There are still thousands of anarchists scattered thinly over many countries of the world. There are still anarchist groups and anarchist periodicals, anarchist schools and anarchist communities. But they form only the ghost of the historical anarchist movement, a ghost which inspires neither fear among governments nor hope among people nor even interest among newspapermen. Clearly, as a movement anarchism has failed. In almost a century of effort it has never even approached the fulfillment of its great aim to destroy the state and build Jerusalem in its ruins. During the past forty years the influence it once established has dwindled, by defeat after defeat and by the slow draining of hope, almost to nothing. Nor is there any reasonable likelihood of a renaissance of anarchism as we have known it since the foundation of the First International in 1864; history suggests that movements which fail to take the chances it offers them are never born again.
So I wrote seven years ago in a book called Anarchism which was largely a reckoning with my own youth. For more than a decade, from the early 1940's to the early 1950's, I had served my radical time working with anarchist groups in Britain, France, the United States; I was for a time an editor of the British anarchist papers, War COMMENTARY and Freedom; my magazine Now was the main organ of the literary anarchists who gathered around Herbert Read and Alex Comfort during the 1940's; I contributed regularly to Dwight Macdonald's Politics when Dwight too considered himself an anarchist; I compiled a jejune manual of anarchist tenets (Anarchy or Chaos), as narrowly sectarian as a Trotskyite tract, which Kenneth Rexroth used as a text in his pre-beat gatherings of San Francisco poets during the late 1940's; I was considered unpleasant enough by the State Department to be refused an immigration visa in 1955, a good four years after I had abandoned any kind of connection with organized anarchism. Whether in the changed circumstances of the 1960's that ban still holds I cannot say. My pride has not let me test it again, and in any case I feel it is primarily the business of Americans if their regulations mean that, alone among the frontiers of the world, a libertarian finds those of the United States and China closed against him.
During that decade of activity in the dwindling rump of the historic anarchist movement, I received a sustained exposure to the ideas of a series of libertarian thinkers, from 17th-century Winstanley through Godwin and Proudhon down to Sorel and Kropotkin, which I have found a lasting gain; I received also an education in the history of the labor movement somewhat different from that of the average Old Leftist, since it was sharply critical of Marx, and this I have found invaluable in assessing reactionary developments in socialist and Communist countries, which seem to surprise others far more than they do me; I met some intelligent people, of whom a few were charming and one was beautiful, and some of them are still my friends.
But I also lived at that time in the atmosphere of dense and parochial fanaticism which is characteristic of the remnants of dying movements. I watched bitter factional feuds over minor points of anarcho-syndicalist doctrine which history had in any case made irrelevant; I even took part in them. I witnessed, with a horrified excitement, one group of English anarchists turning bandits and carrying out an armed raid to raise funds; the victims were not wicked capitalists, but other anarchists with whom the raiders had quarreled over the ownership of a printing press, and whose code of honor they knew would not allow them to report the raid to the police. And I found myself agreeing more and more (against my will) with George Orwell, whom I met at this point and who—despite his own libertarian tendencies—pointed out the danger that anarchist intolerance might create a moral dictatorship which would imperil the very freedom for which anarchists claimed to fight. I knew already that within anarchist groups pressures to orthodoxy of belief existed; the more dedicated a militant, the more priggish and intolerant he was likely to be. I felt the infection touching me, knew it would probably ruin me as a writer, and stepped aside to become a free-wheeling radical of my own kind. I have never been forgiven, particularly by those who fawned most upon me when I was a young and promising writer who also appeared to be a true believer. But that is nothing exceptional; it is the experience of all intellectuals who became involved, in whatever direction, with the sects of the Old Left.
The distinction I have emphasized—between what I gained positively from studying the writers and the history of the generative period of anarchism, and what I wasted in time and energy (though perhaps not finally in experience) by becoming too deeply involved with the conservators of a movement which had lost its relevance because it lost its constituency among the peasant and artisan masses of the Latin and Slav countries—is closely related to a point I made in Anarchism, where, after tolling a knell for old-line forms of anarchist organization, I went on to say:
Here of course we must distinguish between the historical anarchist movement that sprang from the efforts of Bakunin and his followers, and the anarchist idea which established it. The idea, in various forms and under various names, was alive more than two centuries before the historical movement began, and since ideas are more durable than organizations and causes, it is possible that the theoretical core of anarchism may still have the power to give life to a new form under changed historical circumstances.
