Anarchy 85/Conversations about anarchism
: I consider myself to be an anarchist-
: I think that if I had to label myself very quickly I would say I was an anarchist-
: I would describe myself as an anarcho-
: I don’t call myself an anarcho-
: First of all I’m an anarchist because I don’t believe in governments, and also I think that syndicalism is the anarchist application to organising industry.
: I describe myself as a , a conscious egoist.
: We even have a strange aberration known as Catholic anarchists, which seems to be a contradiction in terms, but nevertheless they seem to get along with it. : There are so many sorts of anarchist that one sometimes wonders whether such a thing as a plain and simple anarchist even exists, but the differences are mainly differences of emphasis. Anarchists are agreed on
: For me anarchism is a social philosophy based on the absence of authority. Anarchism can be an individual outlook or a social one. I’m concerned with anarchism as a social point of view—
: The anarchist thinks that society is there for the benefit of the individual. The individual doesn’t owe anything to society at all. Society is the creation of individuals, it is there for their benefit. And from that the rest of it follows. Eventually, as the ultimate aim of anarchism, which may or may not be achieved, the idea is to have a society of sovereign individuals.
: But how do you set about achieving an anarchist society? Well, there are two traditional anarchist methods, propaganda of the deed— : anarchy was started in 1961. It’s an offshoot of the anarchist weekly <span data-html="true" class="plainlinks" title="Wikipedia: freedom">freedom which is the oldest newspaper of the Left in this country I think. It was founded by Kropotkin in 1886. In anarchy what I try to do is to find ways of relating a way-
anarchy?: What sort of subjects are discussed in
anarchy discusses topics like housing, anarchy tries to take the problems which face people in our society, the society we’re living in, and to see if there are anarchist solutions.: There do seem to be recurring themes, principally because they are what people will write about. They are topics like education, like this question of a technology in which people would have a certain degree of personal freedom and personal choice in work, instead of none at all, as the vast majority of people have today.
anarchy is a monthly. freedom, on the other hand, as a weekly paper, is more concerned with commenting on day-
freedom is produced with voluntary labour. I myself have a slight grant of £3 a week, and thus we exploit labour. , who is working with us, is now 91 years of age, which I think is a record in the exploitation of old people’s labour, but nevertheless she still comes in cheerfully three days a week. There is a carpenter, a print-
: Propaganda of the deed nowadays mostly means what anarchists call Direct Action, that is to say, doing something yourself about your own problems rather than waiting for someone else to come along and do it for you. Sometimes this may take the form of illegal action.
: It does seem to me amazing that in the last few years, for instance, there hasn’t been mass squatting in office blocks, when you get the situation of local authorities having huge housing waiting lists while you can see dozens of new speculative office blocks with TO LET plastered all over them. The very interesting instance in the last few years, of course, was the King Hill Hostel affair. King Hill Hostel was a reception centre for homeless families in where all sorts of restrictions were placed on the homeless, the most striking of which, of course, was the separation of husbands from wives. People were treated in a punitive way as though their homelessness were somehow the result of their own moral turpitude. A handful of people adopted Direct Action methods to embarrass the authorities, and they embarrassed them so much that they achieved much more for improving the conditions of reception centres for the homeless than had ever been done by legislative action for years. Direct Action is an anarchist method because it is a method which expands. People are pushed on by success. They are given more confidence in their own ability to shape their own destiny by being successful in some small way. The person who takes Direct Action is a different kind of person from the person who just lets things happen to him.
: Colin Ward gives another example of Direct Action in the mass squatting campaign that took place after the war when the homeless seized derelict army camps.
: at the time, the Minister of Health who was in charge of housing, , said that these people were somehow jumping their place in the housing queue, they were part of a Communist plot, and all sorts of rubbish of that kind. But local authorities were very soon empowered to take over army camps for themselves. People who went round noticed that the people who seized the places for themselves had done a great deal to make them habitable—
: Direct Action has also been the anarchists’ preferred method in their opposition to war and the state’s preparations for war, and their most conspicuous contributions to the peace movement have been when the peace movement has turned to Direct Action. One anarchist who has been active in the peace movement is Nicolas Walter.
: As soon as the was formed I knew that I agreed with what it was trying to do. So I joined. And I’ve been active in that sort of thing more or less ever since, and I did all the normal things, I went on sit-
: What was this? : Setting up a regional organisation to rule the country in the event of nuclear war demolishing the State apparatus, so that if for example, <span data-html="true" class="plainlinks" title="Wikipedia: South-
: For the anarchist, in ’s phrase, “War is the health of the State.” This sounds like a paradox, but, as Jack Robinson says, “to speak of a healthy state is like talking about a healthy cancer”. The anarchist doesn’t want a healthy state, he wants a healthy society. For this reason alone, many anarchists are also pacifists, even if they don’t always rule out violence altogether. Here is the American writer Paul Goodman.
