Anarchy in Action : Introduction to the Second Edition
(1924 - 2010) ~ British Anarchist Writer and Social Historian : ...lived with the title of Britain's most famous anarchist for nearly half a century, bemused by this ambivalent sobriquet. In Anarchy in Action (1973), he set out his belief that an anarchist society was not an end goal. (From : Guardian Obituary.)
• "It is, after all, the principle of authority which ensures that people will work for someone else for the greater part of their lives, not because they enjoy it or have any control over their work, but because they see it as their only means of livelihood." (From : "Anarchism as a Theory of Organization," by Colin ....)
• "The anarchists, who have always distinguished between the state and society, adhere to the social principle, which can be seen where-ever men link themselves in an association based on a common need or a common interest." (From : "Anarchism as a Theory of Organization," by Colin ....)
• "...the bombs you are worried about are not the bombs which cartoonists attribute to the anarchists, but the bombs which governments have perfected, at your expense." (From : "Anarchism as a Theory of Organization," by Colin ....)
Introduction to the Second Edition
The anarchist movement grows in times of popular self-activity, feeds it and feeds off it, and declines when that self-activity declines... The anarchists in England have paid for the gap between their day-to-day activities and their utopian aspirations. This gap consists basically of a lack of strategy, a lack of ability to assess the general situation and initiate a general project which is consistent with the anarchists utopia, and which is not only consistent with anarchist tactics but inspires them.
John Quail, The Slow Burning Fuze:
The Lost History of the British Anarchists (Paladin 1978)
Anarchism as a political and social ideology has two separate origins. It can be seen as an ultimate derivative of liberalism or as a final end for socialism. In either case, the problems that face the anarchist propagandist are the same. The ideas he is putting forward are so much at variance with ordinary political assumptions, and the solutions he offers are so remote, there is such a gap between what is, and what, according to the anarchist, might be, that his audience cannot take him seriously.
One elementary principle of attempting to teach anyone anything is that you attempt to build on the common foundation of common experience and common knowledge. That is the intention of the present volume.
This book was commissioned by the publishers Allen and Unwin and originally appeared from them in 1973, and was subsequently published in America and, in translation, in Dutch, Italian, Spanish and Japanese. It was not intended for people who had spent a life-time pondering the problems of anarchism, but for those who either had no idea of what the word implied, or who knew exactly what it implied, and had rejected it, considering that it had no relevance for the modern world.
My original preference as a title was the more cumbersome but more accurate “Anarchism as a theory of organization”, because as I urge in my preface, that is what the book is about. It is not about strategies for revolution and it is not involved with speculation on the way an anarchist society would function. It is about the ways in which people organize themselves in any kind of human society, whether we care to categorize those societies as primitive, traditional, capitalist or communist.
In this sense the book is simply an extended, updating footnote to Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid. Since it was written I have edited for a modern readership two other works of his, and I am bound to say that the experience has enhanced my agreement with George Orwell’s conclusion that Peter Kropotkin was “one of the most persuasive of anarchist writers” because of his “inventive and pragmatic outlook”.
In particular, as an amplification of some of the ideas expressed in the present volume, I would like readers to be aware of the edition I prepared of his Fields, Factories and Workshops (London: 1974, reprinted with additional material by Freedom Press, 1985) New York: Harper & Widstrand 1980). Anyone who wants to understand the real nature of the crisis of the British economy in the nineteen-eighties would gain more enlightenment from Kropotkin’s analysis from the eighteen- nineties than from the current spokesmen of any of the political parties.
But if this book is just a footnote to Kropotkin, and if it is open to the same criticism as his book (that it is a selective gathering of anecdotal evidence to support the points that the author wants to make) it does attempt to look at a variety of aspects of daily life in the light of traditional anarchist contentions about the nature of authority and the propensity for self-organization.
Many years of attempting to be an anarchist propagandist have convinced me that we win over our fellow citizen to anarchist ideas, precisely through drawing upon the common experience of the informal, transient, self-organizing networks of relationships that in fact make the human community possible, rather than through the rejection of existing society as a whole in favor of some future society where some different kind of humanity will live in perfect harmony.
Since this edition is a reproduction of the original text, my purpose here is to add a few comments and further references, both to update it and to take note of critical comments.
This is a restatement of the classical anarchist criticism of government and the state, emphasizing the historical division between anarchism and Marxism. In 1848, the year of the Communist Manifesto, Proudhon gave vent to an utterance of marvelous invective, which I had meant to include in this chapter:
“To be ruled is to be kept an eye on, inspected, spied on, regulated, indoctrinated, sermonized, listed and checked-off, estimated, appraised, censured, ordered about, by creatures without knowledge and without virtues. To be ruled is, at every operation, transaction, movement, to be noted, registered, counted, priced, admonished, prevented, reformed, redressed, corrected. It is, on the pretext of public utility and in the name of the common good, to be put under contribution, pressured, mystified, robbed; then, at the least resistance and at the first hint of complaint, repressed, fined, vilified, vexed, hunted, exasperated, knocked-down, disarmed, garroted, imprisoned, shot, grape-shot, judged, condemned, deported, sacrificed, sold, tricked; and to finish off with, hoaxed, calumniated, dishonored. Such is government! And to think that there are democrats among us who claim there’s some good in government!”
That must have seemed a ludicrous over-statement in 19th-century France. But wouldn’t it be perfectly comprehensible to any citizen who steps out of line in any of the totalitarian regimes of the Right or Left that today govern the greater part of the world? Among the attributes of government which Proudhon did not include in his list of horrors, is systematic torture, a unique prerogative of governments in the 20th century.
When this chapter was previously published in a symposium on Participatory Democracy the editors made comments which I found both gratifying and suggestive of ways in which its thesis could be extended. They wrote:
“The anarchist critique of the state, which has often seemed simplistic, is here presented in one of its most sophisticated forms. Here the state is conceived of as the formalization — and rigidification — of the unused power that the social order has abdicated. In American society it takes the form of a coalition of political, military, and industrial elites, preempting space that is simply not occupied by the rest of society.
“Ward believes that the state represents a kind of relationship between people which becomes formalized into a set of vested interests that operates contrary to the interests of the people — even to the point where it evaluates its means in terms of megadeaths. One could take the number of people employed directly by the state as a function of total populations, the amount of state spending as a function of total spending (in socialist states this would require careful functional definition of what constituted the domain of the state as opposed to the social order) and in general compare the resource use of the two areas. One could then analyze the social order in terms of degree of participation, key decisions involving utilization of social resources and who makes them. Studies of the correlations between state power and social participation in various countries would verify Ward’s thesis: those countries that are top-heavy with state power are the countries in which social participation is weak. A more devastating critique of statism could probably not be imagined.”
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