Observation on Anarchy 28: The Future of Anarchism

Submitted by Reddebrek on November 20, 2017

I would like to comment on George Molnar's article in ANARCHY 28. I refer in particular to his last paragraph which in my opinion, conveys a fundamental misconception about anarchism both as a historical movement, and as a present day reality.

Molnar quotes the well-known words of Vanzetti, who, doomed to die alongside Sacco, produced the moving pronouncement, "I might have die, unmarked, unknown, a failure. Now we are not a failure. This is our career and our triumph …" Molnar goes on to put the point of view that the triumph of anarchism is its agony; its success is failure: that anarchists are holy fools rushing around with a jumble of philanthropic ideas in their heads and that it is their career to be defeated. Such romantic notions appeal to those who have a taste for martyrs, but it is arguable that any revolutionary martyrology detracts strongly from the positive achievements of anarchist thought.

The enemies of anarchism would like the most romantic ideas about anarchism propagated because then they can pose as the "practical" men, the politicians who are concerned with reality. We are indebted to Philip Holgate who, in the same issue of ANARCHY points out that, "… anarchists should consistently try to find answers to the problems that ordinary people are facing. The outlook that leads to debates on 'Which should the working class support. the Revolutionary Marxist Unity Party or the United Socialist Workers' Front?' has nothing to do with reality." My own experience leads me to conclude that the essential difference between the anarchists and the 101 varieties of socialist splinter groups and microscopic political parties which crowd the stage left of centre. is that it is only the anarchists who show a real interest in practical things. Going over the past 28 issues of ANARCHY it is difficult to maintain that this is the work of holy fools whose career is to be defeated! Rather I would say it is mainly the work of quite level-headed men and women who are firstly, interested in real issues rather than political abstractions, and secondly, aware, of practical possibilities in the modern world.

This view of mine does not appeal to the romantics who relish the blood of the martyrs, nor does it appeal to the little Lenins who would like to represent anarchism as a beautiful ideal — but obtainable only by following the Revolutionary Party of Libertarian Social Bureaucrats, who are practical politicians and understand … etc. I suggest that a distorted view of anarchism is carefully fostered by those who, like Lenin, see the value of an energizing myth but who stand to lose by the more mundane implications of anarchism which apply here and now.

I am not suggesting that Molnar is wilfully distorting anarchism, but that he is seeking to defend, and even praise, an Aunt Sally that has very little substance. He quotes Stirner on the granting of free speech to sheep, he might have quoted Stirner more effectively on the question of "freedom" for it was Stirner who argued most trenchantly that it was useless for the revolutionary to strive after such an airy-fairy abstraction — rather he should concern himself with the means by which real things can be obtained. I well know that anarchists have no monopoly of striving for things which most readers of this journal would class as being personally and socially valuable; some of the things written up in ANARCHY are stated equally well, say, in New Society. But the general difference between anarchists and political groups is that whereas anarchists are really interested in certain positive matters, politicians are interested in them (or feign to be interested in them) only in so far that
such interest furthers their political ends. To suggest, as Molnar does, that it is the metier of anarchists to fail, seems absurd. In so far as certain anarchists have failed to accomplish this or that no particular credit reflects on them. In the same way, the colossal failure of communists to achieve communism in Russia by supporting the Communist Party, reflects no particular credit on them. Is it the metier of communists to fail?

As I see it, anarchists in general pursue real human ends and therefore do achieve some measure of success. In contrast, those who follow the declared aims of political parties, large or small, pursue a will o' the wisp and are doomed to failure. Perhaps the only party members who succeed are the individual politicians who emancipate themselves from the working class by their political efforts and achieve the satisfaction of seeing their own names in big print. The rest are stooges.

Gosh! What a depressing ANARCHY this month. All the more surprising in that we are living in a period of resurgence of radical feeling, not in the reactionary fifties, the heyday of "apathy", "conformism" and all that.
George Molnar tells us that anarchists "succeed in only one thing: protest of a kind that is always defeated. That is their career, that is the substance of anarchism." Philip Holgate is content with a solution that will be a compromise, in which (he hopes) the anarchist influence "will be as big as possible". Ted Kavanagh will settle for a "freer society". Geoffrey Ostergaard seems at first sight to have more to offer, with his syndicalism. I believe that some sort of syndicalist organisation will be necessary if any sort of free society is to be developed in a modern industrial environment, but am decidedly put off by the following: "Bourgeois socialist intellectuals — students, professors, publicists and the like — had only a limited auxiliary role to play in the strategy of the revolution." I suppose this would apply to anarchists as well as socialists, and would certainly rule me out, as well as the writer of the article, who is, we are told, a lecturer in political science. (Shame!) This sort of attitude to people of non-proletarian origin reminds me of the racialism of the Black Muslims.

