George Walford, Cliff Ashcroft, Alan Bula: Letters

I was at the Anarchist Forum on the 4th June to hear George Walford speak on From Anarchism to Ideology. It was a stimulating and well-delivered talk and I’d like to thank him again for presenting it. I find it difficult to make immediate, off-the-cuff criticisms or observations so excuse me if I take up some of your time by making them in a letter.

I think one of the feelings I had while he was outlining the theory was a sense of constriction. I felt that a rather rigid framework was being placed over (my) raw experience, like a pair of heavily tinted spectacles. This feeling may be inherent to such broad, all- encompassing models as the one being outlined. In the attempt to cover such a massive range of human behaviour and experience it fixes, makes static. It means there’s a finality or fatalism to this picture. Walford may find some refreshing new angles by comparing the theory to very similar diagrammatic representations from a totally different field e.g. Kabbalah (The Tree of Life) or W.B.Yeats’ theory of the Gyres outlined in his book A Vision.

The question that is pertinent for me is not how do dominant political ideologies map out but why do we choose a particular one. I feel that individuals are not necessarily fixed in their possession by a particular ideology. The archetypal form of each ideology (and I think there are significant similarities between these notions and C. G.Jung’s or better James Hillman’s Archetypal Psychology) may be like a strong vortex in the river of our personality or society. It is not the only one, and there are changing psychological and environmental factors that determine whether we are sucked into it or not. Your diagram [the ideological pyramid, see p. 3] figures the current state of play now and in the West.

My intuition is that the theory is historically and culturally specific. A human community or individual may be deeply insecure, expressing that emotional ‘foundation’ through deep conservatism, if he or she is English. But what happens if the person is an Australian aborigine? Or how would the dark ages peasant express it before these ideological terms crystallised into their current forms? There are, I suggest, more fundamental bases to human behaviour from which our political ideologies take shape.

I think your theory offers the profound insight that we are motivated by inner ideas which determine our reaction to external circumstances (economic or whatever) which in turn reflect back in an interplay of forces. Walford only deals with a particular expression of these forces which may, of course, be exactly your intention, in which case, fine! There’s an old psychological and anarchist chestnut that the authority invested in the state is a projection of our unconscious longings for the security of parental control. The archetypal image of the patriarch, as the Jungians say, has ‘ devoured’ us. The same image is graphically apparent in the dominant world religions. This stuff may begin to touch on why in Europe and America the ideological map looks the way it does in your diagram. (To digress, Hillman might say that the anarchist abides under the aegis of the same image that created the polytheistic religions – the Dionysian levelling of humanity. The word ‘liberty’ I believe comes from the Latin ‘liber,’ which is the Roman’s term for the Greek god Dionysos).

Walford’s work stimulates further reflection, and nit-picking doesn’t do it any justice. I hope I haven’t done that.

Yours etc. Cliff Ashcroft, [address]

Far from nitpicking, this letter raises more issues, and bigger ones, than an encyclopedia could resolve. A diagram serves as a crude memnonic, and it is evidently true that one outline may be used in a number of studies, acquiring meaning with understanding of the thinking behind it. The Kabbalah has kept colleges of scholars happily occupied over centuries, while Yeats’ account of the Gyres is perhaps not well described as a ‘theory’; he was writing, he said, at the command of spirit guides.

Subject always to NIAT, s.i. has identified ideology as a social phenomenon, and from the viewpoint of society it hardly matters whether it is Thomas, Richard or Henry who comes to identify with a given major ideology. The big question, rather, is how many people come to do so and, following from that, how much social influence the ideology comes to exercise. Another point in the letter seems to arise from a misunderstanding due, doubtless, to the limitations of a brief talk on a huge subject. Systematic ideology does point out that all the social life, change and variety we see around us goes to constitute a relatively stable whole, but this does not display either rigidity or finality. To quote from page 3 of IC: ‘Different parts of it [the ideological pyramid] change at different rates, and for most social purposes its overall form can be taken as stable, but no part of it is permanently fixed and neither is the whole.’ Neither does it present individuals as irrevocably committed each to one ideology; everybody attached to expediency has the whole range open before them, everybody developing beyond expediency comes to possess not just one major ideology but a structure comprising at least two, and from any stage of development regression is always a possibility.

