October 4, 2009

Armed But Not In The Old Way: Arguments for Welsh Syndicalism – Past and Future

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by Ted Parry 1999


It has become fashionable for ‘socialist’ and social-democratic elites, representatives and thinkers to deride emphatically egalitarian positions as ‘old’ and outmoded. This view is often accompanied by the belief that the contemporary world limits the policy options of governments and non-governmental organisations to those based upon the ‘free market’ as essential determinant of relative wealth (e.g. Perryman (ed.) 1994). Redistribution of wealth, and/or economic power, is seen as undesirable and impracticable. Behind these views is often the shadow of Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ argument (1992), which still holds currency despite the failure of the free markets which replaced ‘socialism’ in eastern and central Europe in 1989 and 1990, and the recent effects of those failures elsewhere.

The argument put here however is that an egalitarian tradition has existed which rejects both contemporary social democracy and revolutionary state socialism, and which can provide a guide to contemporary egalitarian thought and practice. That tradition is syndicalism, sometimes referred to as ‘industrial unionism’ or ‘industrial democracy’ depending on the facet of the philosophy to be emphasised. Some recognisably ‘Welsh’ developments of syndicalist thought will be argued to be indispensable to the renewal of such a tradition.

In ‘The Natures of Syndicalism and Welsh Syndicalism’ syndicalism will be defined. It will then be argued that the ‘Welsh’ manifestation of that philosophy, with its particular and unusual emphasis on the moral and educational aspects of revolutionary thought and activity, constituted a discrete philosophy. This philosophy will be referred to as ‘Welsh syndicalism’ to denote its similarity to, and difference from, syndicalism per se.

In ‘The Impacts of Welsh Syndicalism’ Welsh syndicalism will be argued, contrary to the arguments of K.O.Morgan (1995, p.442), and M.Woodhouse (1978, p.99) to have been a success, of sorts, in its own time; because it helped shift Welsh politics to the left for over half a century. The ‘pessimism’ through which Woodhouse analyses Welsh syndicalism, and his conclusion that its demise had the inevitability of ‘Greek tragedy’ (1978, p.99, p.103) will be answered, as will K.O.Morgan’s case that The Miners Next Step, the classic exposition of Welsh syndicalism, was a ‘step too far’.

In ‘Welsh syndicalism, the Contemporary World, and the Rebirth of Radicalism’ the usefulness of Welsh syndicalist ideas in the contemporary world will be argued. This will be done through the refutation of the ‘end of history’ arguments provided by Fukuyama (1992) and the philosophical/economic impossibility arguments against egalitarianism put by Popper, Hayek and others. Similarly, postmodernist/feminist notions of emancipation lying beyond the economic sphere and in confrontation with the ‘political economy of the sign’ (e.g. Baudrillard 1975) will be refuted, along with the message conveyed by some versions of feminism that class is not where inequality is most importantly confronted. The inadequacy of either Marxism per se, or individualistic anarchism, will be noted as a part of, and following these arguments. Comments will also be made about the present directions of politics and economics, and it will be contended that the tendencies noted are likely to favour the spread of Welsh syndicalist ideas.

Given the viability of even most of these arguments, the case for the usefulness of Welsh syndicalism will be established, and this shall be the claim of the conclusion. Far from being an ideology whose time and place is the past, the conclusion will remind the reader, once again, that the ideas of Welsh syndicalism can provide a basis for the renewal of radicalism that is necessary for the reinstatement and provision of economic and moral decency to millions.

The Natures of Syndicalism and Welsh Syndicalism

The Nature of ‘Syndicalism’

‘Syndicalism’ derives from the French ‘syndicat’, meaning ‘union’. However the syndicalist understanding of the union is a highly particular one. Unions are perceived not merely as devices for negotiation within the context of a capitalist society, but as a revolutionary society in embryo.

Were this the extent of syndicalist thought however, then it would be little more than a version of Marxism. Rather, it includes the anarchist contempt for the state and hierarchy, and is therefore commonly referred to as anarcho-syndicalism (Rocker 1989). Thus, despite perceiving the union as the germ of the future society, revolutionary syndicalists were seeking to make their union more egalitarian as a preface to remaking the world through union power.

Due to the twin emphases on unionism and decentralisation, syndicalism (largely) eschewed parliamentary politics of any sort, maintaining that it was the industrial battleground which was the decisive one in the class war, and that ‘politics’ was a distraction. The economic action therefore preferred was, due to these emphases, necessarily ‘spontaneous’ – uniting the working classes without a centralised or dictatorial structure. Unions which adopted syndicalism consequently tended to focus on what George Sorel called the ‘revolutionary myth’ of the General Strike (1915). The aim of the General Strike, it was predicted, would be become clear to the striking classes through action alone, although syndicalist thought, like Marxism per se, refuses to define the future society in detail. However, a clear aim would be to realise direct control, by the workers themselves, over their own industries – in contradistinction to the seizure of the state and consequent ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ envisaged by orthodox Marxism (e.g. Lenin 1977, pp.82-87). The state, for syndicalism, would not become better with revolution; it would disappear.

Within this body of belief was a greater rejection of socialist orthodoxy again. The rejection of rationality alone as an epistemological basis for a philosophy made syndicalism revolutionary even in relation to other revolutionary philosophies. O’Connor notes that:

In contrast with Marxism, which claimed to be ‘scientific’ and value-free, syndicalism cultivated a moral, intuitive dynamic. This is most heretical, and most original quality, that it sought to be both a moral and materialist ideology.

(O’ Connor 1988, p.6)

Thus syndicalism can be summed up as an ideology which seeks direct workers’ control through the mechanism of the revolutionary union, against state, political parties, capitalists, and bureaucratic leadership, and with the philosophical weapons of both ‘will’ and ‘reason’.

The Nature of Welsh Syndicalism

In the South Wales Coalfield these ideas started to become influential around 1908. This occurred for several reasons. Some were economic, as John Williams argues strongly (Williams 1997, pp.214-237), but this in isolation is an insufficient explanation for radicalism, and especially not for any kind of radicalism in particular. For example, a rapid decline in living standards helped radicalise the unemployed during the 1920s and 1930s; but not in the 1980s – it takes more than simply immiseration to have such an effect. The economic explanation is only a useful one if supplemented by the effects of some foreign workers already fervently espousing anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist beliefs (Francis and Smith 1998, pp10-11), and, probably more importantly, by the inspiration presented by the miners who received union-sponsored education at Ruskin College or the Central Labour College before returning to become checkweighers in the mines they had left. One of those miners was a man who, insofar as it could be said that any one person did, was to epitomise Welsh syndicalism, and whom K.O.Morgan describes as “the one original thinker Wales has produced in the last hundred years” (1995, p.209) – Noah Ablett.

As noted above, Welsh syndicalism included close affinities with, and notable differences from, syndicalism as it was thought and practised elsewhere. The affinities can be seen in that Welsh syndicalism included (to a point) the elements of syndicalist thought as listed above. The differences lie in what will be referred to here as the ‘moral critique of leadership’, the (implied) development of anti-statism which it provides, the emphasis placed upon education rather than spontaneity as revolutionary method, the particular understanding of what is meant by ‘the union’, the ‘irritation strike’ (Unofficial Reform Committee 1991, p.18), the ideas Woodhouse refers to as ‘encroaching control’ (1978, p. 92), and the subtle approach to ‘decentralisation’. Of these divergences and developments from syndicalism per se, it is the moral critique of leadership and the concept of education as revolutionary method which will be marked out as most significant in conclusion.

The moral critique of leadership is summarised in The Miners’ Next Step, when it is stated that:

No man was ever good enough, or brave enough, or strong enough, to have such power at his disposal as true leadership implies.

(Unofficial Reform Committee 1991, p.16)

Following and extending Lord Acton’s epigram that “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, The Miners’ Next Step extends the criticism of leadership to its corrupting influence on the leaders their almost inevitable transference of their loyalties to those who also hold power, as here:

‘They, the leaders, become “gentlemen”, they become Members of Parliament and have considerable social prestige because of this power’…’they are “trade unionists by trade” and their profession demands certain privileges’… ‘the leader then has an interest – a vested interest – in stopping progress.’ (Unofficial Reform Committee 1991, p.19)

This criticism is further extended to the corrupting influence leadership has on the led, as here:

This power of initiative, this sense of responsibility, the self-respect which comes from expressed manhood, is taken from the men, and consolidated in the leader. The sum of their initiative, their responsibility, their self-respect becomes his. (Ibid.)

Thus the alienation which orthodox Marxism perceives to exist under capitalism, as a matter of economic science, and which syndicalism and anarchism perceive to exist in both political-economy and the state, is portrayed in Welsh syndicalism as all of these – but more importantly, as the inevitable result of the acceptance of any permanent hierarchy of power. However, the solution to this problem is not posited in Welsh syndicalism as the destruction of co-ordinating or leadership roles, as was the case, for example, in the anarcho-syndicalist movement in Spain (Maura 1971, pp.60-83). Rather it is seen to exist in the idea of “Workmen the ‘bosses’, ‘Leaders’ the servants” (Unofficial Reform Committee 1973, p.16), meaning that ‘leaders’ are to be given orders and to hold their positions only on as long as they carry out those orders. Further, the theoretical and practical emphasis laid upon workers’ education within Welsh syndicalism can be seen as a practical measure to ensure effective oversight by union members of leaders, and as a means to ensure that the union is never short of members capable of replacing them. Whilst this is an implicit, rather than an explicit, purpose of education, the connections of ideas appear clear.

Explicitly, education is approached as a method of organisation, recruitment, and propaganda for revolution, in a way which almost precisely corresponds to Gramsci’s later conception of a ‘war of position’ (Gramsci, 1986, p.235) in which the ‘organic intellectual’ would be a vital force (Gramsci, 1986, p.5, p.204).

Will Hay, writing for ‘The Industrial Syndicalist’ in 1910 provides a paradigmatic example. Noting the weaknesses of the South Wales Miners’ Federation at the time, he demands greater union militancy. However, he recognises that “Such new methods will need new men!” (Hay 1974, p.151). His solution to finding ‘new men’ was an education system which dealt with the “intricacies of the market, the cost of production, and the method of exploitation under which we suffer.” (Ibid, p.156). Those educated, and radicalised, under such a system, would use their “initiative” (Ibid.) to radicalise those around them.

Another prime, if unconscious, example of the educational awareness of Welsh syndicalists is provided in the arguments presented by them in the 1912 Trealaw Judge’s Hall debate:

If the miners with their friends, the transport workers, the dockers, and other workers, conceive that they are the exploited class producing all the wealth, then the means of emancipation are in their own hands, by consolidated effort. (Society for the Study of Labour History 1975, p.35, my italics).

The educational emphasis and conditional nature of Welsh syndicalist pronouncements show working-class intellectuals as creating not only an ‘objective’ understanding of class conflict, but also the need for active effort to create revolutionary will – far removed from the ‘spontaneity’ and understanding ‘through struggle’ which informed much continental syndicalism. In seeing education as a means to revolution in both the ‘rational’ and ‘romantic’ sphere then, it could be argued that the theoretical reach of it is taken further in Welsh syndicalism than even in Gramsci’s later works. It should be further noted that the role of the 1908 Ruskin strikers, including several latterly prominent syndicalists, reflected precisely such an attitude; and that documents and articles such as The Miners’ Next Step, Industrial Democracy for Miners and others were themselves part of a consciously pedagogic strategy.

The state is an enemy for syndicalism in general due to the Marxian reasoning that it is a “committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” (Marx and Engels 1965, p.33), and the simultaneous rejection of the position that it could serve any essentially different role if controlled by socialists (Society for the Study of Labour History 1975). Welsh syndicalism accepts this analysis in toto, but also implies a rejection of the state on a deeper level, in its moral critique of leadership. The state is not only the tool and property of others as far as Welsh syndicalism is concerned, it is a corruption of human nature, castrating those who live under it, and alienating those who would control it from their peers. Nationalisation, industrial regulation, and state-sponsored arbitration are not flawed but vital movements towards socialism as perceived by state socialisms, but the spreading tentacles of bureaucratic and exploitative government. This is not to say that Welsh syndicalists completely rejected the use of such methods – but that they were to be only regarded as either ameliorative measures within an essentially immoral system, or as moves upon the battleground of the class war.

The Welsh syndicalist view of what is meant by ‘the union’ is simpler, being taken to refer to unions already in existence. Where the leading lights of the American Socialist Party and International Workers of the World argued for ‘dual unionism’ , being the establishment of radical unions in competition with existing reformist unions, Welsh syndicalism ruled out such methods. In practice its preparatory aim and method was largely radicalisation and structural change of the South Wales Miners’ Federation. However, it is doubtful whether the dual union/single union debate is particularly important for contemporary analysis. After all, attitudes to particular unions, and the choices available at a given time, are almost endless.

The concept of ‘encroaching control’ as revolutionary method, contrasts strongly with the sudden and violent general strike as anticipated (whether as ‘myth’ or reality) by most European syndicalists. Encroaching control is that:

…a continual agitation be carried on in favour of increasing the minimum wage, and shortening the hours of work, until we [the SWMF] have extracted the whole of the employers’ profits.

(Unofficial Reform Committee 1973, p.30)

… in order to;

…build up an organisation that will ultimately take over the mining industry, and carry it on in the interests of the workers. (Ibid.)

It will observed that this appears as a gradual and evolutionary process, rather than as the cataclysmic insurrection envisaged by other syndicalisms. One of the main debates about the value of Welsh syndicalism has been over how realistic this approach was, and this will be more fully addressed ‘The Impacts of Welsh Syndicalism’.

