Anarchy 85/Conversations about anarchism

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about anarchism


  Richard Boston went round with a tape-re­corder inter­view­ing anar­chists, and reduced eight or nine hours of tape to a forty-minute radio pro­gramme, pro­duced by Tony Gould for BBC Radio 3, and broad­cast on January 10th and 30th. The voices heard, apart from that of Richard Boston, were those of Bill Christopher, Paul Goodman, George Melly, Jack Robinson, Donald and Irene Rooum, Peter Turner, Nicolas Walter and Colin Ward. The fol­low­ing is the text of the pro­gramme.


Announcer: Who are the anar­chists? What do they believe? What sort of society do they want, and what actions do they take to realise it?

CW: I consider myself to be an anar­chist-com­mun­ist, in the Kropotkin tradi­tion.

NW: I think that if I had to label myself very quickly I would say I was an anar­chist-socia­list, or liber­ta­rian socia­list even, if the word anar­chist gave rise to mis­under­stand­ing.

BC: I would de­scribe myself as an an­archo-syn­dical­ist, anar­chism being my philo­sophy and syn­dical­ism the method of struggle.

JR: I don’t call myself an anarcho-syndi­ca­list. I could be called an anarcho-paci­fist-indi­vidu­alist with slight com­mun­ist tend­en­cies, which is a long title, but this is a way of defin­ing a compass point.

PT: 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.

DR: I de­scribe myself as a Stirner­ite, a con­scious egoist.

JR: 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.

RB: 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
the basic prin­ciple: anarchy—the absence of rule, which is not the same thing as chaos, al­though the words anar­chy and chaos are pop­ularly con­fused. As the anar­chist sees it, chaos is what we’ve got now. Anarchy is the altern­ative he offers. In the 11th edition of the Encyc­lo­paedia Britan­nica, Kropotkin defined anar­chism as, “The name given to a prin­ciple or theory of life and conduct under which society is con­ceived without govern­ment, harmony in such a society being ob­tained not by submis­sion to law or by obedi­ence to any author­ity, but by free agree­ments con­clu­ded between the various groups, terri­torial and profes­sional, freely con­stitu­ted for the sake of pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion.” I think most anar­chists today of what­ever label would agree with this. Where do they differ then? Well, one impor­tant dif­fer­ence is between those who, like the anar­chist-commu­nists and anarcho-syndi­ca­lists, empha­sise col­lec­tive organi­sa­tion and those like the Stirner­ites whose chief concern is with the indi­vidual. But in fact an anar­chist-commu­nist like Colin Ward and an indi­vidu­alist anar­chist like Donald Rooum still have a great deal in common.

CW: 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 idea that we could have a society and that it’s desir­able that we should have a society, in which the prin­ciple of author­ity is super­seded by that of volun­tary co-opera­tion. You could say that anar­chism is the ulti­mate de­cent­ral­isa­tion. I believe in a de­cent­ral­ised society. What I want to do is to change a mass society into a mass of soci­eties.

DR: 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.

RB: But how do you set about achiev­ing an anar­chist society? Well, there are two tradi­tional anar­chist methods, propa­ganda of the deed—at one time this meant assas­sin­ating royalty and states­men, but nowa­days is almost in­vari­ably non-violent—and propa­ganda of the word. Propa­ganda of the word is partly the spoken word. In London, for example, Speakers’ Corner, and the meeting every Sunday night at the Lamb and Flag in Covent Garden, where there are usually about fifty people, but mostly the word means the printed word, and, apart from the Syndi­ca­list Workers’ Fed­era­tion’s monthly paper <span data-html="true" class="plainlinks" title="Wikipedia: Direct Action">Direct Action, this mostly centres round the pub­lica­tions of the Freedom Press.

CW: 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-out ideo­logy like anar­chism to con­tem­por­ary life and to find those pos­itive appli­ca­tions which people are looking for. There are prob­lems you see. If you have a re­volu­tion­ary ideo­logy in a non-revo­lutio­nary situ­ation, what exactly do you do? If you’ve got a point of view which every­body
con­siders to be way out, do you act up to it, or do you lean over back­wards to show how normal and prac­tical your ideas are? What I would like anar­chism to have is intel­lec­tual re­spect­abil­ity.

