2 The Future of Anarchism

TED KAVANAGH, born in Melbourne, 1936, has been a circus-hand and a farm-hand, and is now a bookseller in London.

WHEN DEFINING ANARCHISM dictionaries, like many anarchists, tend to be ambiguous. Most dictionaries
define anarchy as chaos, utter lawlessness, disorder, or a harmonious conditions of society in which law is abolished as unnecessary. And an anarchist is: one whose ideal society is without government of any kind and who seeks to advance such a condition by means of terrorism. Another interesting statement is in the Handbook of Social Psychology, which says that "Anarchism, though it shows some of the actionistic fantasy of the previous century, is based not so much on a utopian future as on a return to a primitive naturalism which shall free man from the political state and economic exploitation. In this sense, anarchism has much in common with the mythology of the return to an arcadian past. Its theory of a perfect world is not a building of the future but a retreat to a golden age." I quote this at length, not because it has in fact anything to do with anarchism, but because it states the position of those precious wishful thinkers who haunt such movements as anarchism. Their vision of the future seems to be groups of ballet dancers cavorting on verdant lawns with the Mantovani strings in the background, and groups of fair children singing the verses of Patience Strong.

Utopia, that sublime inanity and retreat from history, is the bane of the serious anarchist's existence. Utopia is a prophesy, a statement about the ultimate condition of the human race and the human environment. It is a rejection of the present, and a static view of our species.

But anarchism is a philosophy of action, a way of getting things done. Anarchists however, tend to describe the "free society" in terms of what it will not be like, and anarchism in terms of what it is not, or in relation to other systems. The result is that anarchists appear to be people with a well-developed critique of politics and history, good intentions and a belief in the doctrine of original virtue.

The free or free-er society can only be a valid goal if we can see the seeds of it in the world we live in and know. Our revolution would be a rejection of the values which cause us to misuse our technology, an insistence on the right and need for human beings to determine the conditions of their own lives. What is important is not what the means of production are, but how the real producers and consumers stand in relation to them. The revolution in Russia failed because, although it led to the industrialisation of the country, it merely brought about a change in leadership and introduced industrial relations which are essentially the same as those practiced in the capitalist West. In the socialist republics socialism is a myth. In their own terms they have failed. The free communist society cannot be created by simply eliminating anybody who fails to shout the slogans without enough, or with too much, conviction.

Mutual aid and workers' control have long histories. The trade unions and the workers' organisations which preceded them grew out of the desire of working men to have control over the conditions of their own lives, and this could only be achieved on the basis of solidarity with one's fellows. Indeed the principles of mutual aid and workers' control exist in industry here and now. If people were as stupid as their employers think they are, modern industry — which is dependent on the intelligence and inventiveness of the people on the job — would be impossible. I have never met a man who wanted to do bad work. It is the capitalist methods of "rationalising" production and not modern technology as such, which withhold from producers the satisfactions, and from consumers the benefits, of productivity.

But are the anarchists ready, capable, or even willing, to work towards the "free society"? I believe a few of them are. But a far larger number seem to want the "perfect society". Perhaps this explains the extraordinary amount of time spent discussing the irrelevant or the imponderable, as though the revolution were for gods rather than men. Propaganda has always been an important aspect in the programme of anarchists. In the latter part of the 19th century in France, the printing trade was notorious for its radicalism. And anarchists were not so fastidious about sedition and direct action. The recent publication of the R.S.G. 6 pamphlet demonstrates that, thanks to modern technology which has supplied us with such things as duplicators, small printing presses, silk screens, etc., it is possible a reach a remarkably large public, provided that one organises distribution well enough. (The R.S.G. 6 pamphlet, for example, has, at the time of writing, gone into a least fifteen independently produced editions).

If we are to help build a free or free-er society, we have to work with people as we know them, in the schools, factories, workshops and offices. If our dream is to become a reality, they must also desire it. To the unemployed or the hungry, Utopia is a joke in bad taste. The future is now!

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Nov 2 2017 01:10


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