. Science was at one with Philosophy (a Greek word that stood for the body of organised knowledge before the rise of Rome), that meant love of wisdom. They were used interchangeably until the seventeenth century, when the rise of the calculus in mathematics caused a gap to emerge. This gap was widened with the rise of the team work in the laboratory in the nineteenth century and philosophy decayed into a futile attempt to become a college subject in the twentieth century on the one hand, or it remained as certain authors giving their worldview as it traditionally been on the other. It is a myth that the Greeks of old did no experiments just as it is that they held that the earth was flat, but the team work was better organised by 1900 and from then on even Nobel prize winners, a prize usually awarded to research team leaders, got little more than rather impersonal footnotes in the textbooks, whilst to study a philosopher is still down to reading something of their own rather personal outlooks across a range of topics.
Technology is distinct from science. It is far more precise than science usually is, though it often does settle for approximations. Its aim is practical rather than theoretical. It is a means rather than an end. The aim of science is theory whereas technology is aimed at a practical gadget of some sort. Science is a consumer good rather than an investment of some sort, as technology invariably is. Most of the technical innovations of the industrial revolution 1750-1850 was fostered by men largely ignorant of science. Most scientists are not at all practical in their ideas or work. The history of science is the history of thinkers whereas the history of technology is largely the history of often ignorant tinkers.
Marxism had as its main idea the materialist conception of history. This held that the development of society would one day enable all to see that socialism was possible and that is was a great advance on capitalism. When that fact was clear to all there would be a revolution, but this clarity would emerge largely from class struggle. One could never forecast the future this very fully before it emerged said Aristotle, and Marx remained an Aristotelian far more than he was ever a Hegelian. His attack on Hegel’s idealism apes Aristotle’s attack on the idealism of Plato. The post-revolutionary society would still be governed. Indeed, there would then be a grand central plan, put forward on the basis of the most up-to-date science and technology, that would replace the anarchy of the market system with its booms, slumps, wars, and the like. Marx tended to overlook that science and scientific progress was also largely anarchic and could hardly be planned. He saw anarchy as mainly flowing from the intrinsic nature of the money system, that allowed exchange rather than directly producing for use as the grand plan would. What we today call “capital” would no longer be called such as there would no longer be any capitalists, but as the means of production the machines would go on. Another scholastic name change. Similarly, the administration would no longer be called a state, but it would remain as central as ever and it would govern society. Marx and Engels were not one whit anarchists. The withering away of the state was simply the withering away of the old classes from the market system As the socialisation process of the new society got to rear a new generation. It would not be an ebbing of government in the new society but it would be an end to what Marx called the state. As R.H. Tawney so aptly said, “Karl Marx was the last of the schoolmen.”
Up till 1991, the SPGB were not anarchists but Marxists. I explained this to George, many times, but he never seemed to want to know as it upset his ideology, or false idols. However, they did have two memberships in terms of understanding their case, or two versions of their case, largely obfuscated by being almost identical in their use of words. One group is the naïve fellows who took the propaganda at face value, who took the withering away of the state in the common sense terms of the ebbing of government and another, better-informed, group that realised that Marx was a central planner. It was only at conferences, delegate meetings and the like where they departed from the common propaganda materials to discuss what they actually thought. It could be a shock to some to see that some other members agreed with the likes of Tony Cliff on Russia, even though he was of the rival semi-Trotskyite International Socialist group, later called the Socialist Worker’s Party. But the differences were never so stark as to cause a split. The naïve members, who were shocked, were never confident enough to argue things out with the Marxists, who would have been older, and clearly better informed than them in any case. Not understanding the case was a thing that few members wanted to risk admitting in any such questioning. It was a dogma that all in the SPGB understood it, ipso facto, but all who deserted it did not. The case was held to be simple, and that any worker who did not understand it soon could. But now and again, a group of the younger members broke off and they generally joined anarchist groups. One of the last of such splits was Mike Bradley and the Situationists in 1971 but there was a later split off that contained John Crump to Solidarity just a year or so later. Usually, those groups soon drifted back towards the common sense status quo, and that gave credence to the institutional explanation that all who leave the SPGB do not really understand the SPGB case, in some way, despite its being exoteric and easy to understand. At this time, D. R. Steele also left, but owing to the eca. He had been a planner. This emerged in a conversation we had in 1980. I had been more naïve and an anarchist. The SPGB did embrace the books of Peter Kropotkin that encouraged this confusion but it was hidden by its normal propaganda. George seems to have taken this naïve reading of what the SPGB held all along, just as I did.
“Are they not anarchists?” George asks on page 51 of his 1991 book. He gives examples that can be read as if the SPGB were anarchists, but he fails to see that Marx was no anarchist and nor were the main SPGB members. He asks (p. 55) “why do the SPGB hold themselves apart from the anarchists?” He puts it down to their class analysis that he calls black and white thinking, but it is because the SPGB membership were largely planners rather than anarchists. He comments on the 1991 split but fails to see that the de facto leadership who wanted to retain the longer name were more clearly planners. But he does note that the larger group are a bit more like the anarchists, and that is true (p. 56). In 1991, the split was over the issue of whether the propaganda should use the logo SP, rather than the traditional SPGB; and Camden and Bloomsbury branches did not agree to drop the traditional logo. They were eventually expelled for not toeing the party line on this reform. They contained the de facto leadership of the party, despite its official line that it had no leaders. In particular, they had Edward Hardy, an LSE economics graduate, who was perhaps the leading member, so far, within the SPGB since 1904. The expelled were mainly planners whilst those who remained in were largely naïve anarchists, with Adam Buick, the new de facto leader, keeping up the tradition of jumping from one paradigm to the other. Up till 1991, George basically got the SPGB wrong, but the split of that year gives some credibility to his thesis that it is really an anarchist group after all.