RB: What sort of sub­jects are dis­cussed in anarchy?

CW: 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 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.

RB: anarchy is a monthly. freedom, on the other hand, as a weekly paper, is more con­cerned with com­ment­ing on day-to-day poli­tical events and re­port­ing on anar­chist acti­vi­ties. It is itself run on anar­chist lines. Jack Robinson of the Freedom Group:

JR: The whole of freedom is pro­duced with volun­tary labour. I my­self have a slight grant of £3 a week, and thus we exploit labour. Lilian Wolfe, 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-worker, a furni­ture remover, who do the edito­rial work, and there is a type-designer who actu­ally does the layout for us. Every member of the edito­rial com­mit­tee has the power of veto but we do try to argue things out until a unani­mous deci­sion is arrived at.

RB: 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.

CW: 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 Kent 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.

RB: 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.

CW: Minis­ter of Health at the time, the Labour Minis­ter of Health who was in charge of housing, Aneurin Bevan, 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—the usual tempo­rary, make­shift impro­visa­tions to make life, family life, pos­sible in such places. Those who were in­stalled there by local coun­cils did nothing. They waited for things to happen to them. This is an exam­ple, it seems to me, of the social psycho­logy of Direct Action. The direct-action­ist is someone who shapes his own destiny while other people are the victims of cir­cum­stan­ces, of the whims of author­ity: things happen to them.

RB: 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.

NW: As soon as the Com­mit­tee of 100 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-downs, I got arres­ted, got fined and so on. But, more than that, there are things which I have done in the general anti-war move­ment, which I suppose one could say are the sort of things which I’ve done as an anar­chist. One thing was being in­volved in the Spies for Peace, which, I think, is a perfect example of anar­chist activ­ity al­though not all the people in­volved in it were anar­chists, in that here was a situ­ation in which the Govern­ment had done some­thing, for the sake of the people offi­cially, which the people didn’t know about.

RB: What was this?

NW: 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-West England">South-West England was cut off from the rest of England, there would be a ready-made govern­ment to take it over and rule it. And this was all set up, it was set up secretly behind the scenes. No one knew about it. And, just by chance, this in­forma­tion fell into the hands of people in the Com­mit­tee of 100, of whom I was one. And we pub­lished it, secretly, we didn’t want to get caught. Then another, in a sense much smaller, thing, though it had more effect on me, was going along to a church where the Prime Minister was going to read the lesson, before the Labour Party Conference, and inter­rup­ting to say that I thought this was hypo­crisy. This isn’t a very serious thing, it was just propa­ganda by deed. It was to try and say, at the time and place where a lot of people would take notice, what I thought about the sort of thing the Labour Government does. And this got us landed in prison, a
couple of us.

RB: For the an­arch­ist, in Ran­dolph Bourne’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.

PG: My back­ground is psycho-analy­tic, and psycho-analy­ti­cally, we feel that face-to-face vio­lence, like a fist fight, is natural, and it does damage to try to repress it; that it’s better to have the fight out. There­fore on that level I have no oppo­si­tion to vio­lence. Natu­rally I don’t like to see people pun­ching each other, but anger is a rather beau­tiful thing, and anger will lead to a blow, and there you are. When people are under a ter­rible oppres­sion, as say Negroes in the United States or the Parisians, let’s say, during Hitler’s occu­pa­tion of Paris, it seems inevi­table that at a certain point they are going to blow up and fight back. And that seems to me like a force of nature. You can do nothing about that, and there­fore I don’t disap­prove. That kind of warfare, guer­rilla warfare, parti­san warfare, bru­tali­ses people, of course it does, but it’s human and I would make no moral judge­ment.

  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.

IR: 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.

RB: That was Irene Rooum. A fre­quent criti­cism of anar­chists is that their ideas are utopian. How do they answer this?

CW: 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 Harold Wilson 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.

NW: I want to work towards anarchy. I don’t want to estab­lish it over­night. So I would take the—almost a slogan—view that means are ends, that what happens now is an end. To say that you are working towards an end strikes me as mea­ning­less. What you are working to­wards is what you are actu­ally doing. If you over­throw a govern­ment over­night you could say that this is estab­lish­ing anarchy. I would say that you are much more likely to estab­lish an extreme dicta­tor­ship.