And later, as I moved into the last page of my book, I found “a purpose and a function” which anarchism may possess in the modern world.
If human values are to survive, a counter-ideal must be posed to the totalitarian goal of a uniform world, and that counter-ideal exists precisely in the vision of pure liberty that has inspired the anarchist and near-anarchist writers from Winstanley in the 17th century. Obviously, it is not immediately realizable, and since it is an ideal, it will probably never be realized. But the very presence of such a concept of pure liberty can help us to judge our condition and see our aims; it can help us to safeguard what liberties we still retain against the further encroachments of the centralizing state; it can help us to conserve and even enlarge those areas in which personal values still operate; it can help in the urgent task of mere survival, of living out the critical decades ahead until the movement of world centralization loses its impetus like all historical movements, and the moral forces that depend on individual choice and judgment can reassert themselves in the midst of its corruption.
Anarchism, published in 1962, has enjoyed a modest continuing popularity, with editions appearing in Italy, Sweden, now Japan, which I suspect has had as much to do with the fortunes of the doctrine it discusses as with the book's own merits. For anarchism, as a doctrine rather than as a movement, has had a revival during the last few years of the kind I thought possible. The old revolutionary sect has not been resurrected, but in its place has appeared a moral-political movement typical of the age. The development began about a year after my book appeared, but that particular link is accidental.
Let me begin with facts. One reached me only recently. A political science teacher in a Canadian university wrote me of the curious results of a quiz on political preferences which he had given to the 160 students in his class on Contemporary Ideologies. Ninety of them chose anarchism in preference to democratic socialism (which came next with twenty-three votes), liberalism, Communism, and conservatism. Most of the voters seemed as square as students run in the late 1960's; only a small minority were overt hippies or New Leftists.
That was a fact for December, 1967. Part of its background was of course the unparalleled academic interest in anarchism during the past decade. Since 1960 more serious and dispassionate studies of anarchism have appeared than during the preceding sixty years of the century; apart from my own book, these have included James Joll's excellent The Anarchists,1 and some very good paperback anthologies of key libertarian texts, of which the best is probably that edited by Irving Horowitz, which is also called The Anarchists.2 (The French have been somewhat ahead of us in this; Jean Maitron's definitive Histoire du mouvement anarchiste en France appeared in 1955, and the first excellent volume of the never-completed Histoire de l'anarchie, by Alain Sergent and Claude Harmel, in 1949.)
The interest of historians is sometimes the equivalent of a death certificate. All is safely past and ended and can be entombed in books without the fear of a knock in the coffin. The interest of the press, on the other hand, is usually a sign of life in the subject, and during the past few years anarchism has been popping in and out of newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic because of the new role it has been playing as an element in contemporary youth movements.
I first became aware of this trend in 1963, when newspaper accounts began to reach me describing the Easter demonstrations in London, following on the annual Aldermaston march against nuclear armament. I read that behind the banner of the London Anarchists five hundred young men and women marched twenty abreast. “The London Anarchists came ringleted and bearded and pre-Raphaelite,” enthused one reporter. “It was a frieze of non-conformists enviable in their youth and gaiety and personal freedom.” In the 1940's the anarchists in London had not taken part in street demonstrations for fear of revealing the smallness of their numbers; we. would have thought ourselves lucky to assemble fifty behind the tattered red-and-black which had been preserved from Spanish Civil War days, and half of these would have been veterans—now dead—who bored one with reminiscences of Kropotkin and Edward Carpenter. And nobody would have talked of us as enviable in our gaiety. The Old Left was solemn through and through. At parties we might take down our unringleted hair, but in public we were as earnest as any of the steel-toothed Trotskyites with whom we competed to sell a few dozen papers every Sunday at Marble Arch.
Perhaps, I began to think as I read of those hundreds of gay comrades, perhaps I had been rash in so officiously burying the historic anarchist movement. But this was in fact no knock in the coffin. The anarchists of the 1960's were not the historic anarchist movement resurrected; they were something quite different, a new manifestation of the idea.
