George Walford: Doing the Splits (44)

“The notorious sectarianism of the anarchist movement did not appear to be transcended… by any obvious sense of bonhomie, mutual interest or collaboration.”
(After noting that the movement is constituted of “half a dozen discrete entities”): “This raises the question of what, analytically, is the common ground between anarchist groups apart from a recalcitrant attitude.”
“anarchist groups provide shelter to many different tendencies which are not at first sight compatible.”
“a desire to… organise our ideas and activities into something like a coherent approach.” [i.e. they do not now constitute anything, like a coherent approach]
“the ’57 varieties’ we all know and love… ”
“Most people with any affiliation to the anarchist movement in Britain would probably agree that it is badly organised, highly sectarian… ”
“I might also suggest that ‘the fragmentation’ of the mainstream left’ was actually the rise of the anarchist idea and practice.”

Those come from Karen Goaman’s account of the latest Anarchist Book Fair. [1] There is nothing novel about them, but that is the point. This extreme divisiveness in thinking has distinguished the anarchist movement since its beginnings, it is characteristic, constitutive; any significantly lesser degree of individualism in political-intellectual behaviour would link those exhibiting it with some movement other than anarchism.

Turning to George Woodcock, we find him speaking of William Morris as holding “the anarchist dreams of building harmony on the ruins of authority.” But the actuality of Morris’s anarchism was “the acrimonious debates that were wrecking the Socialist League.” [2]

[1] In issue 19 of the Bulletin of Anarchist Research, which has grown to 40 highly readable A4 pages. £4 for six issues from T. V. Cahill, Dept of Politics, [address].)
[2] Woodcock G. 1962 Anarchism; a history of libertarian ideas and movements Harmondsworth: Penguin Books)

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Against the belief, common among anarchists, that members of the early societies enjoyed freedom, George Woodcock draws attention to the extent to which ‘the tyranny of custom becomes a substitute for overt authority.’ (Op. cit. 22)

from Ideological Commentary 44, March 1990.