The best thing in the book is George showing that he can re-think after all. On Max Stirner he displays a bit of revision and a proper study of what Stirner actually said (p. 63f). However, even here George includes some fairly poor thought. George accepted the rather odd idea that Stirner could put himself beyond criticism, in some way, but that is particularly inept as none of us can control our own understanding and the way we see things as true. His idea that criticism needs to be moral is also utterly unrealistic. Yet re-reading Stirner’s book, and a discussion of it with S. E. Parker, gets George to think and he says: “I found myself forced to see the ascription of deep thought to Stirner was an error” (p. 64). So was his assumption that Walsby thought deeply, or that the SPGBers did, or that the statists who call themselves anarchists thought deeply, for all those simply worshipped their own whimsy, they had next to no insight and hardly any theory at all. They were all rather like Stirner. George came to see that Stirner was: “hollow at the core” (p. 65-6). George says that he cannot take Stirner seriously, however he does all too often take him even at his word, as when he says that Stirner cannot be called immoral as he never claimed to be moral (p. 66). That is simply silly. All books can and should be taken seriously, and there is no need at all for a man to claim to be moral in order to be seen as, or held to be, immoral. One does not have to be a hypocrite in order to be immoral. Men are free to say anything they like, if not free to think as they like; any man can claim to be amoral but that hardly even means he thinks he is, still less that he actually is. Men never are immoral, as Hume saw in his The Principle of Morals (1751), where he shows that moral scepticism is not an option. Any such claim is bogus and there is always some honour amongst thieves. We all accept basic morals.
George tells us that the “anarchists do a splendid job of smashing the arguments of their opponents” (Foreword). Why he says so is beyond me. I have yet to meet an “anarchist” who can argue well. They have been invariably crass and ignorant in my experience. In the 1960s, when I used to attend their meetings in order to poach their members into the SPGB, I met many of them, but never did I meet any who were impressive at exposition. One of my earliest friends amongst them was forever going on about bombing his local Post Office, but he did not like explaining in what way this moronic idea had merit. Whenever I pressed him on it he simply pleaded for a change of subject.
George meets with reason to think that the anarchists are usually rather like he says Stirner is, but he fails to similarly revise his ideas on them. At one point he says: “Anarchists supporting compulsion by the state! What is going on here?”(p60) What is going on is that George is looking at the clear evidence that those who call themselves anarchists are usually, in practice, statists instead. We might hope that he would conclude that those fellows are also “hollow at the core” as he said of Stirner, but he refuses to do so and instead decides to accept their authority, for he asserts: “Those people know what they are talking about; we have to take what they say as an authentic expression of anarchist ideas.” (p. 60) They all uphold the National Health Service (NHS). I found that out, and it was hardly their sole statist stance, in their meetings in the 1960s. But I found no inclination to thought amongst them. They had way less theory than the SPGB had, which is, itself, a body almost devoid of theory. George never could apply logic to people. For him what mattered was what people said, not with whether it was coherent or not. Why George held that the SPGB and the anarchists were strong on theory is far from clear to me. In calling Proudhon “a man devoid of all theoretical knowledge” Marx was apt, and all the anarchists associated with Freedom Press seem to be similarly ignorant. They do not even realise that they are not anarchists! Nor would they usually be interested in that, or in hardly anything else.
Class politics is a myth (p. 1). True. If not then there could be only one Party in power, for how could people overlook their economic interests, especially when they are chronic? Yet this is the sort of thing that the socialists think the masses do when they reject their case. But it is hardly possible to ignore one’s own economic interests, let alone when there is an organised political party pointing it out. We might err on a one-off chance of doing what is in our interests but it is far less likely when the interests are ongoing. Most people would not accept even being short-changed even a penny in a shop, and most would say they would not do so on principle, yet it is assumed they will let this economic class interest go by. The whole idea looks totally unrealistic. If there were such an economic interest in the elections then the whole issue would have been well over and won long before 1900. George asks, again and again, why the workers do not support socialism, “anarchism” and the like, but he ignores the fairly clear answer that the SPGB, the “anarchists” and the like have nothing to say that is in any way informative when we consider the actual interests that people have. They have next to no theory whatsoever, and what little bit of theory they do have looks to be very clearly false to most people, but instead to be merely naïve. And when the public think this of the SPGBers, they get the basic truth about them. If the SPGB had even a bogus elaborate theory, of any viability, they would not seem to be so clearly utopian to most people they meet. I was won over to the SPGB in 1968 not because I had more knowledge than the rest of the public, as I rather foolishly assumed for a few years, but because I was way more ignorant than the ones who rejected it. The catchment potential recruits of the SPGB will be those who are that bit more ignorant than the average person, it is limited to greenhorns, but most new members will all too soon get to know enough theory to obfuscate that fact to both themselves, and even to a few of the public. They will use their book learning and the few pamphlets that the SPGB has so far got out to foster the idea that they know way more than those who rejected the SPGB rather than to face the reality that they usually know way less.