The anarchists of the 1940's were bellicose barricaders, dreaming inoffensively of the violent overthrow of the state, and identifying themselves with the great assassins like Ravachol and Emile Henry as a hearth cat might imagine himself a lion. Only a minority of us followed the pacifist revolutionary line and, provided we were allowed an occasional say in Freedom, we did not obtrude our point of view. The tradition of Bakunin and the syndicalist cult of romantic death still hung too heavily over the movement; our yesterday was Spain.
In 1963, it was evident, things had changed. The new anarchists who marched ringleted and pre-Raphaelite had forgotten Spain and had no use for the old romanticism of the dynamitero and the pétroleuse. They were militant pacifists. They represented a trend which had appeared from outside Old Anarchism. It had come into being through radical protest drives against nuclear warfare like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Committee of 100. Among the leaders of the Committee of 100, in particular, were older libertarians, unorthodox anarchists like Herbert Read, Alex Comfort, and the pacifist activist, Laurie Hislam. Within the Committee and its groups of supporters grew up a philosophy of direct action and defiance of the state which created anarchists without traditions, and in the English provinces especially scores of small groups sprang up and maintained largely autonomous existences; their anarchism was pacifist in nature, and concerned itself little with the dogmatic disputes of the past. Glancing through the announcement columns of Freedom in 1967, one realizes these groups are still numerous and widely scattered, representing many times the number of individual supporters the anarchists could muster twenty years ago.
One of the great sustaining influences on this youthful neo-anarchist movement in Britain has been the intellectual quarterly, Anarchy, edited for the past seven years by Colin Ward. Anarchy has kept a level higher than that of any anarchist magazine I know of since the French 1890's, escaping from old ideological disputes to discuss practical radical approaches to a great range of current problems; its contributors have included men as various and vital as Colin MacInnes, Alan Sillitoe, Alex Comfort, Paul Goodman, Maurice Cranston; it has been influential in the universities, where mushroom anarchist magazines have also been founded in many places by the students, usually going out of existence after a few issues, but giving expression in the meantime to the local form of the general ferment.
All this (hundreds of new anarchists marching through London, one good durable magazine, a lot of ephemeral ones) might seem to mean very little if Britain's reborn anarchism had not lost the holy isolationism of the past, and become allied with all the radical youth trends in present-day Britain, which it influences by its libertarian approach. Thirty years ago in Britain the leaders of the community were shocked when sons and daughters joined the Communists (the present poet laureate among them, singing “Why do we all, seeing a Communist, feel small?”); today one is more likely to hear a sigh of resignation when young David or Sybil comes home to announce that he or she has become an anarchist. Mark the change. Becoming rather than joining. A change of heart rather than a party ticket. That is how the young tend to see their revolutionism, with a stress on feeling and faith that would have aroused derision among past ideologists.
Britain is not the only country where, in a loose way, the new anarchists maintain a link with the remnants of the old Anarchist Left. In Holland the Provos, rebels against the welfare state who have stirred smug Amsterdam to the depths of its canals with their demonstrations, happenings, and occasional riots, are frankly anarchist in orientation, paying tribute to the Dutch pacifist anarchists of the past (Domela Nieuwenhuis and Bart de Ligt), and giving revolutionary doctrines a new twist so that the despair at ever attaining the libertarian paradise becomes in its own way a weapon, to be used in goading governments into showing their most brutal faces. The weak provoke; the strong unwillingly expend themselves.
Through provocation [says one Provo manifesto] we force authority to tear off its mask. Uniforms, boots, helmets, sabers, truncheons, firehoses, police dogs, tear gas, and all the other means of suppression they have lined up for us, must be produced. The authorities must be forced to rage, threatening us right and left, commanding, forbidding, condemning, convicting. They will become more and more unpopular and the popular spirit will ripen for revolution. A revolutionary feeling will once again be in the air: crisis.
A crisis of provoked authority.
Such is the gigantic provocation we call for from the International Provotariat.