: My background is psycho-
As soon as warfare, violence, becomes organised, however, and you are told by somebody else, “Kill him”, where it’s not your own hatred and anger which are pouring out, but some abstract policy or party line or a complicated strategic campaign, then to exert violence turns you into a thing, because violence involves too much of you to be able to do it at somebody else’s direction. Therefore I am entirely opposed to any kind of warfare, standing armies as opposed to guerrilla armies and so forth. Therefore all war is entirely unacceptable because it mechanises human beings and inevitably leads to more harm than good. Therefore I am a pacifist.
: I’m a pacifist. I call myself a pacifist anarchist and I think that is basic really. I disapprove of governments because they wage war. I don’t want to die, I don’t want my children to die, and I don’t want to have to watch other people dying for government, and killing people they don’t know and have never met and have got nothing to do with.
: That was Irene Rooum. A frequent criticism of anarchists is that their ideas are utopian. How do they answer this?
: It’s perfectly possible to say that anarchism is utopian, but of course so is socialism or any other political “ism”. All the “isms” are what the sociologists call “ideal types” and you can make fun of the ideal type of an anarchist society, but you can also do it to that of a socialist society, which is very different from anything has in mind. It seems to me that all societies are mixed societies, and while, if it cheers us up, we can dream about an anarchist society, the sort of society that we or our descendants are going to get is a society where these two principles of authority and voluntarism are struggling. But because no road leads to utopia it doesn’t mean that no road leads anywhere.
: There are in the world thousands of people who haven’t enough to eat, there are wars going on, there are far too many people over the earth’s surface, there are diseases as yet unchecked. There is an enormous amount of money being spent in flinging expensive toys up into outer space, when there are people rotting from disease and lack of food down here. And it seems to me that the argument against anarchism that it is an impractical, lovable ideal which could never be realised, is unproven in the face of the inefficiency of the forms of government that have existed and exist on the earth’s surface.
: The important crisis at present has to do with authority and militarism. That’s the real danger, and if we could get rid of the militarism and if we could get rid of this principle of authority by which people don’t run their own lives, then society could become decent, and that’s all you want of society. It is not up to governments or states to make anybody happy. They can’t do it. What they can do is maintain a minimum level of decency and freedom.
: Yes, in general I want a government that governs less, but I want the lessening process to be continuous, so that government always governs less and less, and the people always look after themselves more and more until in the end there is a government that does not govern at all—
: Probably now, more than any other time, ordinary people have got more than a slightly cynical approach to parliament and politicians. People are beginning to say that they’re all alike and we’re just not going to bother to vote at all. But going on from there and saying, “What are we going to do?”, this is the crunch, this is the problem. We have had illustrations in recent <span data-html="true" class="plainlinks" title="Wikipedia: by-
: Well, anarchists in elections usually indulge in anti-
: Authoritarians, centralisation, coercion, capitalism, these are the sort of things anarchists are against. George Melly: : With a thing like the motor car, which is one of the great killers of our time, you have a whole society geared to sell people motor cars,
: You see it isn’t industrialisation which makes for centralisation, it’s an error to think that. It’s the way we do the industrialisation. Now in at present, they’re trying to extend workers’ management to considerable control over the actual designing and engineering process, and they have found, of course it’s obvious, that in order to do that, they’ll have to bring the university right into the factory. Now the worker can get technical training—
: I think it started merely as a political gimmick to differentiate from , but that it has been taken seriously. I’m quite sure that some of the Yugoslav communists are determined to develop a system of workers’ control. As things stand, of course, it is workers’ control within those limits set by the , just as these experiments here are workers’ control within the limits set by a capitalist market economy.
: But how do anarchists see such principles of organisation working on a larger scale, nationally or even internationally? : I think the most complex industrial organisation could be broken down on the federative principle, that is to say, a federation of autonomous groups. This is not so far-
: The anarchist’s opposition to the state obviously involves opposition to the state’s coercive institutions such as the police and prisons. One anarchist whose dealings with the police hit the headlines is Donald Rooum.
: I suppose that my arrest by Detective-Sergeant had nothing to do with my being an anarchist. As you know, three or four perfectly innocent boys who were coming back from a game of tennis were arrested too, but I think it had something to do with my being an anarchist that I was able to spot an error made by this policeman in planting his evidence and that the general suspicion of policemen which for instance prevented me from complaining against the behaviour of one policeman to another policeman, that suspicion made me keep quiet in the police station and hold my story and my evidence and my defence until we came to the . I think it takes either an anarchist or a lawyer to realise that this is a sensible thing to do. Before the Challenor case I mainly thought of the police as a repressive agency and something that one ought to fight against. Since then I’ve had it rammed down my throat through watching it, what the policeman’s job was. It’s a very difficult job and instead of saying now we ought to be rid of the police force I would rather say that the society which needs a police force is a sick society. It’s not the same thing at all as saying that you could cure society by getting rid of the police force. The police force is rather like crutches. With all its faults I suppose at the present day it’s necessary. And that’s an opinion that I didn’t have before I was arrested.