George tends to go in for the democratic theory of truth, viz., that whatever the majority wants they can have. “The reason we do not have anarchy is … that the general body of the people don’t want it” (p. 6). All notions of objective reality seem to be, unwittingly, rejected here and it is being explicitly stated that we can have whatever we want, if we but just get a majority to endorse it. The idea is repeated throughout the books, e.g., on pages 47 and 48 we are told that we would have anarchy if all agreed with it. But that idea is clearly false. If we were all converted to the SPGB outlook then that would not advance the sort of free-access society they think is a viable option one iota, as it is lacking an economic theory to make ends meet. E contra, it rejects the economic problem as a myth but this problem is all too real, and without a solution to it, we would face famine rather than a viable free-access society where many if not most of our everyday problems were solved. Winning over a majority would hardly maker the SPGB half-baked theory adequate, any more than if we all thought that the moon were made of green cheese that the rock on the moon would thereby vanish, or convert to being cheese. It is an ill-considered position, and that is why it has been rejected by most who have heard it. But had the public been too dull to realise that, then the case would not have thereby become stronger. What matters is objective reality rather than simply the desires of the people. Beliefs and the facts are quite distinct.
Thomas Hobbes was right to say that society is based on authority and John Locke to translate that into saying it is based on tacit consent, that David Hume accepted as being based on opinion. But Marx was right to nevertheless see that reality more determines our thought than does our thought determine social reality. Marx also said that we should not let theoretical error go uncorrected. He aped Aristotle in his attack on Plato when he attacked Hegel (p. 2-3).
However, George is quite right to say that the owners of the newspapers have to pander to the masses on the market system or lose their wealth; but wrong to say that the state is similar. The state can rule so it has no need to serve. The economists were right in what they said about consumer sovereignty, but what they said was little to do with any sovereignty, as it merely described patronage and that is the label they ought to have given to that basically sound theory instead of the misnomer they gave it. Firms pander and consumers patronise so there is no actual sovereignty on the market, nor anything remotely like it. But there is sovereignty in the state. George is right to say the newspapers do not publish anarchist writings, nor are they broadcast on the mass media, owing to the idea that the public might not find it interesting. But there is another reason the newspapers do not go on and on about anarchism, viz., there is not very much to go on about (p3). And he might have added that book publishers have published, long since, the few books the statists who called themselves anarchists did get written and that the public libraries have had Marx’s books in them for years. Whilst in the SPGB I often thought it odd that I was doing all my revolutionary reading in a public library.
George is also right to say that the state cannot stop crime, and the like, but nor can the majority. I can bomb or steal almost at will, as I can choose when to pounce; and so can almost everyone else. That is why terrorists strike terror with such ease as they can pounce anywhere at almost any time and we can all sense this fact (p. 4).
Communism did not fail in Russia 1917, or in China 1949, owing to the lack of majority support but rather owing to an almost total ignorance of what communism is: it was not a known option. None in either Russia or China knew anything about it. Only the money system could work and what works to keep people alive will be used by them, no matter how much they say they hate it. SPGB consciousness would have added nothing to either Russia or China, and nor would further technological progress. This the eca made clear. It asked what the communist economic theory consisted of. When there was no adequate answer then the sound argument was put ,viz., no economic theory then no communist option. See the book by D. R. Steele for a detailed account of the eca. Marx knew nothing about communism. He hoped that history would throw up the communist alternative, but history remained indifferent.
All this was repeatedly explained to George but he went on with his democratic omnipotence howler. He simply never seemed to understand the eca as he simply failed to put himself out to do so. He went on thinking that the SPGB were basically right that they did not have socialism simply because the public never knew about it, or when they were told about it they rejected it owing to mere choice. Yet what they said is that they thought that the choice was unrealistic. All SPGBers who are active soon get to know what they say. But many, like George, think that they can have anything they want if only they could get a majority to support it. But a majority cannot work miracles. It would be barren in that respect. No majority can make any particular falsehood into a truth.
George tends to see that the so-called anarchists are actually totalitarians. Panarchy is an apt name for them (p. 8). However, if they really were to leave all governing to merely moral rules then maybe they would be anarchists. But if Bakunin is their master (and they say they back him, but they do not seem to have read much that he wrote) then they are not simply leaving it all to morals. This worthless cretin wanted only the mass destruction where from he claimed he hoped that a new order might emerge, but his end was clearly simply the crass sacrifice of destruction. Bakunin On Anarchy (1973) Ed. Sam Dolgoff p. 334ff). Bakunin substitutes violence as the omnipotent solution of all ills. But what he says is a means is clearly the only end he ever sought. Like all the other statists who call themselves anarchists, his theory is so thin that he almost says nothing at all.
George credits the statists who call themselves anarchists with holding to the liberal idea (p. 9). We can all do what we want so long as we respect a similar liberty for others. He then says that most people do not support this idea, but that is false. The statists he imposed it onto do not really support the idea, but most people do. However, the general public fear that a state is needed and they tend to think that it does not really interfere with this general liberal principle very much. The said statists are usually bourgeois who hate the bourgeois, so they hate themselves. In a word that seems to be perverse. Saul Below once said of the student rebels in the 1960s that “they respect no persons, not even their own person” and that is quite true, but the self contempt is unwitting for they are totally unreflective.
George feels it is important to say that anarchy leads to the state, or that it did in the past (p. 12). It is not clear why he thinks that anarchists should worry about what he supposes happened in the past. It has no bearing on what anarcho-liberals might be able to achieve in the future.