Finally, Welsh syndicalism’s sophisticated attitude to decentralisation can be seen in The Miners’ Next Step and elsewhere in the twin proposals “Decentralisation for negotiating” and “Centralisation for Fighting” (1973, p.18). Thus the whole power of the union is employed only over matters of principle, rather than merely local disagreements; whilst the lodge or union branch (which in the mining areas essentially was the workplace) is free to set local attitudes to all matters but for the final aim of the union as a whole.

Welsh syndicalism then, is a revolutionary philosophy of workers control, to be achieved through massed union power by primarily economic-industrial weapons. It has a withering critique of official leaders, but values the role of leaders and of working-class intellectuals in unofficial leadership and motivational capacities, and supports vehemently the importance of their education for specifically that role. Because of the moral rejection of official leaders, ‘political’ action is largely eschewed, as is the desirability of any form of state. Revolution, paradoxically, is to be an ‘evolutionary’ process. All of these attitudes were informed, like the whole international movement for workers’ control, by the twin philosophical motivators of intuition (or will) and reason; but, by virtue of its formalisation of the moral critique of leadership, it is possible to say that Welsh syndicalism represented an unusually cogent rehabilitation of the intuitive element of socialism. In its pedagogic attitudes, it sought also to further heighten the achievement of those elements dependent on reason. In ‘The Impacts of Welsh Syndicalism’ it will be argued that Welsh syndicalism was a success in its own time and beyond, insofar as its proponents practised and sought to practise it, and, naturally, with some small caveats.

The Impacts of Welsh Syndicalism

Explanations for the radical shift in Welsh politics, from the liberalism of the latter part of the Nineteenth Century to the broad socialism of the Twentieth Century, tend to be of two types. The first sees the change as structural, in which the vagaries of environment or global capitalism swept strange species of behaviour onto the previously passive beaches and valleys of Wales (e.g. John Williams 1997, pp.214-237). The second is the perception of the change occurring as a function of electoral campaigns and the role of individuals within them (Hopkin, in Jenkins and Smith (eds.) 1988, pp.161-182). Both arguments exemplify the belief that ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same’, and tend toward a picture of Wales which was only ever truly radical in rose-tinted myth, with change incremental at best, and where revolutionaries were far out of step with the working classes. The utility of either type of arguments per se will be addressed and dismissed.

Having established the inadequacy of structural and electoral-personal explanations for Wales radical shift, and that there was a radical shift, it will then be shown that Welsh syndicalism was a decisive factor in that process. The idea that Welsh syndicalism’s failure to achieve its most urgently stated aims was in some way inevitable will then be confronted. Finally in this section it will be established that many of the ideas of Welsh syndicalism were to play a major part in Wales (and beyond) long after the demise of any recognisable Welsh syndicalist movement. The simplistic criticism which ‘intellectuals’ of both ‘left’ and right have levelled at both the welfare state and state socialism – that they simply ‘didn’t work’ – will thus be rendered null and void as far as Welsh syndicalism is concerned, and there will be no further obstacles to addressing its potential in the contemporary world.

Much of the case against the structural explanations for the radical shift in Welsh politics during the early Twentieth Century has been dealt with in the comments above on the gaps left by Williams’s (1997, pp.214-237) economic explanation of radicalisation. Longer-term structural explanations would also be forced to face the problem of agency, as well as the fact that other locations with obvious similarities to the Wales of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries were never to be successfully radicalised to anything like the Welsh degree, even in purely electoral terms. Perhaps the clearest example is the United States after the demise of the Industrial Workers of the World as a mass phenomenon. Structural explanations for the Welsh radical shift must therefore be regarded as inadequate.

The electoral-personal argument, or suggestion of one, as given, for example, in Hopkin’s ‘The Rise of Labour in Llanelli’ (1988,pp.161-182) must be rejected also. Whilst it may be true to attribute some electoral results partly to the persistence or style of canvassers or candidates, it is not sufficient to explain the coalfield-wide shift in South Wales, nor can it explain why people were willing to be persuaded to change their vote – let alone why they so determinedly rebutted in practise the longstanding liberal idea of industrial ‘harmony’ in their day-to-day lives. Worse, this explanation simultaneously assumes that the ‘personal is political’, and that, to coin a phrase, the ‘political is [purely] electoral’ – thus combining two opposing conceptions of the political in one argument. Nor is it realistically possible to create a ‘synthesis’ of the structural and electoral-personal arguments unless the agenda-shaping role of agitators outside the [purely] electoral field is taken into account.

The picture of a non-radical Wales which emerges from these arguments must be dealt with independently however, especially in the light of the tonnage of paper dedicated to ‘reassessing’ the impact of revolutionaries in the shaping of Twentieth Century Wales, qua Woodhouse (1978, pp.92-109). This statement should perhaps be taken as indicative, from a historiographical view;

Historians who have puzzled over the persistence of ‘Tonypandy’ as legend and myth in the history of the Labour movement have been driven to re-examine the story by discarding the hindsight which has shaped our [sic] sense of ‘Tonypandy’ as part of an unfolding series of events. From this perspective the shock ‘Tonypandy’ administered to contemporaries, the longevity of its wider influence and the significance of the attached syndicalist doctrine becomes clear again. In some ways it is the sources themselves which blurred our vision and it is only through re-interpretation and comparison of different types of source material that the focus can be sharpened.

(Smith 1988, p.109, my italics)

On which side of the debate the ‘sources’ are likely to point is made clear in an interview quotation in Hywel Francis’s essay on oral history;

“In the movement we never kept anything you see. We worked from day to day…” (In Francis 1980, p.166)

Nor is it only some recent historiography which appears to demonstrate the ‘labour unrest’ of that time as a ‘shock’. The Times in 1912 ran a series on syndicalism and its threat, with the rationale that:

The existence of a strong Syndicalist movement can no longer be denied … Its rapid development has taken everyone by surprise, including both the older trade unionists and the socialists who have dominated them. (Quoted in Kirkaldy 1914, p.100)

Kirkaldy also noted with worry the publication of The Miners’ Next Step, quoting at length from it (Ibid, pp.110-111), signalling the prominence the Welsh syndicalist movement had amongst British syndicalism as a source of worry for liberal and conservative commentators of the time.

It is not sufficient of course to argue the power and promise of Welsh syndicalism by reference only to either the descriptive prose of modern historians, or the threat its enemies believed it to pose. To demonstrate fully that Welsh syndicalism had promise beyond its final achievements, and that it had a key role in Wales’ radical shift, it is necessary to provide a cogent answer to Woodhouse’s inevitable failure thesis and Morgan’s perception of The Miners’ Next Step as “a step too far”(Woodhouse 1978, Morgan 1995, p.442). It will then be necessary, to demonstrate that Welsh syndicalism played a key role in Wale’s radical shift, to note some flaws in the inevitable failure theses, and some of the longer-term impacts of syndicalism

The core of Woodhouse’s argument is that Welsh syndicalists “underestimated the significance of the state” (1978, p.93) in both theory and practice, with little conception of the state as armed and dangerous enemy – despite the fact that Welsh syndicalists own polemic against nationalisation used that very reasoning. A clear sign of this problematic is the strategy of ‘encroaching control’ being framed so as to virtually ignore the possibility of state intervention on the part of the employers. There is no strategy to combat massed police or troops, nor to use (or abuse) Parliament in order to delay, prevent, or capitalise upon, the use of state force. Without such strategies explicitly theorised and prepared, Woodhouse suggests, no revolutionary movement can expect success. The loss of the ‘decontrol battle’ of 1919 – 1921, and the concomitant ‘death’ of Welsh syndicalism, can thus be seen as inevitable, and even pre-ordained; as a ‘tragedy’ in the literary sense. (Woodhouse 1978, p.92).

Whilst Woodhouse’s case is a strong one, it fails to take into account some arguments which Welsh syndicalists would widely have taken as given, as well as the militancy developing from what Holton calls ‘proto-syndicalist’ (1976, p.132) attitudes through the coalfield from 1908. For all its distinctive nature, which has led to debates about whether their was such a thing as ‘Welsh syndicalism’ (e.g. Woodhouse 1978, Morgan 1995), Welsh syndicalism developed from syndicalist beliefs, and retained the traces of its past. Here for example, Hay ironically dismisses Sorel’s intellectualism, whilst making a clearly Sorelian point:

It is not the Sorels of the world that are important…it is Bill Jones on the firing line with stink in his clothes and fire in his heart. (Hay 1974, p.83)

Clearly then, the ideas which Sorel published in ‘Reflections on Violence’ (1915), were already well known within British syndicalism. Included within this canon was the proposition that the forces of reaction were essentially weak and frightened of violence, or even the threat of it. Along with this, his idea of the power of ‘myth’, would also have been influential, causing, perhaps, some of the arrogance which writers of the time perceived to characterise the Welsh ‘advanced men’ (see e.g. Egan 1985, pp.27-29). Thus what Woodhouse sees as essentially a theoretical omission can also be seen as a developed theoretical position. Nor will it do to presume as a given that the forces of reaction were not weak in some senses in the 1910-11 or 1919-1921 period, or that the power of ‘myth’ was inevitably too blunt a tool for the job – given the scale of those conflicts. However, one must question the will of Ablett, and of the Welsh syndicalist movement as a whole, in the willingness to recommend or accept ‘masterly inactivity’ (Woodhouse 1978, p.107), and in the absence of any explicit strategy for combatting state intervention. Further, it should be noted that the strategy of ‘encroaching control’, which Woodhouse maintains was discredited in the decontrol dispute, only a strategy applicable to private industry – and it was the industry’s return to the private sector which was what the dispute was about.

More important for Woodhouse’s case though is the contention that Welsh syndicalism could not command enough support to be a genuinely revolutionary movement, and was therefore always bound to fail. This is the same case that Morgan argues (1995, pp.442-449) – that, whilst intelligent, committed, and accomplished, the syndicalists of Wales were radically distant from the more pragmatic trade unionism of the people they thought were their comrades. Despite his sympathetic portrayal of Ablett, Morgan appears to suggest that Ablett and his like were somehow not ‘of’ the union (Morgan 1995, pp.117-121,442-449).

However, the length and militancy of the strikes of 1908, 1910-11, 1919-21 and later, should help to reassure us that the doctrine of class war was not heartily rejected by the miners of Wales. The (later) success of the irritation strike and the ‘stay-down’ strikes of the 1930s (Jenkins 1992, p.359), can also be traced back to ideas expressed in The Miners’ Next Step. Arthur Horner was later to comment that the men would ‘stay-down’ with a very minimum of provocation, and for long stretches, unless talked out of it by their union officials (Horner 1960). It is difficult to reasonably assert that such a readiness for irritation strikes was not at all influenced by the strategy of ‘encroaching control’. Further, many of now unremembered and barely-remembered men who organised and took part in later strikes, lock-outs and stay-down disputes later, or who spread their radicalism through adult education, or even parliamentary politics, could be seen to trace their personal radical shifts through the activities of the Unofficial Reform Committee, the Industrial Syndicalist Education League etc (Francis 1980, pp.171-172). For any group to have such a transformative effect even upon a few individuals, it is necessary for it to clearly understand the people with whom it is trying to communicate.

The radicalising effects of Welsh syndicalism up to the stay-down strikes of the 1930s have already been noted. The effects were broader and longer though. A significant part of the inspiration behind the politics of Bevan and others (Smith 1993) came from Welsh syndicalism, whether immediately or at one remove. Welsh syndicalists were to play a major role in radicalising industries and areas with which they are hardly synonymous, such as schoolteaching – precisely due to their educational emphases and consequent refusal to accept ‘brain workers’ as necessarily opposed to manual workers. (Lawn 1984, O’Leary 1985).

In this section then, we have seen that there was a radical shift in early Twentieth Century Wales; that neither structural nor electoral-personal arguments are sufficient to explain that shift; that a correct explanation must therefore offer significant credit to Welsh syndicalism. Those points established, it has been shown that Welsh syndicalism was not a subject of ‘inevitable failure’, and, indeed, that given its demonstrable role in the sustained radical shift in Wales in the Twentieth Century, there are grounds for arguing that it was in fact a success. In “Welsh Syndicalism, the Contemporary World, and the Rebirth of Radicalism” the case will be made that a philosophy taking central tenets of Welsh syndicalism is capable of providing the basis for a revived international revolutionary movement.

Welsh Syndicalism, the Contemporary World, and the Rebirth of Radicalism

In the previous sections Welsh syndicalism has been demonstrated to be a distinct ideology, and some of its key tenets have been explored. It has also been shown that Welsh syndicalism was a successful radicalising force in its own time – despite its revolutionary aims never being achieved. Further, we have seen that the revolutionary potential of Welsh syndicalism was never disproved, and was greater than some historians allow. In this final chapter Welsh syndicalism will be shown to; a) still be of consequence, b) have contemporary trends running in its favour, c) still provide achievable aims, and d) be ‘philosophically possible’.

In order to demonstrate these points it will first be useful to briefly posit once again the essential features of Welsh syndicalism, as established in “The Natures of Syndicalism and Welsh Syndicalism” and explored further in “The Impacts of Welsh Syndicalism”. To demonstrate a) – that “Welsh syndicalist aims are still of consequence” – it will be shown that the radical postmodernist position, positing emancipation lying in the rejection of the ‘code’ of the ‘political economy of the sign’ (Baudrillard 1975, pp.6, 106-163) is fatally flawed. Those versions of feminism that regard class as merely an ideologically constructed irrelevance will demonstrated incorrect also.

Point b) will be established, as far as is possible, by showing that state socialisms and free market conservatisms have discredited, or are discrediting,

themselves whilst unintentionally popularising notions central to Welsh syndicalism’s viability as a successfully radicalising ideology.

Point c) will be established by the refutation of the ‘end of history’ argument provided by Francis Fukuyama (1992), which posits that variations on globalising capitalism are the only possible significant futures, and that therefore revolutionary movements cannot provide any aim which is genuinely achievable.

