DR: Review of Beyond Politics

Careful reading of this issue of IC will reveal, here and there, gentle reminders that Beyond Politics, an outline of systematic ideology, by George Walford, was published on 1 September and can now be bought. THe necessary information is set out on the back page of this issue of IC.

Several copies were sent out to journals thought likely to print a review, and the first of these, by a reviewer signing himherself DR, has appeared in Freedom, the anarchist fortnightly; extracts with linking comments appear below. Of course no review ever fully satisfies any author, but in this case the writer of the book would have trouble finding anything to complain of.

Every anarchist should read this book. It is neither an essay in anarchist propaganda nor a put-down of anarchism, but a presentation of anarchism in a thoroughly unfamiliar light. The erudition leaves you gasping. The lucid, witty style is a delight in itself. And it makes you think, which is always a healthy exercise.

We must all have asked ourselves, at one time or another, why when anarchism is so obviously right do so few people agree with it?

One answer to the question is offered by Systematic Ideology, a theory of relationships among social attitudes, originated by Harold Walsby in the 1940s. George Walford does not waste words, and he takes a whole book to outline the theory, nevertheless I will attempt a three-paragraph summary.

Here follows the summary, leading to:

Evidently the smallness of the anarchist movement is not a temporary contingency, as anarchists like to think, but an inevitable consequence of a natural law.

George Walford has been debating with anarchists for years, and is familiar with all the obvious arguments. You might argue, for instance, that the anarchist movement cannot be inevitably small, because the anarchist movement in Spain was quite large. Walford has anticipated you. He contends ‘that the Spanish “anarchists” thought and behaved differently from the movements known by that title elsewhere,’ and he neatly supports this contention with a telling quotation from Murray Bookchin about ‘rank and file’ Spanish anarchists being ‘permitted a considerable degree of freedom in voicing and publishing material against the leadership.’


Certainly the SPGB is an anarchist party

the review goes on to question whether this party rather than the Freedom readership stands at the extreme of political individualism, points out that political movements can be arranged in many different sequences, and concludes:

Could it be that Systematic Ideology is an extremely complicated explanation, for one special case, of a general effect which can be explained extremely simply? Could it be that you have to use words in unusual senses to make Systematic Ideology mean anything special? Could it be that Systematic Ideology is an erudite, elegant, ingenious structure, erected on a foundation of special pleading?

I suspect so, but I am prejudiced. I cherish the belief that anarchism has a chance of success – if I did not believe that, it would be no fun at all to be an anarchist.

A letter has been sent to Freedom making two points. First, that while the (A-) SPGB do see revolution as a class movement, yet they also insist that anybody supporting them must understand and accept the “socialist” case for themselves, and that is where the extreme political individualism appears.

Second, a question: Can the political movements be arranged in any order other than that given in Beyond Politics and still show five socially significant features all changing progressively along the whole range? It is being able to do that that gives this one arrangement its unique importance. That is what indicates the presence of an underlying ideological structure.

from Ideological Commentary 48, November 1990.