George Walford: Anarchism

“Until this year, young people could only learn about anarchism outside of school. Now, anarchism is included in the syllabus for ‘A’ level politics by the London Examinations Board. We learn this from students who have been coming into the Freedom Press Bookshop seeking information.” (DR in Freedom 30 November)

Ever since anarchism began, the presence of the movement has demonstrated the availability of information about it. Whatever the state and its supporters may have wanted to do they have not in fact kept anarchism hidden. For generations not only the bookshops but also the free libraries have offered information on the subject, and now the state goes even to the extent of starting to teach it to the young. May we hope for an end to the claim – always unjustified and rapidly becoming absurd – that anarchism remains a minority movement because people cannot get to know about it?


… as long as a spark of life remains, as long as even the most gossamer thread of the soul remains rooted in the soil of blood-consciousness, umbilically drawing sustenance from the earth’s dark womb, all is not lost, and redemption from total evil remains possible. For this fragile root constitutes a conduit through which chthonic energies can rise up and, like a venomous serpent, strike down the demonic power of control. [1]

The Nazis also valued the nonrational and used phrases like “rooted in the soil of blood-consciousness,” but they linked these features with a conception of the Volk as an entity displaying willing submission to a Fuerhrer. Association of the basic, nonrational and earth-related with spiritual individualism and opposition to control comes towards the opposite end of the ideological range; it links up with the sophisticated intellectuality of anarchism. Thus the passage quoted above comes from an essay which “was conceived as a stylistic experiment in mapping some contours on the interface between literary and critical discourse, and in part was intended as an ironic riposte to certain nihilistic, crypto-fascist tendencies within contemporary British anarchism.” [2] [1] John Moore, Bulletin of Anarchist Research 25; [2] ibid).

(Reprinted from Freedom 21 September)
John R. Doheny’s article Natural Anarchism (Freedom 10 August) argues that human beings are natural anarchists, meaning that “we are questioning creatures, actively seeking independence, equality and self-sufficiency.” Yes, we do display these tendencies, but we also display the contrary ones, and these have predominated; unless we accept this the rise and long history of authoritarian society, with its hierarchies, dependency and imposed inequality remain inexplicable.

Donheny calls the work of A. S. Neill in support, but he gives us no reason to think that the children who enjoyed the free self-expression of Summerhill grew into those troublesome, argumentative, revolutionary creatures known as anarchists; rather than actively seeking independence, equality and self-sufficiency, they seem to have fitted into authoritarian society more smoothly than most. Neill himself provided the nearest approach to an anarchist in that scene, and he did not come from a school encouraging children to express their natural impulses.

So far as adult society goes Doheny argues only for the presence, since the Seventeenth Century, of a persistent anarchist or anarchistic minority in the more advanced nations. What happened to humanity’s natural anarchism during the previous forty thousand years?

Over many years of trying to understand why anarchism makes so little progress I have found myself obliged to accept that we cannot sensibly regard it as a natural tendency. Early human communities, closer to the natural condition than most societies, did not have government, but they still do not rank as anarchists in the sense recognised by the anarchist movement. In his valuable book People Without Government Harold Barclay tries hard to show that they do deserve the title, but succeeds only at the cost of redefining an anarchy as a society which may include slavery and a debased pariah caste (see recent correspondence in Freedom).

Theories of anarchism do not begin to make sense unless they recognise that it arises as far more a social than a natural phenomenon. In social history the movement towards it first appeared as a response to the centralised state of modern times, and in the mental development of the individual it differs radically from childish impetuosity and juvenile disorder. Unlike these features, anarchism calls for effort from its adherents, and it acquires enough meaning and value to justify this only as the person comes to appreciate the failings of the more obvious approaches to society and the problems it poses. Hense the rarity of anarchists, a highly unnatural species.

“Anarchy is a journal of desire armed! Neither left nor right, we’re just uncompromisingly anti-authoritarian. Anarchy refuses all ideology. We criticize all religion, all spiritualism, all moralism, all political ideology. We refuse to bow before the alters of ‘God’ or the nation-state. We spit on nationalism, militarism, racism and hierarchy. We don’t want to leave anything out, nothing is sacred, least of all anarchism.” (Anarchy, a Journal of Desire Armed, No. 31, Winter 1992, p. 10)

from Ideological Commentary 55, Spring 1992.