A little piece by Alex Comfort, quoted from Authority and Delinquency in the Modern State repudiates revolutionary anarchism in favour of an anarchism based on "observational research". Colin Ward is all for "encroaching control" in industry and "de-institutionalisation" And all this is excellent. The Progressive League, and other reformist bodies have been working along these lines for years. More power to their elbows! But I thought anarchism went further. After all, anarchists have never been backward in works of social reform, but have usually regarded them as peripheral, not as occupying the centre of stage.

When I joined the anarchist movement I did not have much hope of seeing a social revolution in my time. However it seemed a reasonable thing to work towards. At least there was always hope, the future being unpredictable. I doubt whether I should have bothered with a movement which saw its function as one of "permanent protest". While for piecemeal social reform there are hundreds of movements and bodies which are more efficient for the purpose than the anarchists.

I joined the anarchists because they offered an alternative form of society to the authoritarian one that I found, and still do find, so intolerable. It is true that an anarchist society seemed remote, but at least one could feel one was helping to bring it nearer. And to a limited extent the anarchist movement is a free society already in being, though our small numbers limit very severely the amount of freedom and protection that it is able to afford to its members.

The sort of anarchism which ANARCHY is coming to offer seems to me to be of another kind from that which brought me into the movement. It appears to be a sort of managerial anarchism. It does not hope for a radically different form of human society, either now or in the future. It merely hopes to be able to soften the harshness of managerialism. It is quite agreeable to seizing other people's land to put airfields and power stations and reservoirs there, and will resort to force if need be to gain its ends. (But I hope I am being unjust, and that this is not the general view). It does not deny the individual's right to protest. Indeed it commends protest. So long as you are aware that your protests will do no more than rub off the hard edges of the managerial-technocratic society.

This sounds 'realistic", but is it? In certain circumstances, though it is not the universal rule, if you demand a revolution, and struggle for it, you may well get some worth-while reforms, even if you don't get your revolution. Whereas, if you merely ask for some reforms you may not get anything very substantial. But what is more important to me, although others no doubt differ, is the terrible implications of "permanent protest" as a philosophy. The history of humanity is mostly the history of authoritarianism. It is ghastly. "Permanent protest" seems to imply that this Hell, which men have made on this earth, and will make on other planets I suppose, is to continue forever.

Let this sink in for a bit. I have recently been reading an account of the doings of some of the French in Algeria. Are we to suppose that for thousands of years, for millions perhaps, human beings are going to be atrociously tortured by their fellow humans in this manner? Protest saved a few. Or what about that living skeleton on the Oxfam posters? Is this to be the fate of large portions of humanity, forever?
To me this is a prospect not unlike that of the Christian conception of Hell. Nuclear annihilation seems desirable by comparison. The "free society" is merely a verbal shorthand. What surely we must desire, and work towards, is a multiplicity of free societies, changing, evolving and yet continuing free. Organised in a thousand different ways, and lasting for millennia.

George Molnar may be right, and anarchists may not be able to bring this about, for the reasons he gives. On the other hand, may not the anarchist failures be due to the fact that the anarchists, for all their criticism of statist revolutionary movements, have not yet begun to emancipate themselves, or perhaps are just now beginning to emancipate themselves, from the traditional republican-revolutionism of the Left?

From their writings it is clear that neither Bakunin nor Kropotkin ever really succeeded in doing this, and for some reason the anarchists appear to have decided that the history of anarchist thought ends with Kropotkin. Of course, when the anarchists in Spain and the Ukraine tried to organise anarchist armies and so on, the more they succeeded (militarily) the more they failed to achieve a free society. But does this mean that we must always fail? Because the first submarine sank with all on board does this mean that submarines always sink?

I don't necessarily say that non-violence is The Answer, but I do think that it represents the way forward. This method of resistance does not of necessity involve the creation of a new authoritarian hierarchy, as violence appears to do. I see the anarchist movement as an evolving thing, and I hope that it will one day be strong enough to abolish authoritarianism, with its cruelty and want, forever.
London, S.W.11.