Point d) will be established by answering the defining arguments of philosophical/economic critiques of egalitarianism per se, that no genuinely redistributive or non-pragmatic socialism is desirable or ‘philosophically possible’.

The Essential Features of Welsh Syndicalism – A Recap and Slight Expansion

Welsh syndicalism is a philosophy which identifies itself by a moral critique of the effects of hierarchy upon both masses and individuals. It accepts Marx’s argument that extraction of surplus value is the basis of capitalism, and therefore seeks to destroy capitalism by destroying surplus value. It seeks “common ownership of the means of production” through democratic and accountable unions, as opposed to through ‘the state’, as communists were to come to seek (e.g. Lenin 1977, p.84). It posits both intuition/will and reason as philosophical bases for political action, and/or political knowledge. It proposes workers’ education to develop initiative and understanding. It seeks improvement in pay and working conditions as important in the short term because of a genuine moral concern for the working-class standard of life, and in the long-term as moves in the class struggle. It marries faith in massed union action with a pronounced suspicion of bureaucratic leadership and officialdom.

  1. Why Welsh Syndicalism is Still of Consequence
  2. Syndicalism, anarchism, and Marxism all believe that capitalism oppresses and exploits classes and individuals, whether as a result of an impersonal economic dynamic, or a centralised state successfully restricting the right of the use of force to itself and its agents alone, or both. Further, all three maintain that the only means of disposing of the capitalism system is revolution – understood as a total change in the relations of production or power within a society – even if that revolution may be a ‘gradualist’ one such as Welsh syndicalism’s “encroaching control”; American anarchism’s communes and schools; Marx’s later approval of (some) parliamentary activity. In essence these three groups of beliefs hold in common an understanding that worthwhile change can only result from class war, whether it be, in Gramscian terminology, a “war of movement” or a “war of position” (1986, p.235). Whatever their many disagreements, none of these beliefs has held anything but a materially egalitarian social order as its fundamental aim.

    Since the late 1960s, however, radical philosophies have emerged which reject egalitarian thought outright, or posit that the battle for egalitarianism is not the fundamental one, and that habits of domination and exploitation and oppression are built into the structures of language and image through which we [fail to?] communicate (e.g. Baudrillard 1975). Postmodernism is the school of thought most obvious here, but some feminist analyses make similar criticisms of (most often) Marxism, and by implication, other egalitarian philosophies of class conflict such as anarchisms and syndicalisms. What shall be done here is to confront the inadequacy of some central points of these criticisms, especially as criticisms of egalitarian class conflict theories per se, rather than Marxism alone. Assuming that ‘radical’ critiques of class conflict are shown to be inadequate, then Welsh syndicalism must, along with other revolutionary theories of class conflict, provide aims relevant to the contemporary world. That is to say, it is still of consequence.

    Baudrillard is perhaps the radical postmodernist par excellence writing in the sphere of political economy. In “The Mirror of Production” (1975) he argues that Marx was a prisoner of his time and the mistaken scientism of the Nineteenth Century, causing Marx to see human beings as homo economus, in precisely the same way as did capitalist political economy. Having recognised these “errors” in Marx, Baudrillard proceeds to genuine radicalism by maintaining that it is not in economic production that our political economy is constructed in the contemporary world; but rather, following Galbraith’s analysis of the world of the late 1960s and early 1970s (Galbraith 1971), it is in the realm of monopoly capitalist consumption and manipulation. He further applies the semiotic work of Deleuze to demonstrate the social–linguistic construction of reality (Ibid, p.137, 147), arguing that in these circumstances what is of prime human consequence is the critique of the ‘political economy of the sign’ (op cit.), that is to say, how manipulation occurs within monopoly capitalism.

    Genuine radicalism then, for Baudrillard, lies in counter cultural ‘speech’ (op cit, p.163-167), and in the radical communication of marginalised groups within society, which he is at pains to exclude the working classes per se from (op cit., p.159). Genuine radicalism lies in a species of freedom before, beyond, and through, the ultimately meaningless and domination-reproducing discourses of revolution (Marxism in particular). The real revolution;

    …is here in all the energies that are raised against political economy. But this utopian violence does not accumulate; it is lost. It does not try to accumulate itself as does economic value in order to abolish death. It does not grasp for power. To enclose the “exploited” within the single historical possibility of taking power has been the worst diversion the revolution has ever taken. One sees here to what depths the axioms of political economy have undermined, pervaded and distorted the revolutionary principle. Utopia wants speech against power and against the reality principle which is only the phantasm of the system and its indefinite reproduction. It wants only the spoken word; and it wants to lose itself in it.

    (Baudrillard 1975, p.167)

    It would be too simple to criticise Baudrillard on the basis of his later comments, based upon the same methodological considerations he employs here, to the effect that the 1992 war in the Persian Gulf firstly would not happen, later that it did not happen, and that the only truly radical response to this vast non-event was a rejection of its existence except as an ideological fiction, as part of the ‘simulacra’, the ‘spectacle’, as a disembodied ‘images’ serving the ‘code’ (Norris 1992, pp.11-31). Tempting, but too simple, because in “The Mirror of Production” Baudrillard, whatever his later eccentricities, can clearly be seen to have every sympathy with the idea of some form of ‘revolution’. However, while such criticisms are not legitimate for our purposes here, the philosophy just summarised is fatally flawed in other ways. Several major points will be mentioned here, all of which are applicable to the political philosophy of other postmodernist thinkers.

    Most clear and most tragic, is the violence that this intellectual, pseudo-critical banter does to marginalised peoples. It is still the case that the richest in Western societies live far longer than the poorest. This gap in life expectancy is growing, rather than shrinking. It may be beyond us to ‘abolish death’, but to trade away life for the ‘lost’ ‘violence’ of ‘speech’ is intellectualism gone mad. Indeed, there is at least one cogent theorist who argues that the idea of ‘life’ and the inequality wealth causes in it, is justification for revolutionary action (Honderich 1980)

    Nor is this the only way in which Baudrillard and other radical postmodernists co-operate in the intellectual propagation of the system they purport to criticise. By rejecting enlightenment rationalism (whether idealistic or substantive) in the search for a semiotic unravelling of a barely-defined ‘political economy of the sign’, the ‘radical’ postmodernist is left with no ground from which to advocate the redistribution of wealth, and attacks those who would.

    Postmodernism also crucially underestimates human intellectual faculties, as individuals, communities, or indeed as classes, stemming at least partly from postmodernists’ failure to encounter their critics (Lash 1991, p.78). Much of the political foundation of postmodernism emerges from the contention that people are manipulated as passive individuals. Only thus can the anti-passive ‘speech’ of Baudrillard be regarded as revolutionary, or Foucault’s genealogies create positive action. Even the less body-as-passive writings of postmodernism assume that the essence of the human is not to act but to be acted upon. (Ibid, p.) People are not simply passive individuals though. There is at least one social scientist who maintains that, given minimal social input, we are genetically predisposed to create novel forms within language (Chomsky 1973, pp.167-186): what Baudrillard would call ‘speech’. If this is correct then Baudrillard’s ‘revolution’ is achieved for humans simply by being born.

    Nor is it true, whether humans are passive or not, to imagine them as individuals alone. Thus, were we to re-interpret the notion of ‘speech’, and to calculate its revolutionary effects over time or over geographical community or over class, then there is little reason to suspect that what we would end up with would not be Marxism or syndicalism or anarchism, being as, amongst other things, all these philosophies are aggregations of speech over time and against political economy. (That is to say that all of these traditions have stemmed from debates which presupposed the inherent falsity of political economy.) In failing to note that speech can be aggregated, Baudrillard and other radical postmodernists commit the same mistake in social-political terms as classical economists were proved to have done in economic terms in the 1920s and 1930s by Keynes others. That is to say, they reasoned from the ‘micro’ to the ‘macro’, and misunderstood both: with disastrous consequences. In the 1920s and 1930s the result was a series of crises for capitalism – whereas radical postmodernism simply demoralises resistance to liberal capitalism.

    In its failure to address substantive issues such as life expectancy, in its perception of human passivity, in its vacuous and belated revolution, and in its flawed methodology, radical postmodernism shows itself to have less to offer than the class conflict perspectives it seeks to replace. Indeed, it appears profoundly and naively conservative. Whilst ‘orthodox’ Marxism may have been damaged in the short term by the postmodernists’ sheer repetition of the ‘death of the metanarrative’ theme (Lash 1991, pp.92-97), there is little reason to suspect that Marxism cannot recover much of its power in the longer-term. Indeed, given the recent instability of world markets, Marx’s criticisms of political economy are finding adherents even now in some unexpected quarters (Lewis, New York Times, June 27th 1998, p.12; Cassidy, John, Independent on Sunday, 7th Dec. 1997). As for anarchism and syndicalisms, postmodernism has even less of substance to say about them.

    It is difficult to comment sufficiently on feminism’s claims to invalidate or question class conflict theory because of the vast breadth of feminist thought, and the very success of feminism in penetrating other ideologies. There is, for example, great debate between liberal, socialist, Marxian and psychoanalytic feminisms. Notwithstanding this, the central question of whether any or all of these and other feminisms render class conflict theories inconsequential can be answered relatively simply.

    In order for feminism to render class conflict theory inconsequential it must be established first that gender division is the main source of social power, and, secondly, that class-centred revolution would constitute a positive hindrance to the achievement of gender equality. Whilst the first proposition is the basis of a vast literature (see e.g. Humm (ed.) 1992), the second has received rather less attention (as the same volume, by omission, demonstrates). Movements to market economies from more egalitarian systems in Russia, Eastern Germany etc, however, have caused rapid reassertion of ‘traditional’ (i.e. more unequal) gender roles along with a concomitant destruction of state and community childcare and welfare provision (Jarausch and Gransow 1994, p.269). Thus feminism, whether or not its central analysis and aims are regarded as more coherent than those of class-conflict theory, does not thereby show class-conflict theories (even Marxism) to be inconsequential: meaning that Welsh syndicalism remains of consequence still in the light of feminist criticism.

    b) Why Welsh Syndicalism has Contemporary Trends in its Favour

    It will be argued here that free-market conservatism has effectively died, and that the (comparatively) short-run ramifications of this situation are likely to cause many societies to polarise between an authoritarian right and an anti-statist left, with the left being the faster-growing force of the two.

    The assertion that free-market conservatism has effectively died is provocative, but hardly insupportable. On the 27th of this year four men lost their jobs. Three of them were partners in the ‘Long Term Capital Management’ investment fund, which collapsed owing over $200bn. All had been prominent in the ‘Chicago School’; responsible for creating the new intellectual consensus which largely destroyed Keynesianism in the 1970s and 1980s, through the Pinochet, Thatcher and Reagan experiments (Hutton, The Observer, 27th September 1998, p.30). The fourth was Helmut Kohl, who sought to retain his Chancellorship by employing more still of the Chicago School’s recommendations, despite spiralling unemployment and social chaos in Germany following their implementation (Traynor 7th Feb. 1998). The failure of the British [sic] Conservatives and American Republicans to provide fully effective opposition since stock markets started to crash earlier this year is the failure of pure free market theory, which cannot explain why unregulated markets fail; and which in fact denies at moments that they can! Assuming that most voters prefer prosperity, free market policies will be passé for successful politicians of the right for some time to come. Given the death of free market conservatism, those politicians will be forced into protectionist and paternalist policies (Hutton et al, Observer, Nov 11th 1998, p.19), causing them to alienate much of their former constituency. The simple persistence of the anti-statism which was once a solid foundation for free-market conservatism will become an anti-conservative phenomenon, precisely as it is in anarchism or syndicalism – and precisely as it is not in either revolutionary or gradualist state socialisms. Further, anti-statism will increasingly adopt forms inimical to conservative prejudices precisely because of conservatism’s move towards statism. A new constellation will have been created moving towards the left, receptive to anarchisms, syndicalisms, and left-wing socialisms.

    On the ‘left’ the ’New Democrat’, ‘New Labour’ styles of left to right manoeuvring are showing signs of strain. U.S. blacks and Latinos turning out in higher proportion than affluent whites for the first time to support the Democrat’s continued battle to support positive discrimination and labour legislation – that is to say simply because the Democrats are not perceived to be free marketeers. However, with the demonstrable erosion of democracy by globalising capital (see e.g.Grieder 1997) such a contradiction will remain only so long as there is no effective left opposition. With the recent and continuing renascence of trade unionism in the United States such a challenge to the American establishment is no longer unthinkable. Similar ‘New’ projects in Europe have been constructed from coalitions impossible to sustain without tension; democratic socialism, social democracy, and liberalism in Britain at a time of constitutional flux (and SNP and Plaid Cymru competition); the ‘red/green’ coalition in Germany; or the loose left coalition in Italy. Nor will a spirit of compromise unite coalitions indefinitely, whilst splits and disaffection will create political spaces inside and outside parliaments on the left, right, green, industrial, centrist, and regional/nationalist ‘wings of the political spectrum.

    Given that even most of the above assertions are correct then right-wing individualism is likely to shift in favour of left-wing anti-statism in terms of popular political awareness. Pro-state egalitarianism is likely to splinter and crack even where it governs at precisely the moments when industrial direct action begins to regain its motivational power on an international level. Given also the 1980s and 1990s trend of direct action movements towards anti-bureaucratism and anti-statism, both the ‘material’ political economic circumstances and the ideological atmosphere for a revival of syndicalism or anarchism as mass phenomena must be conceded to be either present or imminent.

    Thus there can be such a revival and its aims would still be of consequence. It remains to show those aims are achievable.