George thinks that there is no getting away from imposing on ourselves, and this he seems to feel is germane to liberty (p. 19). He is simply being silly with this line of objection to liberty. Jan Lester and I made a distinction between a Hobbesian freedom that we all automatically have and social liberty on the Listbot LA list (the archives of which were lost when Listbot ceased to operate a few years ago). Social liberty is the Quasi-contract (QC) we have to respect the liberal idea of honouring a similar liberty for all rather than exercising licence that we all can do with pristine Hobbesian freedom. Hobbes rightly pointed out that we wanted to do all we do either as a end or a means to some end, and we cannot do otherwise. George supposes that the growth of freedom increases limitations, but this looks to be a mere paradox and George seems to favour the type of paradoxes that Quine saw was absurd or contradictory rather than the seeming absurdity that turns out to be coherent on closer inspection (See The Ways of Paradox (1966) W.V.O Quine). George simply muddles himself by calling a lot of very diverse things freedom, most of which are hardly germane to each other and all of which seems to merely show that words in the English language have no essential meaning. The two germane senses are the ones cited as freedom and as social liberty above. The former is licence whilst the latter together with property rights shows how we can coherently respect the liberty of all. This theme is elaborated in Escape from Leviathan (2000) Jan Clifford Lester.
It is not likely that the state will go on forever. George more or less thought that it would, or at least for as long as the mass urban society went on (p. 12). Politics is a negative-sum game and so it is basically anti-social. It is at the expense of the market, which is a positive-sum game. That is the opportunity cost of the state. Sooner or later people are likely to see that fact and when they do then we can expect the state to ebb. Its hitherto thought-to-be-necessary functions will be privatised out to the market, or taken up by charity. Common sense today still sees the market as likely to be a rip-off and the state as a safe institution, but that is nearly exactly wrong and in the future it is likely to be reversed. Once that happens the state will be on the way out. Maybe that change already began to happen back in 1974 with Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher. The anarchy that will emerge from this will not have anything to do with Bakunin’s love of destruction, but with extending social liberty at the expense of coercive politics and the end result will be liberal anarchy. The market will then be truly free for the first time, for freedom for the market is from the state. The gains of trade are a matter of fact, and so are the losses made from politics. This is distinct from any anarchism that George felt he saw in the SPGB for that merely seeks to get rid of the market and to extend politics. It is the outcome of today’s common sense getting the public boon from those two activities nearly exactly wrong. But Joshua Warren did react against Robert Owen’s experiment in New Harmony in the USA to become the first anarcho-liberal back in the 1830s.
It is clear that George knew very little about Toryism, Liberalism and the like (p. 23). He seems to have got it totally wrong on that sort of thing in “The higher the fewer.” His hierarchy is very poor considering his criterion of greater abstraction and theory. Why should the greenhorn SPGBers be thought of as more theoretical than, say, the Labourites? He says that Marxism has no theory that criticises anarchism but, in fact, the whole of its theory is a criticism of the anarchy of the market, that Marx wanted to end. He was a planner, and not an anarchist of any sort, but George seems never to have realised that fact. Again, George says, in this little article full of falsehoods in less than a page, that liberalism has no case against labour-socialism (viz., Tory state intervention into the economy) but, in fact, liberalism is almost completely devoted to showing up the folly of that, though that stark fact was, somehow, not noticed by George. It is difficult to see how he could have got it so clearly wrong on Marxism and liberalism, and clearly he had no comprehension of either, but why not? I have no idea! He made a long study of Marxism, but got it naively wrong. He made no serious study of liberalism at all, though he did know the Libertarian Alliance members, like myself and Jan Lester, for a few years prior to writing the two books. So his failure in both is very poor.
George similarly had little insight into logic. What he writes shows very clearly that he has not persisted very long with even the elementary texts. In particular he had no idea of what the truth was in any explicit way; though we all know, roughly, what it means tacitly. He feels there is no absolute truth but he is clearly confused on the matter (p. 45f). We get crass talk about another system of logic. What does that mean? It haply means the daft dialectics that Popper lampoons in his Conjectures and Refutations (1963) p. 312ff. Walsby seemed to have similar problems. We are told that the “trouble comes from the claim that this is not merely a general but a universal law (nothing can be both X and non-X). It does not in fact exhaust reality, for many things are X and non-X.” (p. 45) This confusion is profound. To begin with, no thing can be X and non-X as logic refers to propositions rather than to things. George never got anywhere near even “O” level standard in logic and was rather as Robin Cox is in economics, in that he simply prefers his own ideas on the matter and common sense rather than what the legacy of study hitherto presents to us in modern textbooks. Those textbooks can err but clearly only a crank would give them no serious consideration at all. All general statements in logic are universals. But nothing in logic is about things. It is exhaustive of possibility to assume X and not-X. A contradiction will be absolute and so will any claim to truth, ipso facto. Ditto with falsehood.
All that George says in this article he calls “Friendly Reason” is hopelessly ignorant of what logic consists of. Ironically, he uses the meme that he has found a contradiction in what he wants to reject but he does not seem to realise that he is attempting to throw out the idea that a contradiction is a fault! Similarly, his daft idea that nothing is absolutely true (NIAT) is absurd, as it assumes truth by being an assertion and truth is absolute, ipso facto. Absolute thought is innocent of the ramifications that George imagines. It is the basis of all thought. None can break free of it, but we can try to do so if we wish. Any such attempt will merely indicate that we are a bit dim. George thinks there is a form of reasoning that will flatter the dimwit statists that call themselves anarchists (p.46) but that is a delusion. Any reasoning at all will tend to show them up for what they actually are.