GM: 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.

PG: 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.

NW: 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—is simply a clearing-house, a post box, a way for people to collect their health bene­fits.

BC: 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-elec­tions">by-elec­tions of people ab­stain­ing. But I think we can get over the idea now that the par­lia­men­tary system is a big laugh, is a big giggle. Once you start getting people thin­king in terms of really query­ing the par­lia­men­tary system and expo­sing it for what it’s worth—a gas­works—then I think we’re making pro­gress.

CW: Well, anar­chists in elections usually indulge in anti-elec­tion pro­pagan­da, that is to say, they say “Don’t vote for anybody!” And they’re very often criti­cised for this. This is pointed out to be some­how nega­tive or irres­pon­sible and so on. Obvi­ous­ly, being opposed to the prin­ciple of autho­rity, anar­chists don’t see the point in deci­ding which group of autho­rita­rians are going to rule us.

RB: Autho­rita­rians, cen­trali­sa­tion, coer­cion, capi­ta­lism, these are the sort of things anar­chists are against. George Melly:

GM: 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,
to impress them with the idea that without one they are fail­ures, it will give them sexual potency, and a thou­sand other ideas; entire­ly linked to an eco­no­mic situ­ation in which people have to make motor cars and people have to sell motor cars and there­fore more motor cars have to be used. But why do they have to make them? Because if they didn’t make them the whole eco­no­mic machine would break down. But this machine is arti­fi­cial in itself. There’s no need for every­body to be em­ployed all the time. The more un­plea­sant jobs are always pro­duced as an excuse against anar­chism. Who would sweep roads, who would mine coal? But a lot of these things would be solved so that nobody need do them at all. There could be auto­matic street washers and the use of atomic energy instead of coal, but we daren’t use atomic energy instead of coal because this would shut the mines and this would create an eco­no­mic crisis. Eco­no­mics is an arti­fi­cial defor­ma­tion, or seems to me to be it, and if one scrapped it all and started from human needs, and if one scrapped the whole of the thou­sands of law books in every country and started from good sense and good will, one might be moving towards a freer society.

PG: 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 Yugo­sla­via 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—great. So now Yugo­sla­via is the one country in the world, it seems to me, that at present is taking, is trying to tend towards anarcho-syn­dica­lism. Now if you talk to Yugo­slavs—and I have recently been talking to a lot of them—I like their atti­tude. They’re ex­treme­ly scep­tical about the whole thing. It’s ex­treme­ly inef­fi­cient and there are all kinds of error, etc.—and they’re fan­tasti­cally proud of it, and I love that atti­tude. You see they don’t try to sell you a bill of goods, but they know they’re right—and that I like. Now they wouldn’t call it anar­chism, but I don’t care about the word.

CW: I think it started merely as a polit­ical gimmick to dif­fer­enti­ate Yugo­slav so­cial­ism from Stalin­ist com­mun­ism, 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 Party, just as these ex­peri­ments here are workers’ control within the limits set by a cap­ital­ist market economy.

RB: But how do an­arch­ists see such prin­ciples of organ­isa­tion working on a larger scale, na­tion­ally or even inter­na­tion­ally?

CW: 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-fetched, because you see it in opera­tion today in dif­fer­ent inter­natio­nal orga­nisa­tions. You can post a letter from here to Valpa­raiso or Chung­king and know it will get there because of the federal ar­range­ments of a dozen dif­fer­ent natio­nal
post offices. Now there is no world post office capital. There are no direc­tives. There is an Inter­natio­nal Postal Union, which is not a man­datory body. It is all done by free ar­range­ment between sepa­rate natio­nal post offices. Or you can buy a ticket in London from here to Osaka and you travel on the railway lines of a dozen dif­fer­ent coun­tries, commu­nist, capi­ta­list, state-owned and pri­vately owned, and you get there with no bother. But there is no inter­natio­nal railway autho­rity.

RB: 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.

DR: I suppose that my arrest by Detective-Sergeant Challenor 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 magis­trate’s court. 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.