  3. Why Welsh syndicalism still provides achievable aims

In ‘The End of History and the Last Man’ it is argued, essentially, that we have reached the highest currently conceivable form of social organisation, and that it is liberal capitalism (Fukuyama 1992). If this is the case then class war perspectives, including Welsh syndicalism, cannot be achievable and must be dismissed as worthless. Fukuyama’s case will be summarised below. It will then be argued that this argument is misconceived. It will further be noted that were his case conceded, there are still grounds for arguing the achievability of some class conflict ideologies’ aims. An afterword to this section will contend that the criticisms offered of Fukuyama invalidate much of orthodox Marxist analysis – leaving syndicalisms and anarchisms as the only remaining viable ideologies of class war.

Fukuyama’s contention is reasoned through a ‘Hegelian’ perspective, and the Hegelian interpreter Kojeve – producing a ‘systemic philosopher’ referred to as ‘Hegel-Kojeve’. The prime methodology this produces for Fukuyama’s purposes is that of historical ‘progress’ (1992).

Fukuyama is aware of the suspicion with which ‘progress’ viewed in the contemporary world, and so seeks to justify it by reasoning that scientific, and particularly technological, knowledge is cumulative. Given that scientific progress exists it is therefore reasonable to suppose that it effects the political world, and progress must exist there also (Ibid, pp.71-81). In this he agrees with Marx, despite obvious differences.

Unlike Marx, Fukuyama assigns precedence to ‘spirit’ or ‘recognition’, after Hegel, as the mainspring of progress. Thus the stages of history are the development of ‘thymos’ (the desire for recognition) and the conflicts of will and ideas which issue from it. At the point of equal ideal recognition both liberty and equality are achieved as far as can be expected of humanity at its current stage. This is the point Fukuyama claims liberal democratic capitalism reaches, unlike any other conceivable social arrangement thus far. He takes as proof of this the collapse of communism in the former Soviet Bloc because of internal circumstances arising from thymotic urges. Whilst his arguments do not depend on capitalism as a more efficient system of economic organisation than egalitarian systems, he cites this as a factor in the collapse of communism. Further, despite the correlation of capitalism and democracy being problematic, he argues that the two tend to complementarity.

At the end of history then, Fukuyama feels justified in claiming that liberal democratic capitalism has proved itself the only ideology still fully alive. Having ended the battle of people and systems for recognition, it will offer the best chances for all in that struggle, and there is no alternative.

Whilst this is at moments persuasive, it is highly questionable. Firstly, it is almost laughable to reconcile ‘progress’ with the century of the Holocaust and the Atom Bomb. Fukuyama’s dismissal of these and other atrocities of the Twentieth Century as ‘aberrations’ (op cit., p.89-91) constitutes no such rehabilitation of progress, but a belittling of human life. Nor does the argument hold together in itself. To presume that scientific progress will itself create moral progress is to presume that science happens before politics, and is unaffected by it. This is not the case; the direction and application (and truth) of science continue to be areas of political battle. Science’s ‘progressive’ impact on politics is therefore mistaken. Some defenders of the end of history thesis attempt to argue that it is not ‘historicist’ like Marxism, and that Fukuyama’s use of progress is based on ‘tendency’ rather than natural ‘law’ (Williams et al 1997, pp.123-144). This allows for ‘aberrations’ from progress, avoids Karl Popper’s famous critique of historicism (Popper 1957), and sidesteps the argument above because not all scientific-political discourse is deemed relevant. However, any argument starting with the ‘first man’, ending with the ‘last man’, and drawing a determining link from one to another is about historical laws – whatever weasel words are used to escape the charge.

Second, ‘spirit’ as the motor of history, even without questioning ‘progress’, is problematic. Whilst spirit or will is a component of human action (as Welsh syndicalism recognises), it does not act, or exist, without the material realm. Nor is it constant once that realm is presupposed; it emerges in politics only within social-economic phenomena. That is to say that the spirit is contingent on circumstances – as social psychology repeatedly demonstrates (see e.g. Milgram 1974). Therefore ‘perfect recognition’ is an irrelevance.

The demonstrably loose connection between capitalism and democracy since the publication of ‘The End of History and the Last Man’ (Chechnya is a topical illustration), along with the current collapses of global markets (Guardian 2nd Dec., 1998, p.2) make Fukuyama’s subsidiary arguments untenable also. Whilst it is down to time for the proof, the evidence and arguments presented by Fukuyama give us no reason to sympathise with his conclusions. Therefore, Welsh syndicalism’s aims, in the dim light of Fukuyama’s arguments, remain achievable.

c) i. Why Welsh syndicalism still provides achievable aims – The Afterword

How Marxism is affected by our criticisms of Fukuyama

To call into question ‘progress’ is to question Marxism, although not, as some postmodernists believe, all previous social philosophies. To reject progress, is de facto to reject inevitability. In criticising Fukuyama above that is what we have done. This does not mean rejecting Marx’s work in toto, but only that which sees progress as inevitable and somehow greater than human. Given that Marxism per se is understood generally to mean a philosophy which postulates the inevitability of proletarian revolution at a certain point in history we can dispose of it along with Fukuyama, if with more regret.

Syndicalism, on the other hand, disposes entirely with inevitability. Sorel’s misnamed ‘Marxism’ is almost entirely about the creation of will. In Welsh syndicalism’s demands for education and new men those ideas become concrete, as they do here;

We used to believe that we were bound to emerge through capitalism into its highest sense…thus we looked upon it in extreme youth when we were all utopians. (Soc for the Study of Labour History 1975, my italics)

So it is clear that inevitable progress is rejected in Welsh syndicalism, and not merely in principle. This, it will be noted in the conclusion, is one of Welsh syndicalism’s greatest assets in the contemporary and (as immediate trends are moving) imminent worlds.

d) Why Welsh Syndicalism is Philosophically Possible

We will briefly examine here some of the contentions of Friedrich Hayek and Karl Popper, and their relevance as criticisms of Welsh syndicalism. It will be argued that their visions of egalitarianism’s faults are inapplicable to Welsh syndicalism.

Hayek argues that egalitarianism is, by economic reasoning, an impossibility. His case in economic terms is that the free market is capable of aggregating a larger number of economic choices than is any alternative system, and will therefore, by continual innovation, outperform any other economic system. Essentially, markets make everyone richer. In moral-political terms, Hayek sees the market again as the guarantor of freedom, in the sense of being left alone by the state; and therefore states that any attempt to interfere with the market, especially for the purposes of redistribution or welfare provision, is necessarily oppressive (Hayek 1944).

The evidence for Hayek’s economic case is not good however. For most of his life he fought a losing battle against Keynesian ideas (Gamble, 1996,pp. 46-48), and his ideas started to gain serious currency only with the apparent collapse of Keynesian policies in the West, and the consequent rise of the New Right. He refuses to admit that markets per se can ever be coercive. This is explored by Richardson in his analysis of the crude and unbalanced nature of Hayek’s use of the term ‘coercion’, which Hayek applies to minimal psychological pressure used by trade unionists to maintain the solidity of a strike, but not to the employer willing to threaten employees with unemployment and starvation in order to drive up profits (Richardson 1996). Richardson goes so far as to say that Hayek’s use of the term coercion, almost the entire basis of the latter’s moral reasoning, is “a kind of intellectual smokescreen” (Ibid, p.233). The nature of Hayek’s major writing also makes it clear that his arguments are only designed to explicitly counter the arguments of the statist left anyway (Hayek 1944), notwithstanding his insistence that those arguments automatically apply to all socialisms. Hayek’s thought can be demonstrated to be erroneous in economic terms then, prejudiced in definition, and to be irrelevant to Welsh syndicalism or any other anti-state egalitarianism.

Popper’s case is based upon Hayek’s in economic terms. Those elements will therefore be ignored. In philosophical terms it is more measured. Human values necessarily conflict with each other, making societies necessarily ‘imperfect’ (Popper 1993, p.116). Consequently a society built on one value is doomed to rest on dictatorial force. This hardly invalidates the ideas of Welsh syndicalism, given that it combines within itself the conflicting values and ideas of community action and elite initiative; of intuition and reason; of individual and social control. Combining as it does so many conscious contradictions, Welsh syndicalism cannot be accused of seeking a ‘perfect world’, in the sense which Popper uses the term. Its moral critique of leadership, and its emphasis on education and initiative, are designed to ward off the very threat of authoritarianism Popper perceives in egalitarianism. Thus, at least in the implications of Hayek and Popper’s thoughts, Welsh syndicalism stands as philosophically possible.

d) i. Why Welsh Syndicalism is Philosophically Possible – The Afterword

How Anarchism is affected by Popper

There is a species of anarchism (foreign to most sincere anarchists) which understands as its aim, and sole value, the sovereignty of every individual over themselves, and which does not refer to any collectivity at all (see e.g. Woodcock on Max Stirner 1986, pp.80-89). Popper’s theory of the imperfectability of societies absolutely discredits such simplistic individualistic visions.

In Conclusion

It has been argued through this dissertation that Welsh syndicalism is a distinct ideology, which has been successful as a radicalising force. It has been further argued that it is capable of providing the core beliefs of a resurgent radicalism throughout much of the contemporary world, and, by implication, in most of it. This has been done by demonstrating that it is still of consequence, that it provides achievable aims, that contemporary and emerging politics in a selection of influential nations are favourable to its emergence as the basis of radicalism, and that it is economically and philosophically possible. Within and through these arguments the efficacy of free market systems have been rejected, as has ‘orthodox’ (centralist/dictatorial) Marxism, as have ‘radical’ postmodernism, those feminisms which deny the validity of class-based politics, the philosophical conservatism of Karl Popper, and extreme individualism (whether of the ‘anarchist’ or New Right varieties).

For those who seek a relief of material poverty and the poverty of powerlessness, Welsh syndicalism has been shown here to be capable of providing a guide; through an extreme distrust of ‘leaders’; combined with moral outrage; the vast power that lies in education for and by people; the willingness to unite not only morally but practically; the confidence in ordinary people to conduct their own affairs; and the will to despise and to resist at every turn the united power of the state and of capital.


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October 10, 2007

Emma Goldman – The Queen of Anarchy: The Carmarthenshire Connection

Filed under: Uncategorized — anarchol @ 11:18 pm

by Dr Huw Walters First published in The Carmarthenshire Antiquary, Volume XXXIX, 2003, pages 114 – 121

In December 1885 a small band of Lithuanian Jews emigrated to New York. At that time Lithuania formed part of the Russian Empire, and like so many emigrants from Eastern Europe in the last quarter of the nineteenth century these Jews were seeking refuge from oppression in America. Among the refugees were two young sisters, Helena and Emma Goldman, and scarcely could any of their fellow travellers have imagined how influential one of these girls would become in the political life of the United States.

Emma Goldman was born in the Lithuanian city of Kovno on 27 June 1869, the daughter of an innkeeper, Abraham Goldman, and his wife Taube. She received four years of primary education in a Jewish school in Königsberg, but in 1882 she moved with the family to the Jewish ghetto in St Petersburg. These were troubled times in Russia’s history, with Tsar Alexander II newly assassinated. Revolution was in the air, and like so many young people of her country, Emma started reading the radical literature of the period, – the works of Turgenev and Chernyshevsky, and women like Vera Zasulich and Sophia Pevovskaya became her heroines.

According to the testimony of those who knew him, Abraham Goldman was a hard and cruel man and, according to Emma herself, the bane of her childhood. When he tried to force her to marry in 1885, she and her sister decided to seek a new home in the United States. There she found work in a clothing factory in the Jewish ghetto in Rochester, where she worked ten hours a day for a wage of two and a half dollars a week, and it was not long before she realized that the condition of ordinary workers in America was not much different from that of their counterparts in Russia.

It was a time of industrial unrest in the United States, and the growth of trade unionism caused regular clashes between master and worker. In 1887 four workers were hanged for inciting a riot at Haymarket Square in Chicago. This event had a profound effect on Emma, and when she moved to New York in August 1889 she joined a group of anarchists led by Johann Most, editor of the anarchist newspaper Freiheit. She met Alexander Berkman, a young Russian who shared her ideals, the same month, and the two became lovers. A year later, she embarked on her first lecture tour to Rochester, Buffalo and Cleveland, thereby beginning her career as one of the most eloquent speakers of her day.

She came to realize that addressing meetings and distributing leaflets were not enough, and in 1892 an opportunity arose for her and Berkman to act directly against the establishment. On 6 July that year, nine striking steel workers from the Carnegie Steel Company were killed, and hundreds were injured in a riot in Homestead, Pennsylvania. Emma and Berkman, angered by the incident, immediately left for Homestead, where Berkman shot the chairman of the Carnegie Steel Company, Henry Clay Frick. Although Frick recovered from his injuries and succeeded in breaking the workers’ union, Berkman was sentenced to twenty two years imprisonment. A year later, Emma herself was imprisoned on Blackwell Island for declaring, in a speech to a crowd in Union Square, New York, that the unemployed had a perfect right to steal bread if the state failed to support them.

During the year she spent in prison Emma had the opportunity to carry out some practical work as a nurse, and in 1895 she left New York to follow a nursing course in Vienna. She also visited London, where she spoke in Hyde Park and met Peter Kropotkin. She then completed a lecture tour of the north of England and Scotland. On returning to America in 1896 she resumed her mission with zeal. She was ever critical of the institution of marriage, no doubt because of the complete failure of her own marriage to the Russian, Jacob Kersner, which lasted barely a year. During this period Emma became well known for advocating the latest methods of birth control, but all this activity came to a sudden end in 1901, when Leon Czosolgosz, a young man who professed to be an anarchist, assassinated William McKinley, President of the United States, in Buffalo, New York. In his confession Czolgosz declared: ‘I am a disciple of Emma Goldman. Her words set me on fire. What started the craze to kill was a lecture I heard her deliver some time ago in Cleveland. I and other anarchists went to hear her’. As a result Goldman was also arrested and accused of being involved in the assassination plot, but she was later released for lack of evidence.