EDITORIAL NOTE: In fairness to Geoffrey Ostergaard we ought to point out that he was citing the views of the syndicalists, not his own; in fairness to Philip Holgate we should mention that his article was originally written for a different context (in FREEDOM in October 1960); and in fairness to the whole tendency of ANARCHY we should say that whoever really thinks we are propagating "managerial anarchism" has yet to meet a manager.

Still more observations on
Anarchism and public schools

The attention of the public has recently been drawn to the expulsion of Jonathan Brittain, a public schoolboy who attended the demonstration at Marham air base. The expulsion coincided with an article in this month's Sanity (monthly newspaper of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) which proposed the establishment of a Public Schools CND. I am writing this letter as a warning to all those who intend to start up CND activities within such schools, and thereby hope they will be prepared for the consequences.

I came to public school in the summer of 1959, joined CND in early 1960, and in October of the same year, asked the Headmaster for permission to wear the CND badge on my Sunday jacket. After explaining to him that it was not the symbol of the Youth Hostel Association, but of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, he gave me permission. This was the first, and only, success I had. In February 1961, I distributed CND leaflets in the school buildings. The Headmaster called me up, censured me, and made me apologize to those members of staff in whose rooms I had distributed literature. In May the following term, I asked the Headmaster permission to set up a CND group within the school. He refused. In September 1961, I wrote to the Guardian, and informed them of the suppression of CND activities within the school. The editor wished to publish the letter, but wrote to the Headmaster seeking an assurance that the publication would 'in no way compromise its author'. Such an assurance was refused. In the same month, the school debating society proposed a motion that "In the opinion of this House, Britain should renounce nuclear weapons". I was asked by the master in charge of the society to propose this motion. I was then informed the Headmaster did not wish me to. The motion was lost by 28 votes to 17; only the Upper School was allowed to attend. On the evening before Remembrance Sunday three of us organized a two-minute silence under the auspices of CND, opposite the war memorial. It was virtually broken up; onlookers threw grit and played transistor radios. (In the glossy handbooks they call this Public School character and initiative). The Head of School informed me the following morning that the Headmaster had not approved; neither, in a way, did I. On December 9th, we decided to hold a meeting in one of the school buildings to inform people why the demonstration at the Wethersfield air base the same day, was being held. We were caught five minutes before the meeting started, given six 'maps', and told to get out of the classroom immediately.

Two days later my punishment was increased for not obtaining the Headmaster's permission.
In January, 1962, I handed in my resignation to the school cadet corps. (This is an organization for which it is compulsory to volunteer; we still use 1914 rifles!). I was told that if I did not turn up for the next parade, I would be expelled on the spot. I did not attend; the Headmaster called me up, my parents were brought down, and I agreed to go into the Mountain Rescue Section. In March, we again attempted to set up a CND group; we promised the Headmaster that we would not hold any demonstrations, or distribute literature. We had the support of one member of staff; permission was again refused. A few weeks later, a friend of mine had written to CND and placed his letter in the House posting box. The letter was seized by his Housemaster, opened, and found to contain a donation and a completed form for the Aldermaston March. The Housemaster refused to surrender the money or the form till parental permission had been received.

In May, I wrote a short story for the school literary magazine. The Headmaster refused to have it published. It concerned a schoolgirl who was so infuriated by the fact that nuclear radiation had caused four million still-births, she rushed up to the school buildings, and began to smash up four million chairs. The Governors of the school called her up, expelled her, and sent her to a mental institution, where she spent six months basket-weaving. Perhaps the analogy was too close.

In February this year, I proposed — successfully — a motion in the Debating Society that Public Schools should be abolished. In March, the Headmaster called me up for suggesting modern jazz in the Record Library register (I was Record Librarian at the time). As well as being sacked, I was warned that if he had occasion to call me up again, he would expel me. If he saw anything that I wrote, or heard anything that I heard "which in any way would be detrimental to the interests of the school", I would be in dire trouble. The muzzle was now officiously and effectively clamped on.

In April, I won the verse prize, but I was told by the editor of the school literary magazine that certain poems would have to be excluded because of their subject matter. We all laugh cynically when a Russian produces a well-documented, evenly balanced speech, that never for a moment wavers from the 'party-line'. But is this not sheer hypocrisy? For are not nearly all the magazines produced at public schools nothing more than calmly expressed support for their own 'party-line'?

