Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Political Credentials & Northern Voices

Avoiding the lunatic fringe!

DAVID Goodway, in his book 'Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow:  Left-Libertarian Thought & British Writers from William Morris to Colin Ward' (2006), wrote in an introduction:
'This book was strongly recommended to the commissioning editor of one of Britain's best-known firms by a reputable historian whose latest work he was publishing...', the editor reluctantly refused. 

Mr. Goodway believes it was to do with the subject matter of 'anarchism' because he writes: 
'...anarchism [in Britain] continues to engender at the beginning of the twenty-first century the passionate opposition it aroused at the end of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries when it became irretrievable associated with bomb-throwing and violence, a violence that has re-erupted in recent years with the widely publized activities of self-professed anarchists in anti-globalization and similar movements.'

Herbert Read, the art critic and poet, relates how he found himself at a diner party sitting next to 'a lady well known in the political world, a member of the Conservative party', who 'at once asked me what my politics were, and on my replying "I am an anarchist"... cried, "How absurd!", and did not address another word to me during the whole meal' [see 'Anarchy & Order:  Essays in politics'].

In her history of 19th century slums in London's East End (see 'The Blackest Streets' [2008]), Sarah Wise writes on this demotion of 'anarchism' in this country to a political 'lunatic fringe':
'The fiery invocations being published in the Commonweal (in 1893) were relegating Anarchy to the lunatic fringe of British politics - an exile from which it has yet to return.'

Despite this bad press for British anarchism, Northern Voices still identifies itself as 'anarchistic', and we do this because we consider that good journalists should avoid a party-line by being spiritually anarchist, agnostic and sceptical.  That is why we avoid identifying even with affiliated anarchist organisations such as the 'Anarchist Federation' (A.F.) because that would commit us to a party-line.  

George Orwell in his review of Mairin Mitchell's book 'Storm Over Spain'  about the Spanish Civil War wrote:
'The Anarchists and Syndicalists have been persistently misrepresented in England, and the average English person still retains his eighteen-ninetyish notion that Anarchism is the same thing as anarchy.'
Orwell then points out that in Spain, in December 1937, 'the pity is that so much of what the Anarchists achieved (in Spain, especially in Catalonia) has already been undone...

In England anarchism, as David Goodway notes, has never had anything like the status it had in Spain or even in much of Europe.  The insignificance of the anarchists as a political force in this country is related to a lack of maturity and the insistence of many English anarchists in behaving as if they were a caricature or the inmates of comic strip.  Some of this may be traced back to the 19th Century as Sarah Wise suggests above, and Gerald Brenan in his book has something to say about why the Spanish anarchists were different from the English and others in northern Europe in his book 'The Spanish Labyrinth':
'The assassination of the Czar in March 1881 by Russian Social Revolutionaries caused a profound sensation all over Europe.  The Anarchist Congress which met in London four months later debated under its shadow.  Many of its delegates were, in Stekloff's words, "isolated desperadoes, lone wolves, infuriated by persecution and out of touch with the masses"Others, the most violent of all in their proposals, were police spies.  Others again represented the new theories of "anarchist communism".  But resolutions were passed accepting "propaganda by deed" as a useful method ...' 

The Spanish delegate returned to Madrid, but Brenan writes that the violent methods proposed in London were not suited to Spain:
'Spaniards lived then at a great distance from the rest of Europe.  Besides, anarchism had still a large following.  Under such conditions terrorist  action was madness and would not find any encouragement among the workers.  The new Regional Federation had in any case no need to appeal for violent methods.  Its progress during the first year or two of its existence was rapid.  A Congress held in Seville in 1882 represented some 50,000 workers, of whom 30,000 came from Andalusia and most of the rest from Catalonia.'

Compared to the Spanish anarchist movement from the 19th century onwards to the present day, the movement in this country appears as an half-baked hole-in-the-corner affair that has little or no popular support.  There was a brief flowering of interest in the 1960s; during the time that the peace movement was growing there was a knock-on effect on the anarchists and those who identified with left-wing libertarianism.  This had an impact and the publication 'Anarchy', edited by Colin Ward, gained some influence among academics and intellectuals.  The peaceful direct action of the Committee of 100 also suited the libertarian left and it briefly entered the life-blood of British culture before it was submerged again by the activities of the Angry Brigade in the 1970s.

Our free association with the NAN (Northern Anarchist Network) is based on a belief that it has been an open forum that seeks to include libertarians and applies its ideas to everyday life situations, rather than indulging in political panaceas and mixing with smelly little orthodoxies.   Many of the people who call themselves 'class struggle anarchists' can't comfortably talk to genuine working folk, and as Orwell said many who proclaim themselves for rural collectives wouldn't know a White Leghorn hen or Anglo-Nubian goat if they saw one:  The only time I saw such distinguished Manchester militants as Mr. and Mrs. Miller on a picket-line was in 2004 at the Manchester Arndale, when they wanted to pass through the blacklisted electricians to get their car.  But they are not unique in this the British left in general is a fag-end affair and not worth much serious consideration. 
Fortunately, as Jim Pinkerton once said 'anarchism doesn't depend on the "anarchists" anymore than Christianity depends on the Christians'

David Goodway in his book 'Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow', writing about art critic Herbert Read:
'After remarking that in coming out for anarchism he had "forfeited any claim to be taken seriously as a politician" and excluded himself from "the main current of socialist activity in England", Herbert Read continued:  "But I have often found sympathy and agreement in unexpected places, and there are many intellectuals who are fundamentally anarchist in their political outlook, but who do not dare to invite ridicule by confessing it".'

George Orwell's practical and political experiences during the Spanish Civil War persuaded him that at least the Spanish and Catalan anarchists were worth taking seriously though he seems to have been somewhat less impressed with the English anarchists and libertarian friends he knew.  Northern Voices annoys many people on the left in this country because it takes an independent line, and doesn't shy from attacking anarchists and socialists when we believe they behave badly.  Anyone decent person who doesn't agree with us can always write to us and complain as the brother of Cyril Smith did some years ago, and we will publish their complaint as we did with Norman Smith.  Otherwise the danger is, as Sarah Wise wrote, we will forever see the great British public forever 'relegating Anarchy to the lunatic fringe of British politics - an exile from which it has yet to return.'

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