Goldman devoted herself during the next few years to writing, and in 1906 she founded a radical monthly magazine entitled Mother Earth. Berkman assisted her with the magazine when he was released from prison. Her Anarchism and Other Essays appeared in 1910, and in the years that followed she proceeded to publish the classic works of Ibsen, Oscar Wilde, Bakunin and Kropotkin. In her fortieth year she met the twenty nine year old Benjamin Lewis Reitman, a hobo-doctor, bisexual, with whom she fell so completely in love that she was consumed with a kind of erotomania. The language she used in her correspondence with him would be considered extreme even today, and her letters to Reitman have been described as ‘pages of pornographic ravings.’ 1

Despite Emma’s low profile during the first decade of the twentieth century, some government officials were busy trying to unearth incriminating evidence which they might be able to use at some future date to deprive her of her citizenship. That opportunity came in 1917 when she and Berkman were arrested for leading the opposition to the Great War and holding public meetings against military conscription. Both were jailed for two years, and during this period J. Edgar Hoover worked on preparing a case against them. On their release from prison in 1919, they were deported to the Soviet Union along with other people of dubious character.

It might be imagined that Emma would have felt quite at home in the Soviet Union after the Revolution in 1917, but this was not the case. Completely disillusioned, she was vehemently opposed to the new order, chronicling her experiences in 1923 in the volume My Disillusionment in Russia. Consequently Emma and Berkman left for Europe in 1921, and spent some periods in England, Sweden and Germany, writing and addressing political meetings. But she longed to return to America, and she could only realize this dream by becoming a British citizen.

In October 1926 she arrived in Canada, hoping to return to the United States. By then she claimed British citizenship through her marriage on June 27 1925 to James Colton, a collier from the Aman Valley in Carmarthenshire. News of this wedding caused a considerable stir among senior government officials in America, second only to the stir it caused in the Aman Valley. Journalists from the New York Times and reporters from the London newspapers were regular visitors to the Aman Valley in the following months, eager to scoop the story of the courtship. But James Colton was a taciturn man. According to a report published in The New York Times on 21 November 1926:

Glanamman, Carmarthenshire, South Wales: Cupid was armed with a coal pick when he dug his way into the heart of Emma Goldman. James Colton, a miner living here, is the man whom the Anarchist leader chose after spurning marriage for forty years. Colton won’t say much at present about the romance, which he considers ‘the personal affair of the two of us’, but told the Associated Press: ‘I have just completed writing the first true story of our association which extends over twenty years. It is a story that many have sought since the news of our romance was broadcast throughout the world, but as yet I have the manuscript in my desk, and perhaps it may remain there always. I am at liberty, however, to make public these interesting details when I see fit’
Recent Canadian despatches told of the arrival here of the former Miss Goldman under the name of Mrs E. G. Colton. Colton, who is of Scotch birth calls the little home which he has long lived as a bachelor – ‘Station Cottage’. There are several photographs of Mrs Colton on the walls, and a small likeness in a silver frame on his desk near the window, where he writes in his hours of freedom from the mines.
Neighbors say the couple met twenty odd years ago. Then came a long period during which they did not see each other. Miss Goldman spent most of her time in the U.S.A. until she was deported in 1919. When the Bolsheviki forced her out of Russia, Cupid got busy again and brought them together, and the romance of the Anarchist and the miner ripened. The neighbor’s won’t say much about the romance because they all like Colton and agree with him that if he has married it is ‘his affair and hers’, and that Jim will tell all about it when the time arrives. 

In the summer of 1974, I had the opportunity of visiting, at her home in Pontardawe, Mrs Fay Colton, Jim Colton’s daughter-in-law, whose late husband (also named Jim) had worked with my grandfather at the Gelliceidrim colliery in Glanaman. Mrs Colton showed me a large scrap-book of press cuttings about Goldman, which her father-in-law had kept, together with a small collection of Goldman’s letters to Jim Colton. However, there was no sign of the ‘manuscript’ mentioned in the report which was published in The New York Times. Mrs Colton was familiar with the Colton-Goldman story, and confirmed that her father-in-law was born in Scotland in 1860, and had moved to Penarth, near Cardiff, when he was a boy. He then found employment in a bakery at Upper Boat, near Pontypridd. However, he later moved to Glanaman where he became a miner at the Gelliceidrim colliery.

There were in the Aman Valley at this time, a number of young men who held radical ideas in social doctrine. In 1913 the eccentric millionaire George Davison, managing director of the Kodak Company, had purchased the old vicarage in Ammanford for £1,500, and had presented it to a group of local radicals as a centre for the study and promotion of political ideas 3. Soon, the ‘White House’, as it was called, became known as a meeting place for the young socialists of the district, and Noah Ablett, T. Rhondda Williams, T. E. Nicholas and the brothers Stet and Ben Wilson of Berkley, California, addressed meetings there from time to time 4. Jim Colton probably attended these meetings at the White House and came to know other early socialists in the Aman Valley, such as Jack Griffiths, Edgar Bassett, D. R. Owen, Harry Arthur and James Griffiths 5. It is believed that he first met Emma Goldman when she was on a lecture tour in Edinburgh in the 1890s, and that their friendship was renewed when she returned to lecture in the south Wales valleys in the 1920s. Jim Colton was aware of her desire to return to the United States, and as he had buried his first wife, he suggested that they marry in order to secure British citizenship for her. The marriage took place in London on 27 June 1925.

There are only two references to James Colton in Emma’s autobiography, Living My Life, but the letters to her husband, show that she was not a woman to forget a kindness. On 22 June 1926, a few days before the first anniversary of their marriage, with the great miners’ strike at its height, Emma wrote to him:

Another five days and it will be a year that you have taken the anxiety from me as to where I might have some safety. I shall always remember that, dear friend. I want you to have a little holiday on the 27th … for that I enclose a £1. I wish I could make it a hundred times as much. I’d love to be able to help the miners.

However, Emma’s wish to return to America was not realised until 1940 when she was buried in the Waldheim cemetery in Chicago in May of that year.

The story of her stormy career became the theme of the Hollywood film Reds, starring Warren Beatty, – a film which won a number of Oscar awards in 1981 for best film and best cinematography. Maureen Stapleton was also awarded an Oscar for her portrayal of the American feminist and anarchist. In 1999 the Teliesyn Co-operative under the directorship of Colin Thomas produced a Welsh language documentary on the anarchist’s relationship with Jim Colton 6. Goldman’s life and work has also become a rich field of study for historians and feminists alike, but her relationship with James Colton, a miner from the Aman Valley stilll remains shrouded in mystery.


  1. Bernard Levin in a review of Emma Goldman: An Intimate Life, (Alice Wexler), The Observer, 10 March 1985.
  2. ‘Goldman Romance Covered Twenty Years. Anarchist Leader Married to Colton, a Miner in Wales After a Long Separation’, The New York Times, 21 November 1926. Cf the report by ‘The Watchman’ [Fred Thomas] editor of The Amman Valley Chronicle in the edition of 16 May 1940: ‘I remember being sent to interview the late Mr Colton on the subject of his supposed marriage. Mr Colton preferred to keep a silent tongue. He would neither deny nor confirm the authenticity of the claim’.
  3. See T. Brennan, ‘The White House’, The Cambridge Journal, 7 (1953-1954), 243-8; T. Brennan, E. W. Cooney and H. Pollins, Social Change in South-West Wales, (London, 1954), 27-8, 149-50. On George Davison (1856-1930), see Brian Coe, ‘George Davison: Impressionist and Anarchist’, in Mike Weaver, ed., British Photography in the Nineteenth Century, (Cambridge, 1989), 215-41; Idem, The Birth of Photography: The Story of the Formative Years 1800-1900, (London, 1989), 107.
  4. However, a number of local people were uneasy with the activities of some of the members of the White House. David Rees Griffith (‘Amanwy’), the brother of James Griffiths who was later to become the Labour Member of Parliament for the Llanelli constituency, wrote in his gossip column in The Herald of Wales in November 1913, following a meeting which he had attended at the White House, that ‘it will indeed be a sad day for the people of Wales if the ideals which were promulgated there that evening should ever come to pass’.
  5. James Griffiths, Pages From Memory, (London, 1969), 20-21; J. Beverley Smith, ‘An Appreciation’, in James Griffiths and His Times, (Llanelli, 1977), 72-4.
  6. ‘Dilyn Ddoe: F’annwyl, Annwyl Emma’, was broadcast on S4C on 8 May 1999. See Colin Thomas, ‘Red Emma and Sweet Solidarity’, Planet, 133 (February/March 1999), 58-63.

Sam Mainwaring and the Autonomist Tradition

Filed under: Uncategorized — anarchol @ 5:12 pm

by Ken John. Orginally published in Llafur, Volume 4 Number 3, 1986.

Next year marks the centenary of the first, August 1887, Socialist propaganda tour of Pontypridd, the Rhondda Fach, Aberdare and Merthyr by Samuel Mainwaring, a London based engineer.

Among the subsequently published recollections of him is that in Tom Mann’s Memoirs:

He was.. one of the very first to understand the significance of the revolutionary movement, and the first, as far as my knowledge goes, to appreciate industrial action as distinct from parliamentary action. He had been, in the late ’70s, a member of the East London Labour Emancipation League, and an early member of the Social Democratic Federation. Then, when the severance took place, he was one of the founders of the Socialist League. Sam Mainwaring was once my foreman, and he showed in the workshop, that same quiet dignified bearing that characterised him at public meetings… After attending propagandist meetings William Morris frequently walked back with Mainwaring, and it was said of them that they looked like the skipper and the first mate of a ship. Mainwaring was a good speaker, and took part in many meetings. As time went on he showed an increasing disposition towards Anarchist Communism, but the members of the League generally called themselves Revolutionary Socialists to differentiate themselves from Parliamentary Socialism.

From a wholly Libertarian point of view, Mat Kavanagh contributed to the may 1934 number of Freedom:

The Anarchist movement, numerically always a small movement in this country, has been rich in exceptional personalities. One of the most outstanding was Sam Mainwaring, big in body and mind, a Celt with all the fire and enthusiasm of his race, he was yet a quiet and persuasive speaker, and a tireless worker. The cause was not a spare time hobby with him, it was his life’s work, and his zest never diminished. When he was too old to do much open-air speaking, he took care that at his favourite pitch, near Hoxton Church, there was a speaker, a platform, and literature for sale… He served for years as delegate on the London Trades Council, and whilst never seeking an official position in his Union, he was active in it, seldom missing an opportunity of expressing revolutionary views.

He was one of the original members of the Socialist League, a personal friend of William Morris, and was very closely associated with and respected by all the propagandists of that day. Wherever he happened to be living, Wales, London, or elsewhere, that place became a centre of propagandist activity. Older Comrades will remember Sam’s propaganda tours into Wales.. Sam spoke in his native Welsh which he maintained was the finest speaking language in the world.

As a propagandist orator, Sam had his own style of address. It was characterised by clear deliberate thought, argument and enunciation, which held his audience fixed until his message was delivered. He had a remarkable gift of humour, its form generally taking that of a story,the climax of which both amused and astonished the crowds who listened to him. It was a common thing to hear him speak four or five hours at a stretch, often in that time attracting two or three fresh crowds of people.

Years ago, Tom Mann, at a meeting of the Club and Institute Union Hall in Clerkenwell Road, introduced Mainwaring as his “old foreman who, in the engineers’ workshop where they both were employed, brought the message of Socialism to him” It is lamentable that Tom should now be a public spokesman of a party who would, by the medium of the OGPU, put a Russian Mainwaring up against a wall and shoot him. Sam Mainwaring always advocated the right of others to express their own sincere convictions equally with himself.

This year being the centenary of William Morris, we ought to bear in mind some of the Comrades who worked with him in the Socialist League. Some so called historians of today regard Morris and the League as the same thing. The fact is, there was a body of really remarkable men and women in the League, and not the least of them was Sam Mainwaring. He left a gap that has not been filled.

And Again, in War Commentary for mid-december 1943, following the death of Sam’s nephew of the same name, Sam Mainwaring junior,at Neath:

All old comrades who knew the Mainwarings will regret the passing away of Sam who died this week after an operation. Sam was the nephew of the famous Sam Mainwaring, and was reared by him in every sense of the word… brought up in such an environment it would be impossible to be anything other than a revolutionist and an anarchist. The elder Mainwaring was a pioneer of Anarchism in England and Wales, a friend of Kropotkin, and especially of William Morris. He started in conjunction with Tarrida del Marmol “The General Strike”, an english paper advocating industrial direct action. The watchword was “Watch your Leaders” indicating their attitude towards the corrupt trade union bureaucracy of that day.

The younger Sam emigrated to South Africa whilst quite young, and was active in the newly born labour movement there. So much so in fact, that he soon found it wise to move on, this time to the United States where he worked on the Western Seafront in the early and active days of the Industrial Workers of the World.

At that time the Mexicans were in revolt.. using San Francisco as a jumping off point. The brothers Magon were issuing their paper “Regeneracion” from there, and Sam Mainwaring was in the midst of all their activities.

Everything you ever wanted to know about anarchism but were afraid to ask

Filed under: Uncategorized — anarchol @ 5:11 pm

A statement of anarchism written by the Anarchist Media Group in Cardiff around 1980. It has been re-edited and updated many times since. This is the text of the orginal pamphlet.

There is probably more rubbish talked about anarchism than any other political idea. Actually, it has nothing to do with a belief in chaos, death and destruction. Anarchists do not normally carry bombs, nor do they ascribe any virtue to beating up old ladies.

It is no accident that the sinister image of the mad anarchist is so accepted. The State, the press and all the assorted authoritarian types, use every means at their disposal to present anarchy as an unthinkable state of carnage and chaos. We can expect little else from power-mongers who would have no power to monger if we had our way. They have to believe that authority and obedience are essential in order to justify their own crimes to themselves. The TV, press and films all preach obedience, and when anarchy is mentioned at all, it is presented as mindless destruction.