In North America, in all the kaleidoscope of New Radical organizations, with names compounded of initials impossible to remember, there is no such obvious revival of anarchism as one finds in Britain and Holland. But only if one seeks explicit statements or anarchistic loyalties. In practice many observers regard anarchism as an important and central element in the pluralistic spectrum of New Radical thought. Probably the best study of the movement from the inside is Jack Newfield's A Prophetic Minority,3 and Newfield has no hesitation at all in placing anarchism, with pacifism and socialism, as one of the three basic influences on the New Left. Sometimes the influence becomes a long but concentrated beam stretching across centuries: that of 17th-century Winstanley, for example, on the modern Diggers. In general, however, it is hard to find North American New Radicals who have read an anarchist classic as recent as Kropotkin's Mutual Aid or Memoirs of a Revolutionist, though many have read that surviving but untypical Old Anarchist, Paul Goodman. In general, the basic ideas of anarchism, like those of traditional socialism and pacifism, have come down to the New Radicals (that generation of voluntary semi-literates) not through direct reading, but in a kind of mental nutrient broth of remnants of the old ideologies which pervades the air of certain settings in New York, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Montreal. But the key tenets that have been on anarchist lips for generations are there: the rejection of the state, the abandonment of the comfortable in favor of the good life, direct action, decentralization, the primacy of the functional group, participation.
Where neo-anarchists—avowed or unavowed—flourish, one notices at least two important differences from the Old Anarchists in their heyday. The historic movement that died in Barcelona sprang from the poorest classes, the illiterate and wretched peasants of Andalucia and the Ukraine, the hard-run French and Lombard factory workers of the turn-of-the-century, the marble cutters of Carrara, dock-workers of Ancona, watchmakers of the Jura; a few aristocrats (Bakunin and Kropotkin), unfrocked parsons (Godwin and Nieuwenhuis), and working-class intellectuals (Proudhon and Weitling) were among their leaders; neo-Romantic painters and poets (Courbet and Pissarro and Signac, Octave Mirbeau and Oscar Wilde) skirmished on their flanks. Now the conscience-stricken noblemen and priests have been replaced by the conscience-stricken middle class, and these, with the vastly increased bohemian contingent, have almost completely displaced the old anarchist constituency of the peasants and the poor.
Six years ago the British anarchist magazine Freedom conducted a survey of the backgrounds of its readers. Out of 457 who answered the questionnaire, forty were engaged in industry, but of these six were managers. Twenty-three worked on the land, but eight ran their own farms and holdings and one was an estate manager. Nineteen worked in communications and transport. And that—15 per cent when one had counted out the managers and owners—was about the total of those who belonged to the traditional groupings of workers and peasants. On the other hand, there were fifty-two teachers, thirty students, twenty architects, sixteen journalists and writers, twenty-three in the arts and entertainments, twelve in the book trade, twenty-five in scientific research and twenty-five in health and welfare; forty, finally, in various administrative and clerical posts. The preponderance of white-collar workers was striking. So was the predominance of youth. Anarchists in the 1940's included a high proportion of the elderly, but of this batch in 1962, 65 per cent were under forty, and if the count were taken again now it would show an even higher proportion. Even more significant was the stronger class shift among the young. 45 per cent of those over sixty were working-class, as against 23 per cent of those in their thirties and 10 per cent of those in their twenties. The new anarchists in Britain—and this applies as much to the Provos in Holland and the New Radicals in the United States—are a movement of dissident middle-class youth.
The historic anarchist movement was strongest in countries which, apart from France, were technologically and socially backward and where authority took on a reactionary and half-feudal form. The new anarchism, on the other hand, is strongest in countries where the state has assumed a bland welfare face, and where its pervading influence on daily life rather than its brutality affronts the young.
Perhaps, in this situation, the failures of anarchism, splendid and comic as they have variously been, speak in its favor. Anarchism can claim, almost alone among modern ideologies, the equivocal merit of never having really been tried out. Not having come to power, it was never discredited in power, and in this sense it presents an untarnished image, the image of an idea which, in practical terms, has had nothing but a future. Success has not sullied it, and with the young in their present mood this is a unique and powerful advantage. “Flowers for the rebels who failed,” the Old Anarchists used to sing. The flowers are descending on their successors.