I now come to the first book by George Walford: Beyond Politics (1990). George begins by saying that ideology in the Marxist sense of a bogus outlook is not the one that he would adopt but that it is rather something that could not really be avoided viz. thought as to how things are. This idea of it he confesses is fairly common today (p. 1) but it had not been so earlier. I tend to retain the older Marxist idea of it that religion forms a clear example of. George earlier cited Marx as saying what he was saying on this (p.i in the preface) and he soon cites Walsby thinking of ideology on seeing that what the SPGB said and reality were distinct: “he soon came to realise that the facts of social and political life did not agree with socialist theory and were not coming to do so.” (p. 2) George often accused the SPGB of saying both something and the opposite also, but he, too, seemed to have picked up the habit.
George claims that systemic ideology (SI) explains why atoms were held to be indivisible, why the Bolsheviks in Russia and China drifted towards accepting capitalism and why policemen were invented before psychoanalysis, to cite but three things. (p. 4) But the eca explains why the Bolsheviks had to have capitalism far more basically than George ever comprehended and psychoanalysis is arbitrary bosh rather as is astrology. Nor are any of those explanations very clear.
George did have an end-of-work thesis that would have made way more sense in the 1930s, but was clearly enough false even then. Since then, the full employment of the 1960s with a larger population has shown that there is no due end of work. By the 1980s, there was more in work than ever before but still George went on about this pet idea of his. As J. L. Simon says, the amount of work due is infinite and an increase in population is not ever likely to cause mass unemployment. The growth of population and automation will be finite so it will not get rid of the infinite amount of work there is to be done. It can only be a mere drop in the ocean. Simon tacitly accepts Say’s law of markets that holds that there can be no general over-production, but he does not cite this law (in anything I have read of his).
Marx never held that the capitalists could not see the case for socialism but rather that most of them will not want to lose their place in society. He held class interests to be non-ideological and that it could be seen in society rather than depending on conversion (p7). But Marx got it utterly wrong on Class, so there was no reason for a party to arise that catered to what he supposed were interest groups. But George tends to think that there is something to those class interests but that mere ideology, somehow, overrides it. If the sort of ideology George spoke of existed, it would hardly be strong enough to do that.
George notes that had the parties been interests groups as they were first thought to be rather than the ideological groups he says they are then “the socialist-communist-anarchist group would enjoy a permanent overwhelming majority, and that has not happened” (p. 8). The insight is right, but the example is hopeless as there is no reason, on the face of it, or elsewhere, why communism should be in anyone’s interest, or even that it is an option. However, the Labour Party would clearly win every time if it supported the workers in some way that the workers could understand, but it has no such actual case and it never did. However, at least the name indicates it might have; not so with George’s cited example.
It is far from clear to me why either George Walford or Harold Walsby thought that their version of ideology explained anything. The basic ideas of it, that all those ideologies were bound to emerge and that they play a constructive role in some way seems to be false, as far as I can see. So is the general Manchester Guardian type outlook that both men seemed to have.
Ideologies determine our interests says George, but he gives us no example of this idea. The SPGBer can no more find this proletarian class interest than the Vicar can find his soul (p. 10). The truth seems to be that an ideology simply relates to no reality, viz., that it is false. Thus a Marxist thinks, or at least tends to say, that the proletariat are an interest group but that cannot, thereby, become factual. It is just a false idea. Marx was right to see that an ideology required conversion but wrong that communism did not. Communism was an ideology in the Marxist sense of the word, viz., a false outlook. Marxism is a creed and not a science, and Marx repeatedly makes that clear but few seem to think he does so; and he himself maybe only did so unwittingly, thus when he said that “philosophers have only interpreted the world but the point is to change it,” as he did in the much reprinted “Thesis on Feuerbach,” he was saying that science is beside the point! Science is only out to interpret the world. It is positive or factual knowledge for its own sake.
George says that we learn a paradigm then adopt it later and this looks like Saint Augustine’s will prior to faith, or William James on pretending we are happy to become happy (p. 11). It is true that we find out much of whatever creed we have adopted later but this is not an automatic process, as we may see something that leads us to drop the paradigm we have adopted at any stage. Not all conversions begun run their course till the convert completely learns the adopted creed. But the Kuhn-like George thinks unreason is at work here rather than the reality that we can be shocked, or refuted, at any stage of this learning. He also thinks there is something in commitment that decides what counts as evidence and the like, but that is completely unreal. No one can choose what to think and none can be committed to any belief. Our animal nature requires us to be open to fresh facts, and what we value is simply not germane to what we believe. A reality principle is needed in belief in order to make a living. Choice is inadequate and would hinder survival.
We are repeatedly told that we ought to limit ourselves to empirical evidence but that is not possible as we could not make sense of the purely empirical. As Popper rightly said, all thought requires generalisations that must go beyond the evidence. Science uses bold conjectures rather than the tentative testing at every step that George imagines (p. 11). He overrates experience. Yet as he accuses the SPGB of having things both ways, he too goes on to say the opposite of this when he says: “If we wait for exhaustive knowledge before moving we shall not act at all.” (p. 112) It is odd that many tend to do what they accuse others of doing. In any case, he errs on science as Popper shows in his many books, not least The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959).
Moreover, the SPGBers do test their ideas, somewhat, when they attempt to win others over to them. If they did get to make headway then they would grow bigger and we might then expect, contra George’s outlook, that they would become more theoretical as they would then have more members and more resources. When people reject them they do fail a test and the fact that they have been getting smaller, percentage-wise, since 1904 – when they predicted a majority due well before now – shows a refutation of sorts.
