Jonathan Simcock: Review of Beyond Politics

Reviewed by Jonathan Simcock in Freedom 17 April.

George Walford has contributed articles on anarchism and related issues to both Freedom and The Raven, and regularly features in Freedom‘s correspondence columns. Much of his arguments and ideas in these pieces derive from his exposition of ‘systematic ideology,’ which attempts to examine and explain ‘ideology’ and which argument he develops to some length in his book Beyond Politics. Systematic ideology originated in the writings of Harold Walsby, who started work on it in about 1938. [1] Walford uses Walsby’s ideas as he examines the nature of ideologies and the motive forces behind aspects of human behaviour in the social, economic and political fields. This involves looking at the development of human history and political ideologies themselves.

Walford’s thesis goes seriously wrong at this point for his definition of anarchism is very narrow and the reality does not fit within his ‘series.’ Anarchism really is different from the whole range of ‘statist’ ideologies. [1]

Essentially, systematic ideology states that political ideologies can be explained by reference to a rigid pattern known as an ‘underlying ideological structure.’ Walford divides humanity into broad groupings; firstly the non-politicals whose behaviour is based upon expedience, secondly the principled who form most of those involved in mainstream politics, i.e. Conservatives, Liberals and Social Democrats, and thirdly those who repudiate the present social, political and economic status quo and attempt to radically change it, i.e. anarchists, communists and other revolutionaries.

Walford points out that the ‘non-political’ group forms the majority of the population, while followers of the political ideologies are a minority, and the numbers of political groups in his ‘repudiation’ category smaller still. Walford claims that this is the result of evolution, with humanity first having lived in a ‘non-political’ and ‘expedient’ manner as ‘hunter-gatherers’ or ‘foragers,’ then with the development of the ‘principled’ group arose the state and agricultural society, and lastly came the category of ‘repudiation’ into which he places anarchists, communists, etc., as if anarchism, and for that matter communism, were really very recent phenomena, yet in reality ideas similar to anarchism and communism have been around for thousands of years since the dawn of oppression and the state.

Walford argues that this division of humanity continues to this day and is unlikely to change, the inference being that anarchism can never grow beyond a fringe movement. It is clear that Walford believes that this is the main reason why anarchism remains a minority view. He does not give enough consideration to the combined effects of authoritarian education, the church, exclusion of anarchist viewpoints from the mass media, and outright suppression.

Walford claims there is a relationship between the political ideologies and the ideas they advocate. Thus for Walford conservatism stands at one end of the British political series, advocating authoritarian policies in matters political and social but individualistic in matters economic. He sees anarchism at the opposite end of the British political series, advocating total freedom in matters social and political but total control in matters economic.[2] Walford’s thesis goes seriously wrong at this point for his definition of anarchism is very narrow and ‘the reality does not fit within his ‘series.’ Anarchism really is different from the whole range of ‘statist’ political ideologies.

All anarchists reject government and the state, some anarchists, the anarcho-communists, advocate a libertarian version of the planned economy, others such as John Griffin [3] and Colin Ward [4] seem to be advocating an anarchist version of the mixed economy with a combination of non-monetary production in communes, a monetary economy in collectives and self-employment which retain wages and money as a means of exchange. This ‘mixed economy’ would also be tolerant of a small private sector. Others still, the anarcho-capitalists, advocate total laissez-faire economics. Anarchists do not advocate a single economic policy, there is considerable divergence. Neither do anarchists base their ideas totally on unproven theory as Walford claims. A considerable section of the current anarchist movement base their ideas on their experience of the real world. This trend is perhaps best illustrated by works such as Anarchy in Action by Colin Ward with its emphasis on anarchistic practices in social, economic and political life now. This also has its counterpart in the conscious attempts to create co-ops, collectives, communes, etc., and to live anarchism now without waiting for some mythical revolution to bring change.

Walford’s book is an interesting read and does explain what an ‘ideology’ is. However, life and ideas do not fall into the tidy patterns he sees and there is definitely much in this work that anarchists will disagree with.

[1] The spelling of Walsby’s name, his nationality, and the date he started work, incorrect in the review, have been put right here and the letter to Freedom which follows amended accordingly. Ed. IC.
[2] Beyond Politics p.21.
[3] A Structured Anarchism by John Griffin.
[4] See chapter ‘A Self-Employed Society’ in Anarchy in Action by Colin Ward.

Dear Editors,
The review of my book Beyond Politics by Jonathan Simcock (17 April) has to be taken seriously. May I correct a couple of factual details and comment briefly on one or two issues that touch anarchism? The theory now known as systematic ideology (a coinage of my own) was founded by Harold Walsby. Although his one book, The Domain of Ideologies, appeared in 1947, he had been working on the theory since about 1938, calling it first ‘psycho-politics’ and later simply ‘ideology.’ (At the time this concept was little known, the flood of interest not starting until the late sixties). For most purposes the overall pattern now formed by the ideologies can be taken as stable, but it is not ‘rigid.’ It’s just that different parts of the system change at different speeds, the overall outline more slowly than the details. People divide themselves into groups according to their ideologies. Beyond Politics does not present the non-political or Expedient group as a majority of the population, only as the largest of the major ideological groups.

The reviewer speaks of ‘ideas similar to anarchism and communism [that] have been around for thousands of years.’ It is hard to comment on this since he doesn’t say what they are; the (fragmented) movement known as anarchism today took shape during the 19th Century, largely following Bakunin’s struggles with Marx. It is the presence of the great majority towards the authoritarian end of the ideological range that keeps anarchism weak; when Jonathan lists some of the forces working against anarchism he is naming ways in which these numbers exert their influence. Anarchism is, as he says, different from the whole range of ‘statist’ ideologies, but not in a way that detaches it from the series; a tendency to criticise the state, which has been strengthening all the way along the range, here develops into outright opposition. The anarchist attitude towards economic affairs does, as he shows, appear in a variety of proposed schemes (also continuing development through the series) but these all aim to suppress the use of economic power as a means for some individuals to dominate others.He is right in saying that many anarchists take positive, constructive action in social, economic and political affairs. They do so, however, in common with communists, socialists, greenists and liberals, acting in these capacities rather than in any particularly anarchistic way. The distinctive feature of anarchism appears in Jonathan’s phrase: ‘All anarchists reject government and the state,’ and this rejection remains almost wholly a matter of theory and aspiration; in present practice anarchists accept or submit to government and the state, even supporting them with taxes; they have little choice. People who retreat to a commune, far from gaining the freedom anarchism seeks, are accepting unusually severe limitations. Theory is supposed to tidy up reality, presenting a simplified, more systematic version; that’s a large part of its job.

Yours etc.

from Ideological Commentary Number 60, May 1993.

continue reading Beyond Politics by George Walford (1990):
Preface | Introduction | Politics as Ideology | The British Political Series | The World Political Series | From Politics to Ideology | Ideology Beyond Politics | The Beginnings | From Village to Empire | After The Empires | The Eidodynamic | The Origins of Ideologies | The Evolution of Ideology | Conclusion | Appendices | Notes & References | Select Bibliography | Index | Synopsis.