Though its ideas were originally framed in situations totally different from those in which the young of today find themselves, anarchism—with its cult of the spontaneous—has always shown a strikingly Protean fluidity in adapting its approach and methods to special historical circumstances. Winstanley in Civil-War England concentrates on direct action to cultivate the wastelands; Godwin at the height of the Enlightenment interests himself in the spread of discussion groups; Proudhon works through the pioneer credit unions (his People's Banks); Bakunin's romantic insurrectionism is balanced by Kropotkin's scientific-sociological approach, from which arose some seminal insights on the relations between town and country, industry and agriculture; the tragically flamboyant gestures of the Terrorists in the 1890's gave place to the syndicalists' myth of the regenerative general strike; the Andalucian peasants in the early months of the Spanish Civil War set up communes of idyllic and altruistic simplicity. The means were always fluid, adapting to changing social norms, but always keeping close to the ground, to the ideal of a society deep at the roots, and always keeping away from ordinary politics, away from power.
None of these specific phases of the anarchist past seems to matter greatly to the New Anarchists; unlike their predecessors, they do not have the historic urge which loved to relive past battles and to dwell on what birds might lodge on the libertarian family tree between Zeno and Sir Herbert Read. What mainly concerns them in ideas is applicability to their own situation, and here anarchism certainly seems to have a great deal to give them.
Consider that situation. They are in full revolt against a society dominated by material goals, by established power. They are facing—perhaps more realistically than their elders—the great revolution which automation will wreak within a few years on our concepts of the dignity and necessity of toil; they see at the same time that the world which provides material security and leisure for tens of millions, leaves—even in North America—other millions in poverty and alienation, to which there appear at present no certified cures. They see the most condemned war in their country's history being fought in their name and, for many of them, with their blood. But they cannot even applaud unreservedly the other side, since only the most naively gullible among them believe that the Vietcong is really better than its enemies. They see the traditional great American and Canadian parties concerned with despicable goals of power and material reward. They revolt against the hierarchic institutionalization of revolutionism by the Old Left, which is why, despite the fantasies that crowd the mind of J. Edgar Hoover, the Communists have never made any appreciable headway among them. They see the unions concerned almost wholly with money; labor radicalism is dead, and its one great manifestation in the American past revives for a grotesque and ghostly Sabbath each year when the few surviving veterans of the IWW gather to shout old slogans at the annual convention in Chicago and to sing old songs of defiance to an unlistening world.
What the anarchist tradition has to give the radical young is perhaps, first of all, the vision of a society in which every relation would have moral rather than political characteristics. The anarchist believes in a moral urge in man powerful enough to survive the destruction of authority and still to hold society together in the free and natural bonds of fraternity. Recent events—the civil-rights campaigns, the revolts in the Negro ghettos, the behavior of have-not countries toward their prosperous benefactors—have shown that even in a materialist culture, non-materialist values will make an irrational but convincing clamor. The relations among men are moral in nature, and politics can never entirely embrace them. This the anarchists have always insisted.
Within such a non-materialist attitude they have posed, against the TUC and AFL-CIO drives to bring the workers into line materially with the rich, the ideal of a dignified poverty. Paul Goodman has written a great deal on this, but we should not forget those magnificently poetic passages of La guerre et la paix in which Proudhon draws the distinction between pauperism and poverty. Pauperism, he contends, is destitution; poverty is the state in which a man gains from his work just enough for his needs, and this condition Proudhon praises in lyrical terms as the ideal human state, in which we are most free, in which—masters of our senses and our appetites—we are best able to spiritualize our needs. In material terms anarchists have never asked for more than the sufficiency that will allow men to be free. One has only to read the moving accounts of Gerald Brennan and Franz Borkenau to realize how deeply the peasant anarchists of southern Spain felt their freedom; they were willing to give up not merely alcohol and tobacco, but even tea and coffee, so that their newly communized villages could escape more completely from the golden chains of the money system.
The great anarchists—and here I am not considering the embittered last-ditch defenders who represented the historic movement in the 1940's—laid a constant stress on the natural, the spontaneous, the unsystematic. For them individual judgment held primacy; dogmas impeded one's understanding of the quality of life. That life, they believed, should be as simple and as near to nature as possible. This urge toward the simple, natural way of life made men like Kropotkin urgently concerned over the alienation of men in modern cities and the destruction of the countryside, themes that are dear to New Radicals. The anarchists were ever conscious of the danger of rule by experts. Bakunin was frankly hostile to professional scientists. Even Kropotkin, scientist by training, stressed the great role of the amateur in scientific development, and when it came to the organization of a trade or a village or a city quarter to fulfill its material needs, he believed that responsibility should lie with those nearest to the problem. People must learn to make their own decisions. This strong sense of the appropriateness of those directly concerned deciding on all matters affecting them alone became the basis of Proudhon's federalism. He saw society organized in functional groups, industrial and social in character, in which people would decide what should be done at their place of work or their place of living; above these primary levels, and dependent always upon them, would be constructed—in the most loosely federal manner possible—the few national and international institutions that might be necessary. At every level the people would participate as widely as possible, but at the lowest level, in workshops and living areas, participation would be complete.