Gödel has shown that we cannot prove all things hence we must take risks in theory (p. 12).
For some reason not made explicit, George had the idea that the study of society ruled out any absolute truth (p. 13). He also thought that the idea of the unconscious from psycho-analysis might make what he had to say stronger and he said that the influence of ideology was not felt by people but only inferred from their behaviour. Why he thought this was sound is far from clear. Presumably, anyone that George would infer as a voter for this party, or that one, would be quite aware of how they voted but that hardly seems likely.
George did not seem to know much of history, or of the actual Conservative or Liberal positions. He says that the Empire has gone but that certain broad beliefs of Conservatism remain (p. 14) but he is too much like a tyro to know what those might be. The Conservatives have been greatly and repeatedly, most markedly in the 1840s and again in the 1970s, influenced by liberal ideas. And, fatally, the Liberals were upset by old Tory ideas in the 1880s. The Economist for 6 November 2004 might have surprised George when it says: There is a word for that. And we want it back. Liberal. (p. 14)
“Yet there ought to be a word – not to mention, here and there, a political party – to stand for what liberalism used to mean. The idea, with its roots in English and Scottish political philosophy of the eighteenth century, speaks up for individual rights and freedoms, and challenges over-mighty government and other forms of power. In that sense, traditional English liberalism favoured small government – but, crucially, it viewed a government’s efforts to legislate religion and personal morality as sceptically as it regarded the attempt to regulate trade (the favoured economic intervention of the age). This, in our view, remains very appealing, as well as internally consistent, kind of scepticism.
Parted in error
Sadly, modern politics has divorced the two strands, with the left emphasising individual rights in social and civil matters but not in economic life, and the right saying the converse. That separation explains how it can be that the same term is now used in different places to say opposite things. What is harder to explain is why “liberal” has become such a term of abuse. When you understand that the tradition it springs from has changed the world so much for the better in the past two and a half centuries, you might have expected all sides to be claiming the label for their own exclusive use.
However, we are certainly not encouraging that. We do not want Republicans and Democrats, socialists and conservatives all demanding to be recognised as liberals (even though they should want to be). That would be all too confusing. Better to hand “liberal” back to its original owner. For the use of the right, we therefore recommend the following insults: leftist, statist, collectivist, socialist. For the use of the left: conservative, neo-conservative, far right extremist and apologist for capitalism. That will free “liberal” to be used exclusively from now on in its proper sense, as we shall continue to use it regardless. All we need now is the political party (p. 14).”
George was fond of repeating that nothing is absolutely true (NIAT) but it was absurd, as it asserted its own negation as it asserted an absolute truth. George had this explained to him time and again but he just could not comprehend the point. In this, he was like the SPGBers and the eca, for logic was a bit too abstract for George just as economics was for them. Like George, they too are not very theoretical. George had in common with them a marked preference for common sense and a marked dislike of abstract thought. George repeatedly said that the law of the excluded middle in formal logic excluded lots of information, but it excludes no information for it merely takes a logically distributed stance. But logic seemed to be quite beyond George, and he did not seem to like it (p. 15).
We are told that, “a trade union works to promote the interests of its own paid-up members rather than the welfare of the working class or the community, it equates with the cartels, price rings and attempted monopolies of management and employers.” (p. 15ff) That is quite right, but Robert Owen saw it in the 1830s.
George attempts to explain away the socialists in the Labour party as a minority (p16), and the MPs who call themselves such may well be so, but what they mean by socialism is not so very distinct from the policies that those who refuse to call themselves by that name endorse. Nor are they as distinct in kind to those of the SPGB as the SPGBers tend to think. It is fairly clear that the SPGBers do think the state is a boon when in debate with the anarcho-liberals, and they often can be caught saying things not dissimilar to what George has recorded the anarchists saying on the state as a boon.
If George had read The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism (1927 RE 1937, G. B. Shaw) he might have realised that both Shaw and Lenin were to the right of Hitler. But he follows the Fabian Society in holding socialism to be, somehow, leftwing. That is utterly confused and the fact that the public accept it does not rescue it one iota. The conventional wisdom type of ‘common sense’ is often false. Yet George felt there was magic in what the majority held. The democratic theory of truth is a popular howler, held by the exceedingly naïve. Epistemology is quite indifferent to public opinion and so are the actual facts. So voting, and thought itself, remains barren simply on getting a majority.
Oddly, George gets the wings right on Liberalism and Conservatism (p24) but this may be just because convention does not get that wrong, and anyway he departs from it on the next page. He does not notice that he has already said that the doctrines of the Philosophical Radicals are held by the Conservatives, but maybe he just did not know what they were. He wants to say that J. S. Mill is more theoretical than the Conservatives (p.25) but the policy he has been referring to is the same. Sir Keith Joseph got it from the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) in 1974 and got Mrs Thatcher to adopt it. Those that followed this liberal paradigm were called the Dries and the traditional Tories were called the Wets. This was a Liberal-Tory clash within the Conservative Party in the 1980s. George shows confusion on all this when he calls the Benthamites “left” and the adoption of their ideas in the 1970s by the Dries a move to the “right.” (p. 25)
Socialism, George wants to say, is still more theoretical but he does not seem to know that men like William Godwin and the other romantics who developed those theories were in the Tory Party. Henry Hyndman who set up the Democratic Federation later the Social Democratic Federation (DF later the SDF) from which the SPGB split off was also a Tory, and in the Conservative Party when he had the idea of beginning the socialist group.