The theory of systematic ideology arose in a particular society at a specific stage of social development. Having arisen, however, it embraces (in theory, as that stage of social development does in practice) the substantial features of the known precedent stages, including the extra-European ones. The letter raises the two instances of Australian Aborigines and medieval peasants; the Aborigines appear in Beyond Politics and the peasants in, for example, Napoleonics of Marxism (IC 58). Other non-Western cultures appear in The Gods of Buddhism and Eastern Ideology in IC 60, and Patterns of Faith in IC 59.

The theory readily finds expression in terms of social features which are not culture-specific. Every human community deals with the political (ideational) and economic (material) worlds, and a pair of propositions in systematic ideology has it that development moves from a combination of political collectivism and economic individualism towards political individualism and economic collectivism. All communities and cultures display this movement to the extent that they develop ideologically.

Experience shows that a talk given in such terms will be met with a demand for examples, so one short-cuts this by giving them in the first place, and since every particular example comes from a particular culture the talk (but not therefore the theory being talked about) does become culture-specific. A full treatment would give the theory in panhuman terms and then follow up with a range of examples from enough distinct cultures to demonstrate at least a probability of its overall validity. Time, if nothing else, usually forbids this. (The talk at the Forum was limited to not much over half an hour).

The letter sometimes falls short of giving s.i. proper credit, but this clearly arises from limited information; to a large extent, the writer’s comments go to make good the limitations of the talk. A grasp of this theory requires more than hearing one brief presentation followed by a couple of hours of discussion; a copy of Beyond Politics has been sent the writer, and a subscription to IC opened, and we look forward to hearing from him again.

Having enjoyed your May issue, I notice IC has now appeared five dozen times over 15 years, making it a bit older than our Conservative government.

Maybe the time was ripe – if not overripe – in the late 1970s to start a publication on ideology. But does the pyramid provide interstices to accommodate periods of ideological coma, paralysis or stalemate, such as the present?

On the front of No. 60, you say ‘To a greater extent than ever before, our future lies in our own hands.’ But the latter can’t include the hands of the 17 or 18 million European unemployed.

Which of the six types of ideology welcomes computers, robots and women to the workforce, and talks of raising the female pension age, at the same time as it exports most manufacturing jobs to the Far East?

Can this seeming aberration be expediency, or a matter of principle, or a reform? It seems more like a precise way of courting social and economic disaster. It’s certainly likely to make a lot of the Europeans feel revolutionary and ready to repudiate the whole set-up.

Why is an inflated currency abhorred while an inflated labour force doesn’t raise an eyebrow? Why are European jobs exported and refugees (or foreign workers) imported? Why is food sold at high prices while farmers are paid not to farm?

As G.D.H.Cole wrote, in his 1932 book, The Intelligent Man’s Guide Through World Chaos ‘… to any intelligent person who looks at the world as it has been during the past few years the situation is bound to appear above all else simply ludicrous.’ As it appears to be 1932 again, how about a step in the pyramid for that – ‘simply ludicrous’?

Yours etc. Alan Bula, [address]

With one correspondent accusing s.i. of imposing finality, and the next suggesting that the ideological pyramid fails to accommodate paralysis, who would be an editor?

The Soviet Union has just collapsed, with its satellites now spinning free. Between 1989 and the end of 1992, of the 52 African states south of the Sahara, the number rated by Freedom House as highly authoritarian sank from 34 to 17. South Africa struggles towards parliamentary democracy, and (on a smaller scale) the NHS is being driven from socialistic towards capitalistic methods while the US President’s wife seeks a contrary change there. A period of ‘coma, paralysis or stalemate’?