It is easy to see how such views may appeal to New Radicals today and, indeed, how far New Radical views derive half-consciously from those of the anarchist past. But perhaps the way in which the anarchists have most interestingly anticipated the preoccupations of the young today is in their concern over what they firmly believed would be the death of the relation between man and his work as we have known it. As long ago as 1793, writing his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (the first major anarchist text), Godwin foresaw with great accuracy the age of automation and forced leisure which today seems almost upon us.
At present, to pull down a tree, to cut a canal, to navigate a vessel requires the labor of many. Will it always require the labor of many? When we look at the complicated machines of human contrivance, various sorts of mills, of weaving engines, of steam engines, are we not astonished at the compendium of labor they produce? Who shall say where this species of improvement must stop? . . . The conclusion of the progress which has here been sketched is something like a final close to the necessity of human labor.
With a daring that seemed more astonishing 175 years ago than it does today, Godwin ventured the prophecy that one day man might have to work no more than an average of half an hour a day. The rest he could devote to the cultivation of his nature. Kropotkin, writing almost a quarter of a century later in The Conquest of Bread, was more cautious than his predecessor, merely making a suggestion whose fulfillment is now almost upon us in the Western world; the physical comfort of society might be assured, he ventured, if all men worked “five hours a day from the age of twenty or twenty-five to forty-five or fifty.” But Kropotkin also realized what is becoming steadily more clear to us today, that the small amount of work necessary in the near future will be of far less concern than the long hours away from the factory and the office. We are faced with the problem of what happens—to borrow phraseology from that other old libertarian, William Morris—when Useless Toil is eliminated and we have to find Useful Work. Kropotkin believed optimistically that when the problems of excessive toil had been solved, men would adjust themselves, creatively.
Man is not a being whose exclusive purpose in life is eating, drinking, and providing a shelter for himself. As soon as his material wants are satisfied, other needs, which generally speaking may be described as of an artistic nature, will thrust themselves forward. These needs are of the greatest variety; they vary in each and every individual, and the more society is civilized, the more will individuality be developed, and the more desires be varied.
So Kropotkin wrote in 1892. I think New Radicals today would see the problem in exactly the same way, though I doubt if many would be as optimistic.
To a great extent I still share many of the libertarian attitudes I have been describing, though I answer to no whip and accept no label. I am not seeking converts to them; my propagandist days are ended. But I am, as a historian, extremely interested in the phenomenon of a group of ideas, which only a decade ago seemed tied to the dying animal of a 19th-century working-class movement, but which today have taken on new company among the young and the middle class, and which seem to be giving the young at least some of the answers they want to the questions of the 60's.
I am also interested in the absence of some of the elements which were part of classic anarchism. There is no longer much talk of barricades and revolutionary heroism, and while “direct action” is a phrase continually on the lips of New Radicals, it means something very near to Gandhian civil disobedience, which Old Anarchists would despise ostentatiously. I believe all these changes are to the good, since they represent the liberation of useful libertarian ideas from many of those elements of the historic anarchist movement which its critics, with a degree of justification, condemned. The anarchists of the past were too much inclined, despite their fervent anti-Marxism, to accept the stereotypes of 19th-century left-wing thinking; the idea of the class struggle as a dominant and constructive force in society, the romantic cult of insurrectionism and terror, and even—though this they rarely admitted—a vision of proletarian dictatorship, particularly among the anarcho-syndicalists who envisaged a society run by monolithic workers' unions. Those who openly or unwittingly advocate anarchistic ideas today have mostly shed these outdated concepts, together with much else of the ideological baggage of the Old Left. The revolutionary tactics of Bakunin are as dead as if they were buried with him among the solid burghers of Berne. It is unlikely that we shall see the revival of a movement dedicated to pursuing them, however far libertarian ideas and impulses may spread among the young and influence their social and moral concepts.