By 1945, when the Labourites got back into power, they had far less theoreticians than they had prior to the split in 1931 as most of the old leadership had died off, including great economists like P. H. Wicksteed. As with the SPGB split of 1991, the larger group was largely a headless body. The Labour leadership stayed in the new National government of 1931.
Throughout all those pages that George has written we are looking for the positive role that the SPGB and the “anarchists” are supposed to play in society, though George seems to have forgotten all about it. But it seems clear enough that the number zero sums it up. If there were never an SPBG or no “anarchists” there would be no real difference. It is mere dogma that they contribute in some way and one that seems to be clearly false.
Liberalism seeks precision, says George, (p.43) but that is exactly wrong as it allows looseness and a wide tolerance. It holds fewer principles to be moral than the rival creeds, and thus allows more to be accommodated. It is not pluralist, as many imagine, but the same wide absolute moral rules for one and all. Why George thought precision had something to do with liberalism is not one whit clear. He cites Hobson and Beveridge, but they are far from being important in the liberal tradition, and nor is it clear that they were keen on precision either. The great liberals are John Locke, Edmund Burke (though the Tories also claim him, he called himself a Whig to the end) J. S. Mill, Cobden and Bright.
Science is exact but technology is approximate, says George (p.53). But that idea is false: science is general, not particularly exact. The hypotheses in science are often bold, sweeping and profound. It is not too concerned with detail at first but it may be tested in detail later. As mentioned before, George seems to go with Saint Augustine in holding will first and learning later but science has the conjecture from the insight first and testing comes later. The details are filled in later, often when the pioneer is dead.
“Every civilised society has developed authoritarian religion” (p.58) says George. As China has no authoritarian religion, George errs when he says that every civilised society has it. Moreover, as every Vicar knows, the flock are often insincere and apathetic. This indicates that they are not religious by nature.
George thinks that the politicians hold it to be politically impossible to go against what the majority want, (p. 61) but that idea is quite false. The two mass desires that are clearly politically impossible are the demand to stop immigration and to restore the death penalty. Both are opposed by the ruling MPs classes in parliament despite long-standing and stable majorities for both. With the death penalty, neither party would risk it as it would have meant certain defeat in parliament. But the way they got out of the cost at the ballot was the Private Member’s Bill in 1965, so that only one MP moved it and there was a free vote in the House of Commons. It has been maintained on a free vote ever since, but they do regularly debate it just to show the masses that they are concerned and to let them rely on parliament for getting it back. Some immigration controls similarly console the masses on immigration.
There is an attempt to clear up the meaning of production (p. 67) but George does not seem to make much of a go of it. He does not like the idea that it could follow from almost any action and he attempts to gear it to work that has some results – as with agriculture. When I first read this, I took it as an attack on economics. It is not that, but nor has an economics textbook been consulted.
However, George does adopt the economics slogan that there is no such thing as a free lunch (p. 120). This is true, as cost as opportunity cost applies to all we do, thus to eat lunch crowds out some other option. There is, of course, all too often lunch at the expense of others via state taxation.
The economy causes mass unemployment, destruction of needed food, pollution, and the exhaustion of resources, and medicine causes over-population that will lead to famine, says George. Also nuclear extinction hangs over us all, he tells us (p. 120). None of this is thought out and none of it seems to be quite right.
First, it is not likely that nuclear bombs could actually destroy the earth as physicists like the late Petr Beckmann held that modern bombs of the 1980s tended to be not much more devastating than the bombs of the 1940s as they contained themselves in implosion rather than explosion. This was known to the hawks, said Beckmann, and they held all along that a nuclear war was winnable. Mass unemployment can only muster if the state dole, or some rival dole, maintains people in their choice to turn down jobs that look dead-end to them.
The destruction of food seemed to George to be part of the market system, as the SPGB says it is. But that is most likely owing to state subsidy that pays for it. It will not happen often, if ever, when farmers thereby might get something back by selling it off cheap and when they have to cut such losses they do not want to lose again.
Pollution is the case from all life but there is no universal pollution as it seemed to George but, as James Lovelock makes clear in his Gaia (1985) some life-form will feed on anything that looks like pollution to another life-form. The old adage that “one man’s meat is another man’s poison,” meaning that tastes differ amongst men, is nearer to being literally the case in nature as nothing is universally toxic.
Far from resources being exhausted Julian Simon has shown that stockpiles of resources tend to increase over time [cf. The Ultimate Resource (1981 RE II 1997). That is an author George should have read. Simon had a bet with Paul Ehrlich in 1980 that any six minerals that he predicted would run out would not only fail to do so by 1990 but would be stockpiled in greater mass by then. Paul Ehrlich thought it was taking his money off him but he took the bet on. However, he lost. He said it was worth it to have shut up Simon for ten years but he was surprised and so were many other Greens.
It is not likely that medicine aided population growth so much as all round improved conditions. To expect a Malthusian cutback was religiously held by most at the South Place Ethical Society but they had no solid reason for this dogma. George haply thought that they must be right. But he seemed to get it wrong on nearly all he put his mind to.