The alleged necessity of authority is so firmly planted in the average mind that anarchy, which means simply ‘no government’ is almost unthinkable to most people. The same people, on the other hand, will admit that rules, regulations, taxes, officiousness and abuse of power (to name but a few) are irritating to say the least. These things are usually thought to be worth suffering in silence because the alternative – no power, no authority, everybody doing what they pleased – would be horrible. It would be anarchy.

Yet there are a limitless range of possible societies without the State. Not all of them would be unpleasant to live in. Quite the contrary! Any kind of anarchist society would at least be spared the horrible distortions the State produces. The ‘negative’ side of anarchism – abolition of the State – has to be balanced against what replaces it – a society of freedom and free co-operation.

Various sorts of anarchists have differing ideas on exactly how society ought to be organised. They all agree that the State must be replaced by a society without classes and without force. It is because of this belief in freedom that we are reluctant to put forward a rigid blueprint. We offer only possible models backed up by evidence drawn from life. Actually, there has already been an anarchist society and it took nothing less than mass murder to stop it.

Another common misunderstanding from those who know slightly more about it, is that anarchism is a nice daydream, a beautiful but impractical idea. In fact, the anarchist movement has a long history and it arose not in the heads of ivory tower philosophers, but directly from the practical struggle for survival of masses of ordinary, downtrodden people. It has always been intensely practical in its concerns and its ways of doing things. The movement has come quite close to success a few times. If it is really so hopelessly impractical, then why is the State so determined to stamp it out?


Very few people seem to understand anarchism, even though it is a very simple, straightforward idea. It can be expressed basically as running our own lives instead of being pushed around.

There is nothing complicated or threatening about anarchism, except the fearsome arguments it can get you into. Such as the one about the chaos there would be if everyone did just what they wanted. But we have chaos already don’t we? Millions are out of work, whilst others do too much boring, repetitive labour. People starve at the same time as food is being dumped into the sea to keep prices up. Our air is choked by the fumes from cars that contain only one person. The list of crazy, chaotic things that happen is endless.

Even the ‘good’ things that the State does are actually harmful. The Health Service, for example, patches us up just like an industrial repair shop which in a sense it is. It serves to make us dependent on the State and, worst of all, it buys us off cheaply. It prevents us from creating the genuine, self-managed Health Service we need, geared to our needs not theirs.

Authorities by their very nature can only interfere and impose things. Surely, ordinary people can figure out some way of coping, without planners knocking down their houses to build yet more empty office blocks? It is a basic anarchist principle that only people who live in an area have the right to decide what happens there.

All this chaos, we believe, arises from authority and the State. Without the ruling class and its need to keep us in bondage, there would be no State. Without the State we would be in a position to organise freely for our own ends. Surely we couldn’t make a worse mess than we are stuck with already? Free organisation could provide a much greater orderliness than a society that concentrates on the systematic robbery and suppression of the majority of its members.


We are often asked how an anarchist society would deal with, for instance, murderers. Who would stop them without the police?

Most murders are crimes of passion and therefore unpreventable by police or anyone else. Hopefully, however, in a saner, less frustrating society such ‘crimes’ would be less common.

Our rulers claim to be protecting us from each other. Actually they are more interested in protecting themselves and ‘their’ property from us.

If we, as members of a local community, owned and shared all resources it would become absurd to steal. An important motive for crime would be abolished.

These local communities would need to develop some means of dealing with individuals who harmed others. Instead of a few thousand professional police there would be 51 million in the ‘United Kingdom’ alone. Ultimately, our only protection is each other.

Prisons fail to improve or reform anyone. Local people aware of each others’ circumstances would be able to apply more suitable solutions, in keeping with the needs of the victim and the offender. The present penal system, on the other hand, creates criminal behaviour. Long term prisoners are often rendered incapable of surviving outside an institution that makes all their decisions for them. How is locking people up with others of an anti-social turn of mind (the worst of whom are the screws) supposed to develop responsibility and reasonable behaviour? Of course it does just the opposite. The majority of prisoners re-offend.

Another question anarchists have had thrown at them for years is: “But who would do all the dirty and unpleasant jobs?”. We imagine each community would devise its own rota system. What is so impossible about that?

Then there’s the question: “But what about those who refuse to work?”. Well, social pressure can be applied. People could, for example, be ‘sent to Coventry’, i.e. ignored. In drastic cases they could be expelled from the community.

But people need to work. People have a definite need for creative activity. Notice how many people spend their time working on cars or motor bikes, in gardening, making clothes, creating music. These are all creative activities that can be enjoyable. They are usually thought of as hobbies rather than work, since we’re brought up to think of work as a torment to be endured.

In this society of course, work is a torment. Naturally, we hate it. This does not mean that we are naturally lazy, it means that we resent being treated like machines, compelled to do mostly meaningless work for someone else’s benefit. Work does not have to be like that – and if it were controlled by the people who had to do it, it certainly would not be.

Of course some jobs just have to be done, and there are few methods in sight of making collecting rubbish a fun occupation. Everybody would have to take a share and everybody would have to see to it that nobody got away with shirking their responsibilities.

A further point worth making is that unemployment is only a problem created by capitalism. In a sensible world there would be no unemployment. Everyone would have a shorter working week, because they would only produce things that were needed. If we were to get rid of the parasitic ruling class, we would be free of most of the economic pressure to work.

If you still need to be convinced that an anarchist society could solve the problem of people failing to meet their responsibilities, then imagine yourself being compelled to face a meeting of the whole community you live in and being publicly discussed as a problem. Ugh!

Yet another common objection is: “Well, perhaps it would work on a peasant village scale, but how can you run a complex industrial society without the authority of managers?”. Well, in the first place, we believe that society needs to be broken down to smaller-scale units as much as possible, so as to make them comprehensible to small groups of ordinary people. It is a noticeable fact of organisation, as well as a basic principle of anarchist theory, that small groups of people can work efficiently together, and co-ordinate with other such groups; whereas large formless groups are gullible and easily dominated. Expanding this point it is interesting to note that recently the famous ‘economies of scale’ that justify steel works, for example, covering many square miles, have been increasingly called into question. Beyond a certain point factories, farms, administrative systems and so on, actually get much less efficient as they get larger.

As much as is reasonably possible should be produced and consumed locally. Some facilities, however, would have to be dealt with on a regional or even larger scale. There is no insoluble problem about this, in fact solutions were found by the Spanish working class in the thirties. The Barcelona Bus Company doubled services, made generous contributions to the City Entertainments Collective and produced guns for the front in the bus workshops. All this was achieved with a smaller workforce, as many had left to fight the fascists. This amazing increase in efficiency, despite the war and serious shortages of essential supplies, is not surprising on reflection after all, who can best run a bus company? Obviously bus workers.

All the Barcelona workers were organised into syndicates – groups of workers in the same enterprise, sub-divided into work groups. Each group made its own day-to-day decisions and appointed a delegate to represent their views on wider issues concerning the whole factory, or even the whole region. Each of the delegates was instructed in what to say by their workmates and the task of being a delegate was frequently rotated. Delegates could be changed at short notice if it was felt they were getting out of line (the principle of recallability). These show the basic anarchist principles of free federation in practice. By adding more levels of delegation it is possible to cope with organising activity on any scale, without anyone giving up their freedom to work as they choose. This idea of federalism is illustrated again in a later section called ‘Local action and organisation’.

Let’s move on to another objection – “Wouldn’t a society without a State have no defence from attack by foreign states?”.

Well, it must be said that having a State hasn’t prevented us from being taken over by the US Empire. In fact ‘our own’ armed forces are used against us as an army of occupation. The State does not defend us. It uses us as cannon fodder to defend our rulers, who, if the truth be untangled, are our real enemies.

Returning to the question, a classic anarchist answer is to arm the people. Anarchist militias in Spain very nearly won the civil war despite shortages of weapons, treachery by the Communists and intervention by Germany and Italy. Where they made their mistake was in allowing themselves to be integrated into an army run by statists. An armed population would be difficult to subdue.

But yes, we could be destroyed. We believe that the real nuclear threat is from ‘our side’. The American rulers would probably exterminate us all rather than willingly allow us our freedom.

Against the threat of destruction our best defence is the revolutionary movement in other countries. Put another way, our best defence against the Russian nuclear bomb is the current movement of the Polish workers. This may well spread to the rest of the Soviet Empire. Conversely their best hope of not being vaporised is that we might succeed in abolishing ‘our’ bomb. (CND has not yet realised that banning the megadeath weapons means banning the State!)

It is instructive how the Russian revolution was saved from wholesale British intervention by a series of mutinies and ‘blackings’ by British workers.

True security would be guaranteed if we could develop our international contacts to the point where we can be sure that the workers in each ‘enemy’ country will not allow their rulers to attack us.

The last few pages have been a very brief introduction to the way anarchists think. There are plenty more ideas and details to be found in various books on the subject. But basically you understand anarchism by living it, becoming involved with other anarchists and working on projects, so this is the theme around which the majority of this little book is written – anarchist actions.


If you have followed this pamphlet so far, you should have a fairly reasonable idea of what an anarchist society is. The problem is how to get from here to there.

Within anarchism there are many different but related ideas. There are complete systems of anarchist political theory going by names like federalism, mutualism, individualism, syndicalism, anarchist-communism, anarcha-feminism, situationism, and so on.

The arguments between different brands of anarchism have been going on for a long time and are too involved for an introductory pamphlet.

However, if we think in terms of what anarchism says needs to be done now, it turns out that there is considerable agreement between brands. Each strand emphasises the importance of action in a particular area of life.

If you begin to put the ideas of the following pages into practice, you will start to work out your own version of anarchism. By doing this you will be adding a new member to a movement that always needs new members, particularly ones who have thought things through. Try your ideas out on your friends, read more on anarchism, talk with other anarchists!

Be an independent thinker. There is no other sort.


Traditionally, anarchists believe that the main problem with the world is that it is divided into masters and ‘wage slaves’. If we could get rid of the bosses and run industry ourselves, for the benefit of our own needs not theirs, it would clearly make a big improvement and would transform every area of life.

There are, however, some anarchists who believe the working class is so used to being enslaved that some other route to revolution will have to be found.

An anarchist at work, however, will usually at least try to get his or her workmates to organise themselves. We try to spread the simple idea that by sticking together we resist being pushed around. This is best done by talking to workmates, becoming accepted and trusted by them, rather than by high pressure preaching. Solidarity can best be learned through action.

Anarchists try to be ready for strikes when they happen. Usually the most important task in such situations is to undermine the power of the official union line and get people working together directly rather than through the ‘proper channels’. The point of anarchism is to seize control of our own lives, not to hand it over to an official for a sell out. As it happens such direct action is the tried and tested way of winning industrial battles. Unity is strength.

To the anarchist, strikes for more small changes, demarcation disputes, and so on, are not especially revolutionary. To us, the only real point in such actions is that in the course of them people may begin to learn how to organise for themselves and gain confidence in their collective power. Eventually this experience could prove useful and begin to allow workers effectively to challenge the industrial power structure and build towards complete workers’ control of production.

We have a long history to draw on and many useful techniques that have worked elsewhere. There are ideas like slowing down till we reckon we are working at a rate appropriate to the wage. Or ‘good work’ strikes, taking care to do a good job irrespective of the time it takes. Such actions only make sense if taken by a group of people in a united fashion. They are examples of direct action. We don’t ask the bosses, we tell them. By contrast the indirect (so-called democratic) method is to wait five years and put a cross opposite the name of a labour politician, who turns out to be in the same freemason’s lodge as the opposition candidate.

We would hope that self-organisation among workers will once again (as at other times in recent history) reach the point where they are prepared to act together and confront the State in its entirety. If the next time around there is adequate experience, organisation, preparation and awareness, it will be possible to dispose of the State and bosses and move towards an anarchist society and an anarchist world.

There are a variety of ways differing anarchists believe this could come about. Some anarchists support the idea of building giant unions controlled from the bottom up, rather than the usual top down structure. This syndicalism is a clear strategy for revolution which has been shown effective in the past. The union ideally includes all the workers in each place and aims to develop self-organisation to the point where the workers can easily take over the factories. Strikes can, where necessary, be backed up by solidarity action from other workers.

Eventually, enough workers will have joined and become active for a general strike. The State is paralysed and can do nothing if it cannot trust the army to kill its own relatives. The general strike may be a general take-over by the people, or develop into one. At this point the work of building Utopia can begin.

Some anarchists reject aspects of this plan. They doubt the wisdom of forming unions at all, even if decentralised. They worry that a layer of professional leaders will develop. There is also the danger of getting lost in the swamp of everyday compromise over petty issues.

In any case this difference in approach does not prevent working together. In the ‘United Kingdom’ (joke phrase) the existing Labour-mafia controlled unions have already got it all sewn up. The prospects for forming anarchist unions are obviously dismal.

In these circumstances, it seems that the way forward is to try to promote links between workers that by-pass the mafia controlled union HQ’s which try to monopolise information so as to maintain control. Any action such as flying pickets, which puts control in the hands of strikers themselves, should be encouraged.

It would be useful if anarchists working in the same industry were in contact. Where contacts do not already exist, a conference is a good starting-off point.


Large Scale Campaigns

Anarchists usually make a poor showing in influencing large scale campaigns. This is partly because the christians, liberals, trotskyists, and so on, who generally manage to control them, often make them so lifeless, ineffectual and generally wet that no self-respecting anarchist will go near them.

In fact we see the leaderships of these groups as an important part of the system, whose function is to control protest by steering it harmlessly into ‘proper’ channels.

An example of this process at work was the attempt by ‘Friends of the Earth’ to contest the public inquiry into the Windscale nuclear reprocessing plant. The result was that a good deal of energy and money was directed into an entirely useless argument between rival experts. The illusion was fostered that the government is fair and reasonable and has a right to make this kind of decision. The verdict was of course a foregone conclusion and the go-ahead was given. The net effect was to misdirect and defuse protest about the nuclear power programme.