NW: The one emotion I have after being inside Brixton prison 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—nur­series of crimi­nal edu­ca­tion, I think were the actual words, and that the state and society ought to consider whether the enormous expense and effort put into keeping people in prison wouldn’t be much better using in trying to help people in some other way.

RB: 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
in­crea­sing­ly liber­ta­rian atti­tudes appa­rent in the social field, in atti­tudes to the men­tally ill, for example, in edu­ca­tion, in the whole per­mis­sive climate of modern society. Of course they don’t take all the credit for it, though they have made a con­tribu­tion and on the whole they welcome it.

CW: Years ago, shortly after the war, Alex Comfort gave a series of lec­tures to the London Anarchist Group and they were pub­lished by Freedom Press under the title Barba­rism and Sexual Freedom. 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—you’ve only got to see how every child today looks like the pro­gres­sive school chil­dren of twenty years ago.

IR: 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.

DR: 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.

RB: 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 hippies, the drop-outs, flower people and so on? Is this a form of anar­chism?

CW: 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.

GM: The thing about hippies is that they are over-excited by certain aspects of freedom, I think. They’re over-excited by the idea of drugs because drugs are some­thing which older people disap­prove of. They’re a useful form of revolt. It used to be sex, when I was eighteen or seven­teen because older people appa­rent­ly in those days disap­proved more of sex, so one went round having as many people as pos­sible, as noisily as pos­sible and telling every­one about it. On the other hand, since the Lady Chatterley trial, sex has become res­pecta­ble. Even bishops admit an orgasm is a mar­vel­lous thing to have and so on, no­body con­demns mas­turba­tion, and so on, so that sex is out and drugs are in, and I think that the whole empha­sis on drugs in the hippy thing is hys­teri­cal and not alto­gether sym­pathe­tic. But I think that the hippy
feeling for the idea of love instead of hate, of open­ness, of people doing what they want, of freedom, is on the con­trary, very sym­pathe­tic, and the inter­view re­cent­ly between Mick Jagger and various members of the estab­lish­ment—bishops, the Editor of The Times and so on—seemed to me to indi­cate that al­though Jagger is rather naïve in certain of his ideas, he also is on a track which they were unable to answer.

NW: I don’t mean it as a criti­cism, but I do feel that a lot of the modern bohe­mian 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.

RB: 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.

GM: 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.

RB: The anar­chists have had an erratic and lively history and have been parti­cu­larly strong in the Latin countries. There are still many Spanish anar­chists in exile after the Civil War, parti­cu­larly in France, 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?

CW: I think that social atti­tudes have changed. People no longer equate anar­chism with bomb-throw­ing. Anar­chism perhaps is beco­ming almost modish. I think that there is a certain anarchy in the air today, yes.

JR: 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.

RB: The size of the reader­ship of freedom gives some indi­ca­tion of their numbers.

JR: Roughly our circu­la­tion is round about the 2,000 or 3,000 mark.

CW: 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.
Anar­chists tend to be self-employed people or people em­ployed in some of the appa­rently useful or social service type acti­vi­ties. They tend to be people who have a large amount of freedom in their work, simply because, I suppose, they have opted for that sort of life, being the kind of people that they are.

RB: Though they are very much a mino­rity group the anar­chists do include some well-known names, Sir Herbert Read and Alex Comfort, for example, but as Jack Robinson says, there are anar­chists who are promi­nent but there are no promi­nent anar­chists.

JR: 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.

RB: 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.

CW: 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.

JR: I always say that I became an anar­chist when I was in Wormwood Scrubs, which is probably true because I had been on the verge of anar­chism and during the war I was impri­soned as a con­scien­tious ob­jec­tor 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.

BC: First of all I was in the Labour Party. I came out of that over German re­arma­ment and the hydro­gen bomb, I went to the ILP 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.

NW: 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—an extreme left-wing Labour Party sup­por­ter and it gradu­ally oc­curred to me that in fact I was an anar­chist as well as being a socia­list.

DR: Actually I was on some kind of Govern­ment potato-picking scheme, in 1944 I think it was, and I bought a copy of War Com­men­tary, as it was then, one of the fore­run­ners of freedom, at Marble Arch. I read it and I thought, “Well, this is the gen. I agree with it.”