: The one emotion I have after being inside is that I’d like to see Brixton prison blown up. But apart from that it hasn’t changed my conviction at all, which is that in order to try and prevent people from hurting other people, to put them into a room and lock them up is the worst thing one can do. I can’t think of anybody who was in Brixton whom I met who should have been locked up. I can’t think of anyone in Brixton who would be any danger if let out, any more than he is going to be as soon as he comes out anyway. I would say with Kropotkin (this is the sort of thing anarchists do: they quote other anarchists), I would say that prisons are universities of crime— : On the political scene anarchists don’t seem to have made much visible impact, but they feel that their ideas have made headway in the
Alex Comfort gave a series of lectures to the London Anarchist Group and they were published by Freedom Press under the title . Comfort’s ideas on sex have reached the stage of course of being published many years later as a Penguin book, and what appeared revolutionary to people or somehow outré in one way or another in 1948, is almost passé by 1966. The revolution in sexual attitudes has happened. Take anarchist ideas about education—
: Of course I haven’t married, and I’ve had my own children. This wasn’t very important at the time, we didn’t think it was very important, and I still don’t think it’s important. I like to think that society is in fact getting more and more towards anarchism because now there are more and more people in fact living together and having children without being married and without asking the State if they may or may not.
: We thought that agreement to have a home and a family was a matter for two people and that in a marriage you don’t have two parties, whatever the pundits are always saying, you don’t have two parties to a marriage, you have three parties, a man, a woman and the State.
: In this sort of area, in personal morality, in society’s considerable advance towards permissiveness in the past few years, the anarchists are probably in substantial agreement with a great many people who wouldn’t call themselves anarchists. What about what is called the underground, the , the drop-
: My kind of anarchism wants to change the structure of society and the anarchist hippies simply walk out on authoritarian society. But it does seem to me that the wildly individual anarchism of the young is a good thing. I think we should be wildly individualistic when we are eighteen and twenty. Personally I’m not interested in individualism because I’m twice that age. : The thing about hippies is that they are over-
: I don’t mean it as a criticism, but I do feel that a lot of the modern anarchists, or whatever particular label they have for that year, are to some extent a commercial phenomenon, rather than a political one, that they are people who are either trying to drop out of a commercial life or are trying to make money out of pretending to drop out of commercial life. I wouldn’t see them in fact as part of the anarchist movement, though they are certainly relevant to the anarchist movement.
: As the anarchists don’t have any form of membership it’s hard to say how many of them there are, or even with any certainty whether or not someone is an anarchist, but certainly there must be quite a few people who like George Melly would go along with them most of the way.
: I think to say to me that I am an anarchist is overstating it because I would call myself more an anarchist sympathiser in that I feel that to be an anarchist completely it’s necessary to rid oneself of practically everything that one holds except one’s own body and a few clothes. And as someone who has a house, a car, pays insurance, and so on, I wouldn’t consider myself an anarchist but someone who would hope that society would move towards anarchism, and who is occasionally provoked by the monstrosities in this society to an act of anarchist revolt or at least to an anarchist statement. Anarchism for me equals freedom. I mean the two words are interchangeable. But freedom in the absolute sense, not freedom shouted by one politician against another, freedom of each individual to exist entirely within his desires.
: The anarchists have had an erratic and lively history and have been particularly strong in the Latin countries. There are still many in exile after the , particularly in , and there are small anarchist groups in most countries throughout the world. But in this country about how many anarchists are there, and what sort of people are they?
: I think that social attitudes have changed. People no longer equate anarchism with bomb-
: One of our disreputable comrades said that the membership of the anarchist movement is between one and two million and this actually meant that it was between the figure one and the figure two million.
freedom gives some indication of their numbers.: The size of the readership of
: Roughly our circulation is round about the 2,000 or 3,000 mark. : Anarchists tend not to be industrial workers and I think that the reason for this is that they won’t stick the discipline of factory life.
: Though they are very much a minority group the anarchists do include some well-
: No, we have never had any leaders because one thing about anarchists is that, if people do set themselves up to be leaders, they have the unfortunate experience that nobody ever follows them, which is the best thing that could happen to any leader.
: We’ve heard a little about who the anarchists are in this country and what they think, what sort of society they want and what sort of action they take to work towards such a society. One thing we haven’t heard is how they, or at least how some of them, became anarchists.
: Well I became an anarchist when I was a soldier in the army. I think that’s enough to make anyone an anarchist. The anarchists then, just as I am now, were hanging out their little rags of propaganda and I was one of the people that nibbled.
: I always say that I became an anarchist when I was in , which is probably true because I had been on the verge of anarchism and during the war I was imprisoned as a and I was meditating on what actually the State did contribute and I discovered that really the only contribution of the State as distinct from society was the contribution of the army and the police and the prisons whose guest I was and the army I had declined to go into.
: First of all I was in the Labour Party. I came out of that over and the , I went to the and I felt that I didn’t seem to fit in there either. The party machine, not so much in the ILP of course, but in the Labour Party. I felt a rejection, a complete rejection of the parliamentary system. To my mind the parliamentary system is completely outdated and useless and therefore I reject the whole parliamentary system.
: Well in a sense I was an anarchist before I was born in that I had an anarchist grandfather, but I was in fact brought up more or less as a Labour Party supporter—
: Actually I was on some kind of Government potato-