As to the kind of society their efforts might lead to, the anarchists were never great utopians; they liked to keep the future flexible and felt that elaborate plans laid burdens on generations which had not made them. I am sure most New Radicals would agree. But there was nevertheless an unbending rigidity about one aspect of the Old Anarchist view of the future. It was a hard, no-compromise view; either the completely non-governmental society, or nothing at all. The Old Anarchists never came within light years of attaining such a goal; hence the glorious record of unsuccess which is now so much to anarchism's advantage.
Today I doubt if anyone in the West seriously believes in the possibility of creating a uniform society of any kind, and I suspect the Russians too are fast abandoning such a hope. We no longer think terminally, thanks paradoxically to the threat of nuclear destruction. The future is open-ended, open-sided, and as far as we can see ahead we are likely to be involved in pluralistic permutations that will embrace many philosophies, many institutional patterns, many nuances of approach.
The anarchists, in other words, will never create their own world; the free society of which they have dreamed is as pleasant and as remote a myth as the idyllic libertarian society William Morris portrayed in News from Nowhere. The material and social complexity of the modern world obviously precludes such simplistic solutions. But this does not mean that the ideas which have emerged within the libertarian tradition are—outside the context of an anarchist Utopia—irrelevant in the real world. Taken individually, as I have suggested, they often have a striking relevance to current problems. At the same time, it seems to me, they can only become useful if those who respect the positive aspects of anarchist thought are willing to make a number of radical admissions.
Classic anarchists—for instance—believed that the destruction of an authoritarian society must precede the creation of its libertarian successor. But history in the past fifty years has shown that the revolutionary destruction of an authoritarian society tends to create a more efficiently coercive society in its place. The liberalization of a society is, in fact, an evolutionary and not an apocalyptic process, and can only be attained by concentrating on piecemeal changes. These changes are to be attained not by rejecting all laws, since some restraints are manifestly necessary in any foreseeable future society, but by searching out those areas in which authoritarian and bureaucratic methods have manifestly failed or over-extended themselves, and by endeavoring to give practical application to libertarian concepts of decentralization, voluntarism, and direct participation in decision-making. Such an admission implies that it is time for those who still find some virtue in basic libertarian teachings to recognize that, despite the moralistic pretensions of past anarchists, anarchism has never been genuinely non-political; it has always represented politics carried out by other means; a recognition of this kind would free those who hold libertarian convictions to seek the social changes they think necessary within an existing political framework which, needless to say, is also changeable.
Finally, one must accept a more existential view of human nature than the historic anarchists upheld. They believed that—even if man was not naturally good—he was naturally social. Such an assumption presupposes impossibly ideal circumstances; given freedom and sufficiency and time to heal their psychic wounds, men would perhaps begin behaving with perfect sociability. But this, again, is a utopian vision, unlikely to be realized. We live in the present, where most men are probably better fitted for responsibility than the pessimists assume, and where a few are more chronically anti-social than the optimists wish to admit; this, impossible to define as it may be, is the only human nature we know from experience. We must therefore accept its existence, and limit anti-sociality where it impinges on the lives of others. Our aim should be to preserve as much freedom as possible for men as they are, rather than dream of a hypothetical total freedom for men as they at present are not.
What I have left, I can hear my old comrades complaining, is no longer anarchism. Perhaps not. But it is an attempt to bring the constructive insights of anarchist thinkers, too often neglected in the past because of the tactics they were wedded to, into a context where they may at last wield some positive and beneficial influence in the shaping of society. The fact that we are now thinking in political and social matters more openly and more pluralistically than in the past makes it possible for the ideas that emerged within the libertarian tradition to play a vital part in shaping, not an anarchist Utopia, but a world that will really exist as the product of the vast technological changes of our age. But this can only happen if, as Paul Goodman does so admirably, libertarians are willing to make their social criticisms and their proposals for reform relevant to our concrete and rapidly changing present and not to some idealized future.
1 Atlantic Monthly Press, 1965.
2 Dell, 1964.
3 New American Library, 1966.
There are still thousands of anarchists scattered thinly over many countries of the world. There are still anarchist groups and…
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