Thursday, 2 July 2015

Colin Ward, Class Struggle & Everyday Life

Approaches to Our Philosophical Enterprise
HOW do the methods of those of us who are the anarchist critics of the current collective in control of Freedom Press, differ from theirs in reality?  We critics of those who may now portray themselves as the 'anarchist mainstream', are indeed a mixed bunch:  from historians, anthropologists, sociologists, to trade unionists; teachers; electricians; a former bin-man; social workers; a retired make-up artist; peace activists; university lecturers; the editor of Northern Voices and the editor of Anarchist Voices, some of us who would identify with 'class struggle', others who wouldn't.  Within the realm of contemporary anarchism the prolific writer Colin Ward has been utilised by some of us to distinguish our distinctive position and methodology, from those who circumstances have brought us into conflict.
Our approach, so far as I understand it, and others among us may have a different view, is one of grappling with the problems of everyday life from within, while I feel those who would see it differently would want to impose a set of values on society from outside.  The ethnomethodologists used to disparagingly dismiss this approach as the 'cookbook method' of seeking inert recipes to force into place. 
To give justice to the Freedom Collective* and people like Nick Heath of A.F. and Iain McKay of Black Flag, let  me readily admit that their position is common in the Western tradition of thought, and Raymond Plant in his book 'Modern Political Thought', wrote:
'Plato reflected... on the confusions and contradictions of conventional morality in Athens and felt compelled by that confusion to seek a form of society in which humans could properly flourish on the basis of a set of values which transcended the everyday world, the Forms and Ideas.  These to be known only to the philosopher.  The task of political theory there was to redeem the everyday world by leaving it behind and identifying a set of values which could found society on a different and more secure basis.'
This seemingly is the approach of most Marxists today, and some anarchists like McKay and Heath, who broadly speaking adopt the same idea of how to transform societies.  Michael Walzer has argued in his book 'Sphere of Justice' that this approach can't be the foundation for practical reasoning about values, and he offers us the two contrasting viewpoints:
'One way to begin the philosophical enterprise – perhaps the original way – is to walk out of the cave, leave the city, climb the mountain, fashion for oneself (what can never be fashioned by ordinary men and women) an objective and universal standpoint....  But I mean to stand in the cave, in the city, on the ground.  Another way of doing philosophy is to interpret to one's fellow citizens the world of meanings that we share.  Justice and equality can conceivably be worked out as philosophical artifacts, but a just or egalitarian society cannot be.  If such a society isn't already here – hidden as it were, in our concepts and categories – we shall never know it concretely or realise it in fact.'
This last sentence could well have been written by the distinguished anarchist writer (formerly one of the Friends of Freedom Press**) Colin Ward.  It seems to some of us that the theoreticians who are now dominating on the left, and among the contemporary anarchists, do not accept that we don't need yet another set of values to buck-up society, but rather, we need to throw into relief the values and local knowledge that are already embedded inside our localised way of life.  It is our dedication to the work of being embedded inside the ethos of the everyday that distinguishes our methodology and concern for social transformation from that of those who, even though they may call themselves 'anarchists', would try to impose an inert set of values upon society.

*    The day-to-day managers of Freedom Press.
**  The trustees of Freedom Press.

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