On the other hand, many anarchists believe that it is a good idea to get involved with campaigns such as CND, the Anti-Nazi League, animal liberation, and so on. This is because there is some prospect that joining one of these campaigns may be the first step for some people in becoming anarchists. An anarchist’s presence might help this process. Also, campaigns which bring important issues to public attention provide opportunities to show how particular evils relate to oppression in general and the need for revolution. In some cases it is worth urging anarchists to join such organisations in order to prevent domination by the more noxious political types. Sometimes it is actually possible to introduce anarchist methods of organising and direct action tactics.

For example, an anarchist involved in CND would try to point out the relationship between nuclear weapons, nuclear power, militarism, the State and class society. We would point out the futility of asking the State to behave nicely and would recommend instead asking the workers who build the bombs and the aircraft, and so on, to do something more useful instead. We would also do our best to prevent our old enemy the Labour Party from taming the anti-missile movement and then quietly burying it, as they did in the early sixties.

We would also try to spread more decentralised methods of organisation, based on small groups federating with each other. This would have the advantages of greater flexibility, giving each member more chance of being fully involved, and of preventing a ruling clique from developing.

Few anarchists would claim that a movement like CND is likely to bring about the revolution, or even to get anywhere near banning nuclear weapons. The best we can reasonably hope for is that it will cause increasing numbers of people to think about how this society really works.

Interpersonal Relationships

As we have said earlier, there is a concern for the rights of the individual running through anarchism. There is no point in all our activities and theorising if it is not eventually going to make life better for individuals like you and me.

Unlike marxists and other fake socialists, we believe in at least trying to live out our principles in everyday life. If you believe in equality you should treat people as equals as far as you can. An anarchist would be less likely to forgive Marx’s ill treatment of his servants and his wife than a marxist would!

The ways people treat each other add up to make society as a whole. In an insane society like this one, people treat each other badly.

Sadly, though, the hippies were wrong. It is not ‘all in your head’. Individual solutions like dropping acid and living in the country turn out to be not solutions at all, but simply escapism. Before the revolution it is not possible simply to choose to live as though you were free. Society will not let you.

Before the revolution it is up to us to behave as if we were reasonable human beings in a reasonable world as far as possible. It is difficult, but not impossible, with a little help from your friends, to grow to something more than the state of infantile dependence this society tries to keep us in.

The Authoritarian Family

A common myth, both in fascism and in everyday anti-humanism, is the ‘sanctity’ of the family and the ‘holy’ institution of motherhood.

Many women today are fighting against being pushed into the role of mothers and nothing else, and against the everyday domination of women and children by men, which is what the family is really all about.

The reality of family life is quite different from the sentimental ideal. Wife battering, rape and child abuse are not accidental or isolated events – they are a result of conditioning in the family and by the media.

Until we have freedom and equality in our daily lives we will have no freedom or equality at all, nor will we want it sincerely.

You have only to look at the ‘master and slave’ content of any porn magazine to see that sexual repression leads to domination and submission. If power is more important than fulfilment in your sexual life, then it will be more important in the rest of your life also.

Support free love. If it’s not free, it’s not love.

Right wing people talk a great deal about sex and what they call ‘sexual morality’ and ‘purity’. Even ‘racial purity’ is a largely sexual idea. It is based on fear of the sexuality of ‘inferior races’, feared because it threatens their own sexual control and power.

Racists ask: “Would you let your daughter marry one of them?”. Who are you to say what ‘your’ daughter should do with her own sex life anyway?

Anarchists generally do not hold with conventional marriage. They do not accept that it is any business of the church or the State what people do with their sexual relationships. True emotional security for both children and adults is less likely to be found in a legally enforceable and artificially ‘permanent’ tie between two people of either sex, than it is in a wider network of relationships that may or may not have a sexual component.

Many anarchists have seen living in communes as an important way in which to change society. But living in the same house as nine other people is not in itself the key to the ideal future. The important thing is to change our attitudes: to become more open and generous and less competitive and afraid of each other. The important thing is to have plenty of real friends rather than hiding in the family nest. We can do this as workmates and neighbours as well as home sharers.

Forming communes now, or trying to, is riddled with problems. Communes at the moment frequently fail either through isolation, or through squabbles within the group, or for a variety of other reasons. People brought up in this society do not easily develop more open, generous and honest relationships. Most anarchists settle for being just a little less isolationist than most. We just do the best we can, and realise there is no such thing as perfection in an oppressive society. There are no anarchist saints.

Changing Everyday Life

Unless we can help people, including ourselves, to become less dominated by fear, anxiety and insecurity, there is little point in expecting them to behave sensibly and to start building a free, creative society. Authoritarian ideas and unreasoning hatred of scapegoats such as blacks and homosexuals are part of a mass mental illness.

Fortunately, there are forces operating in the direction of greater mental health, and anarchists should do what they can to assist these forces and movements.

Of these, the clearest example is the radical psychotherapy movement. Broadly speaking, groups within this movement try to move away from the old idea of the expert psychiatrist who solves the ‘patient’s’ problems, towards an approach in which people, with assistance, help themselves. Unfortunately this has been taken over by the neurotic middle classes. Fees for encounter groups are too much for the likes of you and me, and encounter groups based around the problems of industrial management are hardly the way to a new society.

There are self-help therapy groups, though, which show some promise and may well catch on. The most successful seem to be those with a specific membership, such as depressives, or women’s groups, and so on. We are against people trying to adjust to impossible situations and want them to learn to assert and express themselves.

As much of the psychological mess the human race has got itself into revolves around the unjust relationships between the sexes, anarchists put a lot of hope in the development of the women’s movement. Not that all feminists are revolutionaries. The National Organisation of Women, for example, was delighted to allow women to person nuclear missile control rooms. Nevertheless, there is a strong anarchist strand to the women’s movement, in the emphasis on small leaderless groups, self-help and the importance of women coming to terms with each other’s feelings. Challenging male domination should logically lead on to challenging all domination.

The women’s movement also illustrates another promising development – the tendency to organise in small groups and collectives. Where these work well they provide much needed support and a sense of worth to the individuals involved. Other movements, such as parts of the gay movement, claimants unions, squatters, self-help health groups, and so on, are good for the same reason. This way of organising tends to help the development of sanity.

Anything that encourages people to take responsibility for themselves and examine their relationship with the rest of the world should be encouraged. Eventually we can hope that attitudes will change enough to allow people to have the confidence to take back power over their own lives.


Direct action can be used to change the conditions of houses, streets, schools, hospitals, and other amenities. Such reforms have, in themselves, little to contribute towards building an anarchist society, but making people aware of the potential of direct action is important. At best such actions foster feelings of community spirit and promote self organisation. They raise political consciousness. At worst they lead to feelings of hopelessness and complete disillusionment with the human race. These feelings may drag you to political suicide. Such ‘has-beens’ are to be seen in many Labour Party gatherings.

What sort of actions are we talking about? Well if you’re short of a house, then consider squatting. It by-passes the authorities in charge of housing and challenges property relations. It effectively demonstrates the disgrace of empty houses side by side with homelessness. Unfortunately, popular prejudice hinders squatting from obtaining the wider support necessary for real change.

The community life of the street can be improved by festivals, street theatre, and so on. Of course this sort of thing can have its drawbacks too, unless you’re the sort of anarchist that’s into Lady Di and her mates!

Anarchists have participated in and often dreamt up all sorts of self-help schemes. These include making better use of land, labour swapping schemes, consumer product sharing schemes. Again these encourage independence and demonstrate that alternative forms of economic exchange are viable. Beware paid community workers wishing to professionalise the idea and destroy its real benefits by making it part of the system.

Another common area of anarchist activity is getting involved in local campaigns. These may be useful in developing organisation and awareness and can have the virtue of making people think about political issues. A campaign against the closure of a local hospital, for instance, raises questions about who controls the hospitals and for whose benefit? Unfortunately, people are often led astray by their illusions about ‘democracy’ and politicians, and wind up getting fobbed off or conned. This can result in disillusionment and apathy. The role of the anarchist is to try and make sure that it results instead in anger at the authorities and promotes direct action.

It is often difficult to find a balance between getting involved in immediate reforms (hence encouraging a false belief in the State as a benevolent force) and examining the long term implications of what you do. If you let your feelings run riot you will end up in reformism, desperate to remove the squalor you discover in society. This is understandable, but works against removing the roots of the squalor.

To improve the system is to strengthen it and thus in the long run increase human misery.

When local conditions become atrocious, riots break out. Chief Constable Oxford of Liverpool recently described local riots in Brixton, Liverpool, and so on, as “organised anarchy”. It seems unlikely, however, that they stemmed from anything but pure frustration. Sporadic rioting is not a particularly revolutionary activity in itself. If it had been organised, it would have been insurrection, which is a different story. How, then, do anarchists organise?

Individuals join small anarchist groups in order to co-ordinate their actions with others not to be told what to do. The entire group discusses a particular action, but only those in favour will perform it. This contrasts completely with trotskyist groups in which each individual member must follow the party line.

Disagreement on an important issue, or lack of shared action, simply means that a new grouping will come into being. In various parts of the country, groups have formed larger federations to co-ordinate the actions of these small groups (in a non-authoritarian way, of course).

This model of organisation has already become common in other strands of political activity, like women’s groups and some community groups. If anarchism grows, one would expect to see an increase in this way of organising.

Groups of people in a street, or perhaps at a particular workplace, can organise in this way to take the decisions that affect them. They can send delegates to larger meetings, taking this task in turn, instructing the delegate what to say, kicking him/her out if s/he gets power hungry. A utopian idea? It is already working now on a small scale (for example in the CND). What’s so difficult about it? All we need is a total revolution in everyday consciousness! In this way, a non-authoritarian system of organising all aspects of our lives from the cradle to the grave could emerge. It would be a federalist type of anarchist society.

Anarchists see it as vital to educate people for a new society. Some would go so far as to say that it is all we can reasonably do. To attempt a revolution as a tiny minority is just not on and with the best of intentions could lead only to a new slavery. A genuine revolution can only be made if the great majority of people want it and actively participate in creating the new world. Naturally, it would stand a much better chance if the people had first organised, prepared and thought about the issues and problems. This means that one of our top priorities is to spread our ideas as far as possible.

Preaching, however, is best avoided. We do not want mere followers. An even worse danger is that we may begin to hand out our ideas as a dogma. Finally, we do not want to talk at people, but with them.

This last point is important. It is probably the surest sign of the degenerate state of modern society that communications are becoming increasingly impersonal, standardised and one way. Millions of people watch the same TV programmes and read the same newspapers. As a result their own conversations are standardised. Communications have become a commodity to be consumed, ‘sounds’ to be bought on plastic tapes. All modern communications media have two things in common: you have to pay for them, and there is no way of participating, you listen or watch, nothing else is required of you.

Our belief in freedom leads us to demand freedom of speech and freedom of the press. This may seem odd, as these were old nineteenth century liberal rallying cries. The liberals now seem fairly satisfied that we have these precious freedoms already.

What they mean, of course, is that they have these freedoms. Ordinary mortals, to say nothing of ‘dangerous extremists’ like ourselves, do not. We can say what we like (almost), but not on prime viewing time; we can write anything we like, but won’t be able to distribute it through W H Smith’s. Unless everyone has a reasonably good chance of actually being heard, then freedom of speech means nothing and they are quite happy to give it to us.

A recent Spanish coup attempt is said to have failed because the fascist officers had an old fashioned view of political power and seized the parliament building. Next time they will know better. They will seize the radio stations.

Journalists, print workers, writers, technicians and actors may have to play a vital part in the struggle for a new society. They have it in their power to tell the truth. The cruddy ‘product’ that they obediently continue to churn out ought to have shamed them all into resigning by now. Agitation within the communications industry, for workers’ control of content, is a matter of urgency.

Because communications are so tightly controlled by a very small clique who know very well the importance of their power, we are hardly likely to stand much chance of getting our views known through the existing set up. We need to find some other way of spreading our ideas until such time as the people get around to seizing control.

We have been forced out on to the fringes of society. We. are obliged to create our own media in order to express ourselves. Naturally, it is all on a small scale and we reach only a few people with each leaflet, magazine or whatever. We can only hope that all the little things we do will add up. After all, a thousand leaflets are not wasted if they convince one new anarchist.

Spreading the word is important, and an impressive range of different approaches have been tried at one time or another. Here we list some of the things anarchists do or can do to get their ideas across.

THE PRINTED WORD — The anarchist movement has produced a constant stream of articles, newspapers, magazines, books and leaflets throughout its history. Some reached impressive numbers. Many were read only by a few and are now forever forgotten.

The effort has not been completely wasted. We always need more and better-written anarchist material. People who are ready for ideas must be given as many chances as possible to find them.

Leaflets, often quickly run off on a duplicator for a special event, are the simplest and cheapest possibility. Wording should be simple and to the point. Good graphics, including photographs, can be done on an electric stencil at a slightly higher cost.

Cheap pamphlets on particular topics are best whipped out of the pocket at an appropriate point in a conversation. This one, for instance, is designed for those who insist on trotting out the old hoary objections to anarchism such as “what about murderers?” (see Some common arguments against anarchism above.)

Magazines and newspapers fall into two categories: those aimed at, or of interest only to, other anarchists, arid those aimed at reaching the uncommitted multitude. We seem to have plenty of magazines for anarchists but a shortage of agitational ones. There are a few, good, local anarchist papers: in addition many anarchists work on ‘community’ papers dealing with local issues.

Book publishing and distribution is also an important part of the movement. Order anarchist books at your local library. There are also plenty of anarchist books yet to be written. We need more works of anarchist theory, more analyses of present society and strategy for change. There is also scope in fiction or poetry. Writing a book is not as daunting as it might first seem. Many of the people who do write books are complete idiots.

