3 The Future of Anarchism

A GOAL THAT IS INFINITELY REMOTE is not a goal at all, said Herzen, but a deception. And it would be a useful exercise in mental self discipline if we anarchists, instead of aiming at infinity, were to set out what we think we can accomplish by, say, 1970. (I am making the assumption that we do want to effect some kind of social change — and if you don't think so, don't read on). If you attempt this discipline you will see what modest hopes we can honestly expect to entertain for the next few years. We have to tell the world that the anarchist idea exists and what it means: this more than anything else is the value of George Woodcock's book which will be in a thousand shops up and down the country in a few weeks' time. We have to tell the world that people exist today who propagate the ideas of anarchism: this more than anything else was the value of the notoriety accruing from the demonstration in London on Easter Monday. We have to tell the world that journals exist which seek to apply the ideas of anarchism to the contemporary world. Personally, I want the monthly sales of this journal to reach 4,000 by 1970 — and if this seems to you a pathetically humble aim, just try and realise it.

That I can advance the mere act of saying "Look: we exist!" as the basis of a programme for a decade, illustrates the confusion in the anarchist vocabulary between "is" and "ought", between what is likely to happen and what ought to happen. One consequence of this confusion is that, with our eyes fixed on one big ultimate solution, we neglect the thousand minor, temporary, transient solutions which might actually be attained. The great anarchist virtue of many supporters of the Committee of 100 is that simultaneously with their "sublime folly" in making a frontal, if symbolic, attack on the State at the point where the State is least likely to yield at all, they are intent on other direct action projects in fields where their impact might even be felt — the housing shortage, racial tensions, the Factory for Peace, the care of the old and the liberation of the young. This combination of intransigence and creative effort, of permanent protest and the use of anarchism as a method of approach to present problems, is, it seems to me, sufficient programme for our generation.

Kropotkin remarked that man will be compelled to find new forms of organisation for those social functions which the State now fulfils through the bureaucracy and that "as long as this is not done nothing will be done". To discover, to describe, to develop and to propagate these new forms of organisation is, I think, the most important task for anarchists in the immediate future, especially when, as at the moment, there is a certain wave of interest in anarchist ideas around us, an interest which we should not lose our chance of exploiting.

It is also the particular function of ANARCHY to serve as a journal of anarchist applications and techniques: the techniques of "encroaching control" in industry, of "de-institutionalization" in the organisation of social welfare, of applying in the ordinary primary and secondary schools the lessons of the progressive schools, of encouraging and widening the field of the habit of direct action. If we can manage to implant anarchist aims and methods in the fabric of our daily common life, we won't have to worry about the future of anarchism.


IF THE WORD 'ANARCHISM', as a name for the attempt to effect changes away from the centralized and institutional towards the social and 'life-oriented' society, carries irrational implications, or suggests a preconceived ideology either of man or of society, we may hesitate to accept it. No branch of science can afford to ally itself with revolutionary fantasy, with emotionally determined ideas of human conduct, or with psychopathic attitudes. On the other hand suggested alternatives — 'biotechnic civilization' (Mumford), 'para-primitive society' (G. R. Taylor) — have little advantage beyond their novelty, and acknowledge none of the debts which we owe to pioneers. 'Free society' is equally undesirable for its importation of an emotive and undefinable idea of freedom.

If, therefore, the intervention of sociology in modern affairs tends to propagate a form of anarchism, it is an anarchism based on observational research, which has little in common with the older revolutionary theory besides its objectives. It rests upon standards of scientific assessment to which the propagandist and actionist elements in nineteenth-century revolutionary thought are highly inimical. It is also experimental and tentative rather than dogmatic and Messianic. As a theory of revolution it recognises the revolutionary process as one to which no further limit can be imposed — revolution of this kind is not a single act of redress or vengeance followed by a golden age, but a continual human activity whose objectives recede as it progresses.
—ALEX COMFORT: Authority & Delinquency in the Modern State

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Nov 2 2017 01:12


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