That ‘we’ on the cover of IC 60 is the people as a whole, now coming up for six thousand million of us, the European unemployed playing their part like other small and ideologically-divided minorities.

For the rest, this letter relies upon the One-Legged Argument, choosing not to mention that the ideological influences producing the results brought forward are also the ones providing conditions within which greater numbers of people than ever before are able to maintain themselves. The reputation enjoyed by G.D.H.Cole suggests that he was usually brighter than appears in the quotation given. To describe as ‘simply ludicrous’ a social condition in which nearly six thousand million people are able to support themselves, many at a standard of living never known before, is – well, simply ludicrous.

This next letter appeared in Freedom, the anarchist fortnightly, on 20 February. Raven is Freedom‘s quarterly companion, theoretical rather than directly propagandist:

Dear Editors,
Raven 20 presents a thoughtful paper by George Crowder, Freedom and Order in Nineteenth Century Anarchism. Accepting his argument and taking it a stage farther, an intriguing prospect opens up.

Crowder distinguishes between two freedoms. On the one hand negative freedom, the irresponsible activity of the empirical subject. On the other the positive freedom that comes with internalisation of the moral law. He denies that anarchists hold abolition of the state to be sufficient in itself; they realise that an absence of external control can bring the results they seek only if complemented by individual self-control and the positive form of freedom.

Noting that the anarchists’ optimism about a stateless order rests on the belief that people naturally tend to behave in an ethical way (ethical naturalism), Crowder himself accepts moral self-direction as natural only in an Aristotelian sense, as an attribute less of actual than of ideal humanity. (This goes a long way towards making sense of observation; without it, restriction of a natural feature to a tiny minority remains inexplicable). Bringing ideal humanity into the discussion he omits its counterpart, the ideal state. This seems hardly fair to the state, and it leaves some ragged ends.

The distinctive feature of the ideal state (which has never existed, any more than the ideal human being) lies in its correspondence with the subject; in Hegelian language, it reconciles the universal with the particular. Where the aims of the state, in every realised version, diverge from those of individual subjects, the end sought by the ideal state is identical with the end sought by the ideal individual; both set out to realise the moral law. This being so, it makes no difference whether we speak of the ideal anarchy as having eliminated the state or perfected it; the two conditions are one and the same.

Anarchism, however, does not come forward as a purely ideal movement envisaging a purely ideal humanity. It contemplates the persistence within anarchy of behaviour falling short of the ethical ideal, and assumes that the community will be able to control it; although without distinct coercive institutions, the anarchist community would yet have powers of coercion sufficient to maintain itself. It would enjoy an effective monopoly of force, and that is one mark of the state, others being unity and legitimacy, which the anarchist community would also possess. An actual anarchy, in short, would display less a stateless condition than one with the state perfected to the last point before it disappeared into complete identification with a totality of ideal subjects.

George Crowder has cast his paper in terms of cases and grounds and arguments, of teleology and naturalism, of logic and reason, and extension of his theme has led to the unorthodox conclusion that anarchism seeks the perfect state. The logic leads to this point but the actual anarchist movement operates in a world which is far from being purely logical; we have to expect its future, like its past and its present, to be governed by influences other than the logic of its case. But that’s another story.

Yours etc. George Walford


THE ECOREFORMERS tell us we need not limit the world population, only the consumption of the more advanced. Even the poorest in the high- tech countries consume several times as much as the average in the rest of the world; level this down and the difficulty will be largely overcome.

Unfortunately, egalitarianism remains restricted to a sophisticated minority. The bulk of the people, in the Third World as much as in the First, show no objection to competition, high consumption and accumulation, wishing only that they got more opportunity to indulge in them. Under these circumstances, to urge a general and voluntary reduction of living standards is to postpone treatment of the ecological problem. How much longer can we afford to do that?


‘Modern atheism is the judgement of God upon modern religion.’ (Keith Ward).

from Ideological Commentary 61, August 1993.