George Walford: First, Second, Third…

In a piece entitled Canon to the Left of Them, IC 32 spoke of:

… the enduring absorptive power of the ediostatic ideologies, of the Establishment… the process that turned Darwin, Newton, Galileo and Copernicus, each of them a revolutionary in his time, into heroes of orthodoxy, the process that is not far from having done the same with Freud and is starting to operate even on Marx as he gains academic respectability. Whatever ground the revolutionaries think they have won gets taken over by their opponents, their achievements built into the established structure and their leaders captured.

A correspondent has drawn our attention to the Preface to Nigel Harris’ The End of the Third World; Newly Industrializing Countries and the Decline of Ideology (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books 1987). This recalls that the idea of a Third World, emerging through the later 40s and early 50s, did not originally concern a group of countries, mostly former colonies, but a political vision. To a world becoming helplessly divided between New York and Moscow this idea brought the prospect of an escape route, but it turned out to only be an addition to the string of ideas that “begin life as a radical indictment of the existing social order but over the years pass neutered into the everyday social lexicon.”

“Democracy,” “liberalism” and “socialism” have all followed this course; each of them in its time made the bourgeoisie (of all classes) tremble in their beds, and each of these tigers has been boiled down to an inoffensive kitten. “Communism” and “women’s liberation” are well on the way, and “Third World” has gone even further, quite losing its original meaning.

To regard these as nothing more than semantic changes would be to miss the point; it is, in each case, not only the word but the movement denoted by the word that has been shown to lack the destructive power it was once feared to possess. Democracy, socialism, communism, anarchism, women’s liberation and the movement to bring the fresh ideas of newly liberated colonies to the rescue of the Old and New Worlds, have all been revealed as functional parts of existing society. Only the (A-)SPGB and other purist anarchists attempt to reject this role.

from Ideological Commentary 37, September 1989.