We were successful, however, in publishing articles and poems in our house magazine, edited by the prefects themselves — incidentally the only magazine at school which is not censored by a superior authority. I did, however, sign my contributions "Anon", in view of the expulsion threat that was still hanging over me. We had written articles describing the Aldermaston March, and a Committee of 100 sit-down from a favourable point of view — a unique event in the history of public school literature. We attacked the emptiness and futility of the fourteen religious services we attend every week; we attacked the Conservative Party (blasphemy!) and the public school so-called values, its apathetic society and political indifference, shielding it all behind an editorial which denounced censorship of school magazines, and demanded a more broadminded approach on behalf of the authorities. Within hours of the publication on the last afternoon of term, the Headmaster contacted the Housemaster, who in turn summoned the Head of House to his room, and demanded an explanation. He was asked to apologize to those whom the magazine had offended, and was informed that it was very nearly banned — and would have been had the Headmaster seized the proofs. We hit record sales.

I do not wish to incite public schoolboys to rebel; it is up to them to take what action they wish. I hope this letter will prepare them for the consequences — and not only is authority quick to act, but the dayroom society also, which can turn life into a living hell for those who hold different views from the majority. I am sure I am not the only schoolboy who has been treated in such a manner. What I have written here is the truth, and truth does not need exaggeration.
(Name supplied).

Being in the sixth form at a public school, I read with interest the letter sent in by "J" in your July issue. I want first to make it clear that I entered the school via the Eleven-plus, and that there would have been no question of my having done so had I failed that exam.

While sympathising with "J"s views, I feel pessimistic about the chances of public schools ever becoming anything more than they are at the moment, i.e. training grounds for the monied élite. Paradoxically, the reason for this lies not with the authorities, but with the type of boy (the overwhelming majority) for which these schools cater. Political apathy and an ingrained habit of ridiculing anything "out of the ordinary" are the characteristics of the public-school-type, whilst at my school at any rate, it is the masters who try to instil a vestige of originality into the unconscious mass. I can truthfully say that through my seven years at school there has been no attempt by the powers that be to curb my political or anti-religious activities. I have given lectures on CND, introduced Freedom, Anarchy and Peace News and have edited for the past four years a fifteen-page termly magazine with a decidedly pro-leftist, pro-CND, anti-religious slant, ninety copies of which are now produced. At no time has there been any talk of banning this. Also, on several occasions, I have been allowed to miss games to take part in CND marches.

"J" speaks of "the refusal to allow individuals to resign from the cadet corps". When I was fourteen (the usual age for the start of this type of indoctrination), I failed to turn up at recruitment. Since then, the only comments have been from boys themselves and there have been no attempts whatsoever to force me to participate. Indeed, the corps itself is described as voluntary in the school's regulations, yet as far as I know, I am the only person to have taken advantage of this for reasons other than health. With the rules as they are, it is clearly possible for the boys themselves to bring about the fall of this anachronistic, time-wasting and inhuman organisation. They are really asking for all they get if they fail to make use of the opportunity. The fact that so large a number are members of the corps gives an outward display of solidarity, which is, in fact, non-existent. There is a great deal of grumbling and dissatisfaction on 'corps day' — but for the wrong reasons.

All this convinces me of the improbability of anything even slightly "dangerous" occurring now or at any time to change these schools. They will continue churning out rugby players, politicians and business men, each with his set of stereotyped "values", each lacking any real appreciation of non-material things.
For the great mass of industrial workers, and for many white collar workers too, work is not a significant area of life. R. Dubin found in his study of several hundred American industrial workers that work was a central life interest for only a small minority. Professor P. Lafitte interviewed 300 factory workers in Melbourne and came to the same conclusion; that the activities most valued are found chiefly outside work. The factory worker is seldom work centred. Work for him is not something on which he centres his interests, his hopes and aspirations, nor even his worries.
Not only do some kinds of work fail to involve the interest of the worker, they are positively damaging in their effects. Harvey Swados, an American writer who has worked in factories, emphasizes the differences between the manual worker and the middle class, despite their superficial similarities: "there is one thing that the worker doesn't do like the middle class: he works like a worker … The worker's attitude towards his work is generally compounded of hatred, shame, and resignation … It is not simply status-hunger that makes a man hate work that is mindless, endless, stupefying, sweaty, filthy, noisy, exhausting, insecure in its prospects, and practically without hope of advancement …"
"Work & Non-Work" (New Society, 11/7/63).