A eulogy of Adam Smith seems to be one idea that could bring better results. George brings up The Wealth of Nations (1776): “Acting as economic individualists, each person and each group pursuing their own interests without regard for the effects upon the total human community, the eidostatics have brought society to a point where it possesses powers capable of providing for all of its members with a profusion never known before.” (p134) And again: “The nearest thing we have to an absolute standard by which to judge a society is its ability to maintain human life.” That is the liberal creed and it has little to do with precision, but with there being no clash of interests between the ordinary or non-criminal individual and society; with the fact that there is basically an harmony of interests within society rather than conflicting classes, as Marx falsely said. No end of fools have put forward the Prisoner’s Dilemma (PD) from Game Theory to attempt to refute Adam Smith. It is in book after book, and it features in lecture after lecture. The late John Watkins, sometime Professor of Philosophy of the London School of Economics (LSE), thought and taught that it was a solid refutation, but he just could not bring himself to explain it to me, and it always took me too long to explain to him why I thought it was inept. The upshot seems to be the rather mundane point that it is possible for the individual to be anti-social; but why did anyone imagine that Smith would have been surprised at that, or that he denied it in some way? Instead, Smith was pointing to the less obvious fact that non-criminals would most likely be actually pro-social as an unintended consequence of what they do just by tending to their own immediate needs and desires. This was a fact that Smith saw in the work of Bernard de Mandeville and it remains far more contrary to common sense today than does the jejune conclusion of the PD. There are a lot of great insights in Smith’s book and if anything Game theory is best used as simply new jargon to expound Smith’s insights for they can now be expressed as a positive-sum game. Socialists would do well if they faced up to what Smith said on war, imperialism and slavery, though Marx did adopt what he said on slavery so they should know that already though most of them do not.
George was right to say that the SPGBers merely acted as if they wanted to cut off the branch they were sitting on (p. 134) but he never did see that the general public had that idea of them also. It is why most who heard the SPGB case thought it naïve or utopian and felt it was lacking in theory rather than being all too abstract. They felt there was not much to it. The SPGBers are right to say that their case is quite simple but the public think it is simplistic, or too simple to be realistic. But despite seeing faults in the SPGB outlook, George persisted in thinking that it was exceedingly theoretical and abstract. It are nowhere near so abstract as any modern science yet science too holds that it is open to one and all and in this it is generally right, though an effort will be needed. Any active SPGBer will know that as he is likely to be told that he is utopian, naïve and simplistic every day he attempts to propagate the SPGB case. “It will not work. It would ruin society. It is against human nature” are three very typical sentences that most people tend to find independently for the active SPGBer whenever or wherever he attempts to win a fresh worker over to the SPGB. I heard all three sentences in retort many thousands of times when I was an SPGBer from 1968-1974. Before very long, by 1969, I felt that what was lacking was exactly more theory. The actual literature of the SPGB looked slim, though Marx’s output looked vast. I thought, from about 1970, that new theory would be needed and I rather hoped that it could be had, and that even I could contribute. I continued to think this even after 1974, as I thought an answer to the eca might yield this new theory. But, in 1978, the idea occurred to me that a viable and adequate answer would be no better than capitalism, as free access was a rejection of the economic problem itself. Before long I converted to anarcho-liberalism and then joined the Libertarian Alliance. It promised a solution to war, mass unemployment and destitution around the world, three major problems the SPGB claims to have the solution to.
There is little above that I have not attempted to explain to George many times. It seems to me that his theory of ideology had no truth in it. It was an ideology itself, but in the Marxist sense of being , fairly clearly, a bogus outlook; such as we get in the great religions. Oddly, it is ideology in this sense that interests me. My theory of ideology, in this sense, is that it is not so much seen as true but rather held as a value system by those who maintain it. It is like a consumer good extra to practical life. My theory of belief springs from the realisation that ideology in this sense is not really believed by the people who adopt it. I think no one believes in religion. But beliefs do uphold the values in the hinterland of the ideology. From 1974 onwards, I sent George many letters and some of them were fairly long. But I guess that I never quite got him to see even a single idea of mine, unless it be the one he repeated in a copy of Ideological Commentary once, viz., that the luxuries of one generation ever since 1750 have tended to become the mundane household goods of the next generation. He usually replied to dodge out of debate. He did much the same on the few times that we met. I recall that the last time we met I needed to change the topic a few times to get on speaking terms with him again. He did say that he liked me, but perhaps he was simply being polite.
Marx developed an ideology that the SPGB attempted to propagate. Harold Walsby developed another one and George added to it but failed to show that it was factual or true. The main idea that all the various political groups play a functional role in society seems to be a delusion. In particular, it is not clear what functional role that the SPGB and the “anarchists” play. The plain fact is that they would not be missed if they ebbed entirely, and the SPGB has been ebbing since 1904 percentage-wise but with no likely ill results for society as a result. The SPGB theory is thin but what there is of it seems to be, for the most part, clearly and quite plainly false. In the light of modern economics and the eca, this seems also to be the case with the work of Marx, albeit his output is way more abstract and copious than that of the SPGB itself. But the extra length of his volumes do not seem to add much extra truth to the SPGB outlook.
- PSI Circular Number Two (February 1979)
- PSI Circular Number One (January 1979)
- Joshua Feldman: Reconceptualising (systematic) Ideology in the Wake of Political Psychology
- George Walford and Ike Benjamin: The Sad Case of the SPGB
- Linda Sloane: Systematic Ideology and Identity / The Triangle of Society, Ideology and the Individual
- Their “Operation Utopia”
- George Orwell Letters to George Walford
- George Walford: The New Magic
- George Walford: Exploring Ideology
- George Walford: Sciences