Review of Angles on Anarchism from Freedom

What happens at anarchist meetings, often enough, is that someone rehearses a particular argument for the anarchist case, and other anarchists present pick holes in the argument, point out errors of fact or reasoning. This is enjoyable because anarchists in general enjoy arguments, and instructive because it helps you to avoid looking silly when arguing the case with non-anarchists. It does no harm, when among comrades, to think ‘I shall not have to say that again.’

George Walford is a genial, erudite and witty picker of holes and pointer-out of errors, in speech at the London Anarchist Forum and elsewhere, and in writing in publications including Freedom and The Raven, and especially his own Ideological Commentary, a delightful read with a pompous title.

Angles on Anarchism is a collection of short pieces originally published as articles and letters in various periodicals (including one article from Ideological Commentary by Peter Cadogan). Lucidly written and neatly argued, the book asks all sorts of awkward questions of those whose arguments are over-simplified.

If anarchism is a movement of the poor and oppressed, what were wealthy aristocrats like Michael Bakunin doing as anarchists? If our foraging ancestors were natural anarchists, did anarchy produce the state? If what keeps the anarchist movement small is that the bosses prevent the case from being heard, why do not more people agree with the anarchist case when they hear it? Is there a real difference between anarchism and the ‘socialism’ of the SPGB?

In the last essay of the book, Walford ford allows his standards of fairness to slip. Earlier this year, he wrote an article for Freedom about Max Stirner’s The Ego and His Own (not The Ego and its Own because he refers to a 1982 Chicago edition, not the 1982 Rebel press edition for which the title of the translationtion was altered). The points he made were deftly answered by Sid Parker in the following lowing edition of Freedom. Here, he recasts his article to take account of Parker’s answer and attack Stirner from an entirely different angle. These new points are equally answerable but there is no chance to answer them (since this is a book not a series) and Walford forces a win by default.

The book would be quite unsuitable for publication by Freedom Press or any other anarchist propaganda group. Anarchist propaganda must either answer the awkward questions or ignore them, not leave them hanging. Nevertheless I unhesitatingly recommend the book to those who are already convinced anarchist. It is a splendid example of how to argue carefully without being dull, and it makes us think about what we think.

The Freedom review (5 October) of my book(let) Angles on Anarchism says some very generous things. Since it also says, very rightly, that anarchists enjoy argument, may I make two points.

Your reviewer suggests that I unfairly deprived Mr. Parker of an opportunity to reply to my revised view of Stirner’s book. Evidently he does not know that (following the correspondence he mentions) a shorter version of the piece in Angles appeared in Freedom (24 August), an opportunity for reply which was not taken up.

The final paragraph can be read as suggesting that Angles raises questions but leaves them hanging. To take the four mentioned in the review: “Class Politics” is devoted to showing that political conviction does not derive from class position, so Bakunin’s presence in the movement is no more surprising than that of anybody else. “Anarchist Research” says that if the foraging communities were anarchist(ic) it would follow that anarchist(ic) communities had produced the state. “Why So Few” suggests a reason why most people hearing the anarchist case do not accept it. “Are They Not Anarchists?” says of the SPGB “Using words in their ordinary sense the system they propose would be more accurately known as anarcho-socialism, something anarchists can very well support.”

Addition made in IC: But if Mr. Parker does feel he has been short-changed we will do what we can to make amends by printing his further response in IC. (It will of course be subject to comment, like everything else in the journal).

from Ideological Commentary 54, Winter 1991.

Continue reading Angles on Anarchism by George Walford (1991):
Class Politics; an Exhausted Myth | Anarchy Renamed | Why So Few? | Gnostics as Anarchists of Old | The Two-Sided Anarchist | The Higher the Fewer | The Anarchist Police Force | Even Worse | In the Beginning | The Competitive Co-operators | I. Q. Against Anarchism | Anarchism in Series | Friendly Reason | Anarchist Research | Are They Not Anarchists? | The Trouble With Success | Of Governments and Gardens | The Poll Tax Lesson | Healthy Freedoms | The Conventional Artist | Underground Activity | The Cretan Egoist.