STREET THEATRE — This method of communicating is perhaps not used enough by anarchists. Writing and rehearsing plays can be a useful practice in getting a group working together. The proper legal approach is to apply for planning permission (be sure to have a harmless sounding name). On the other hand, the ‘Santa Claus Army’ who invaded the toy departments of Amsterdam stores and gave away toys to the kids were also indulging in street theatre, though of a less legal kind. Some kind of semi-theatrical event to make people think is a good alternative to the usual boring old demo.

PUBLIC MEETINGS — At one time anarchist meetings drew crowds of thirty or forty thousand. Public meetings have declined as mass entertainment has developed. Fifty is a pretty good number these days. Choose a theme, sort out speakers, book a hall and advertise it well. It may be a lot of effort, but it does sometimes produce new members, or at least some interest. People will take you more seriously.

ALTERNATIVE MEDIA — This vague title is meant to cover unorthodox means of communication from badges or spray painting to video. Small messages to the mass consciousness can be written on toilet walls or sprayed in six-foot letters down the sides of motorways. Video is cheap(ish) and everybody by now must know of some way of borrowing or hiring cameras. Anarchists have run successful pirate radio stations and there is no need to rule out dance or mime or a thousand other possible ways of getting a message across. Use your imagination.

Although we are kept out of the mass communications market, we can still find ways of reaching out with our ideas. The struggle to make means of expression available to the people at large is one of the most vital parts of the struggle for freedom. By imaginatively pioneering new means of communication that are easily available, we are not only spreading our views but helping others to express themselves. Finally, the way in which an idea is communicated may be at least as important as the idea itself. If it allows or encourages participation so that people can stop being merely an ‘audience’ and start expressing themselves, it is a direct challenge to the system of power which needs us docile.

MUSIC — Rebellious or revolutionary music has a much longer history than the fashion-conscious youth of today, or even the ageing hippies of yesterday, may realise. Believe it or not many operas turn around essentially revolutionary themes! In the eighteen-thirties, possession of a musical instrument was illegal for the lower orders. This was because wandering musicians were becoming alarmingly successful at stirring up discontent.

Many anarchists choose to get involved in music as a way of communicating with people. It is a useful sort of activity for anarchists to do, and of course it can be fun. Sadly, much current anarchist music is neither anarchist nor music, but some of it is good and some very good. It’s all a matter of personal taste anyway.

Music has the power to appeal to emotions directly. It is possible to communicate in a more basic way. It is also possible to use it to hypnotise and manipulate people, something which we would hope to avoid doing.

Again, what we need to do is make music available to people, encourage them to have a go and bring out their creativity. Some anarchists feel that for this reason, high technology expensive electric music should be avoided. On the other hand, the possibilities of home taping and easily produced cassettes are quite exciting.

We need to create new ways of making and sharing music that by-pass the music industry. Let them howl about loss of copyright when their tapes are illegally copied. They’ve had things their own way too long.

ART — Paintings in galleries have been described as ‘museum art’. What is meant by this is that they are objects to be admired and bought and sold. They separate art from life and from people at large. Art as a saleable item is the best that this system can offer. Art as an activity it could neither understand nor allow.

There is a crying need to release the creative abilities of ‘ordinary’ people. This we can at least attempt to do when talking to people. We can find ways to work for the movement and enjoy ourselves at the same time. By using our own creativity, we can hope to reach the hidden parts of people that other ideas cannot reach.

Spreading the word, or ‘propaganda’, has to be a major part of any anarchist strategy. Above all else an anarchist revolution requires that people know what they are doing and why. Nobody can be forced into freedom: it must be chosen and taken, or it is not really freedom. Our task is harder than that of the door-to-door Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is not enough for us to tell people what to think — they must think for themselves, or they are not really anarchists.


Although we distrust schools, anarchists place great faith in the power of education. One of the major sources of hope for a better world is that the next generation, given help, might grow up less neurotic than the last. Some would go so far as to say that educating children for freedom is the only real hope of eventually bringing about an anarchist society.

Schools are mainly concerned with sorting and grading children for their future roles in the social hierarchy — and ensuring that they accept the need for competition, hierarchy and respect for authority. Such a system demands that the majority of children – and adults – are made to feel inferior. Anarchists believe that academic examinations are a meaningless measure of a person’s potential for playing a useful role in society. The cult of the professional expert is designed to shatter our confidence in our own abilities and judgement.

Anarchists are opposed to corporal punishment or any form of compulsion in education. Attendance at all classes should be voluntary. Compulsion destroys the natural enthusiasm for knowledge and understanding. Real education is the opposite of compulsory schooling, where the main lessons are fear and respect for authority. We need to equip our children with critical minds to understand the world, to see what changes are necessary to make it a better place for everyone, and to be able to bring about the necessary changes.

Anarchists are opposed to any religious indoctrination in schools. Fear and superstition have no place in an ethical education. Religious ‘education’ should be abolished and replaced by the discussion of moral and philosophical questions based on concern and respect for others.

It is crazy to think that education merely consists of spending eleven years or so of our lives in schools cut off from the real world outside. It would be much healthier for our education to be integrated with the everyday work and life of society. In this way everyone’s particular skills would be properly recognised by society and used for the education of others. We need to break down the divisions between work, play and education. Education should be available throughout our lives, rather than being arbitrarily confined to that part of our lives spent in schools. We are all potential learners and teachers, passing on and acquiring skills and understanding as we go through life.

Anarchists are generally agreed that the complete liberation of education is dependent on the creation of an anarchist society. However, this has not stopped anarchists from trying to create freer environments for children to grow and learn, here and now. Some anarchists have educated their children at home. Others have worked together with other parents and children rather than remain in isolated family units. In the last three decades several free schools have been established based on anarchist principles, and they have performed a valuable service in demonstrating in practical ways that alternatives exist. However, they have faced constant financial problems and all the other problems which come from trying to live freely in an unfree society.

Some anarchists, and others who share their views on education, have concluded that for the foreseeable future most children will be in State schools and, therefore, have tried to change existing State schools as teachers or parents.

Although by the nineteen-sixties the educational establishment had accepted libertarian methods at A S Neill’s Summerhill School for the fee-paying children of wealthy parents, they were horrified at the prospect of similar methods being adopted in State schools for working class children. The most successful attempts, those at Risinghill School and William Tyndale School in London, were eventually stopped by the local education authority and the teachers were thrown out of their jobs.

The lesson for those who try again in the future is that it is essential to break down the isolation of schools from the community, so that parents will understand and actively support what anarchists are trying to do in schools.


For more detailed consideration of anarchist theory, we have provided a booklist for further reading. We have listed areas of activity and outlined the anarchist approach. We have made no attempt to indicate which types of activity are most likely to lead to a non-authoritarian future. This kind of judgement requires careful consideration of the nature of society and strategy for change. We hope that you will eventually form your own conclusions. Anarchists make up their own minds.

If you are interested, read more, talk to your local anarchists, think things through. There is a lot to be getting on with.

Can you think of a good excuse for not being an anarchist? Right, then get on with it!


This booklist is reproduced from the original pamphlet. Some books may now be available in new editions by other publishers.

Introductions to Anarchism

ABC OF ANARCHISM, Alexander Berkman, Freedom Press.


ANARCHIST READER, THE, George Woodcock, Fontana.

ANARCHY, Malatesta, Freedom Press.

ANARCHY IN ACTION, Colin Ward, Freedom Press.

FLOODGATES OF ANARCHY, Stuart Christie and Albert Meltzer, Kahn & Averill.

Classics of Anarchism


CRITIQUE OF STATE SOCIALISM, A, B Books.(comic strip version)







CONQUEST OF BREAD, THE, Elephant Editions.



MUTUAL AID, Freedom Press.

STATE, THE, Freedom Press.

See also books by Proudhon, Malatesta, Goldman and Berkman.

Anarchist ‘-isms’


QUIET RUMOURS, various authors, Dark Star/Rebel Press.

UNTYING THE KNOT, Freeman and Levine, Dark Star/Rebel Press.



ANARCHO-SYNDICALISM, Rudolf Rocker, Phoenix Press.


PROTEST WITHOUT ILLUSIONS, Vernon Richards, Freedom Press.

STRANGE VICTORIES, Elephant Editions.





EGO AND ITS OWN, THE, Max Stirner, Rebel Press.


See the writings of P-J Proudhon


AND YET IT MOVES, Boy Igor, Zamisdat (critique of science.)

BOOK OF PLEASURES, Raoul Vaneigem, Pending Press.


PARIS: MAY ’68, Dark Star/Rebel Press.

REVOLUTION OF EVERYDAY LIFE, Raoul Vaneigem, to be reprinted in 1988.


See also the Spectacular Times pocketbooks.

Anarchist Issues

Animal Liberation:


KILL OR CURE?, Arc Print.






LIB ED, quarterly magazine.

SUMMERHILL, AS Neill, Pelican.



IDEAL HOME, Hooligan Press.


Abuses of the Media:



FROM RIOTS TO INSURRECTION, Alfredo M Bonnano, Elephant Editions.


Anarchist History


SLOW BURNING FUSE, THE, John Quail, Paladin Books (Granada.)

Russian Revolution:

GUILLOTINE AT WORK, Maximoff, Cienfuegos Press.


RUSSIAN TRAGEDY, THE, Alexander Berkman, Phoenix Press.

Spanish Revolution:

BARCELONA MAY DAYS 1937, various authors, Freedom Press.


LESSONS OF THE SPANISH REVOLUTION, Vernon Richards, Freedom Press.


ANARCHISM AND VIOLENCE, Osvaldo Bayer, Elephant Editions (about Severino de Giovanni.)

ANGRY BRIGADE 1967-84, THE, Elephant Editions.

BONNOT GANG, THE, Richard Parry, Rebel Press.

BLACK FLAG, THE, Jackson, RKP,(about Sacco and Vanzetti.)

HAYMARKET SPEECHES, THE, Voltairine de Cleyre, Cienfuegos Press.(as above)

MALATESTA: HIS LIFE AND IDEAS, Vernon Richards, Freedom Press.

RED VIRGIN, THE, University of Alabama Press (memoirs of Louise Michel)


Anarchist Fiction

FREE, THE, M Gilliland, Hooligan Press.

FROM BENEATH THE KEYBOARD, Hooligan Press (short stories/poetry.)

See also writings of the mysterious B Traven (author of THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE.)

Anarchist Fiction : Sci-Fi

DISPOSSESSED, THE, Ursula K leGuin, Granada.

ILLUMINATUS TRILOGY, THE, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, Sphere.

See also other libertarian influenced SF writers, e.g. Michael Moorcock, Doris Lessing, Marge Piercy and Kate Wilhelm.

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Mae’r ffederasiwn Class War yn drefniadaeth o grWpiau ac unigolion sydd wedi dod at eu gilydd I newid y cymdeithas yr ydym yn byw, ac I wella sefyllfa y dosbarth gweithiol.

Mae ein cymdeithas wedi’i rannu i ddosbarthiadau sydd wedi’u sefydlu ar rheoliad sefydliadau ac eu cyfoeth. Y Dosbarth Rheoli-y rhai sy’n “pua’r” fatrïoedd neu nwyddau crai, naill drwy cyfranddaliadau neu trwy bod yn gadeirydd a.y.b; pwy sydd dan amodau cyffredinol yn cael eu cefnogi gan y Dosbarthiadau Canol- y rhai sy’n ennill eu safle yn y gymdeithas drwy nawdd y Dosbarth Rheoli- sy’n gwneud eu gwaith budr o reoli a threfnu y Dosbarth Gweithiol sy’n gwneud y gwaith hanfodol. Mae bron pob problem sy’n cael eu dioddef gan y Dosbarth Gweithiol yn tarddu o gymdeithas tebyg. Am fod y Dosbarth Rheoli yn cael pob bwriad i gadw eu safle breintiedig mae angen iddi chael ei ddinistrio- dyma Class War.
Gall newid go iawn ond cael ei gyflawni gyda pobl Dosbarth Gweithiol yn trefnu eu hun i ddelio gyda’r problemau maent yn profi ac i ddarparu am eu hun. Nid yw am ddod yn cael eu trin yn well fel gaethweision ond rheolwyr ffawd ein hun. Mae gweithred uniongyrchol yn hanfodol yn erbyn yr unigolion â’r sefydliadau sy’n sefyll yn eu ffordd. Nid oes dewis arall. Mae trais yn rhan hanfodol o’r rhyfel rhyngddosbarthiadol: nid fel terfysgwyr, ond ar rhan y dosbarth- nhw ddechreuodd e, felly dylwn ni ei ddiweddu!

Mae cymdeithas dosbarthiadol yn creu camddefnyddiadau ar sail rhagfarniadau’r dosbarthiadau Rheoli neu Canol fel rhyw, rhywioldeb, cefndir ethnig, anabledd a.y.b. Mae’r Dosbarth Rheoli yn aml yn defnyddio’r rhain i wahanu ein dosbarth. Dylwn unio ar sail beth sydd gennym yn gyffredinol- ein cefndir ac anghenion Dosbarth Gweithiol.

Dylai’r dosbarth ymladd y rhaniadau yma ar bob ffrynt. Uwch pob arall, mae’r CWF yn credu ni all gwleidyddiaeth cael ei rannu o fywyd- neu bywyd o wleidyddiaeth. Rydym yn gwrthod y chwith “chwyldroadol” sanctaidd/ cyfiawn. Dylai’n gwleidyddiaeth fod yn brwdfrydol ac yn berthnasol I’n bydwydau pob dydd.

Dylai pobl Dosbarth Gweithiol cymryd cyfrifoldeb am eu gwleidyddiaeth cynyddol chwyldroadol. Mae’r eithafolwyr Dosbarth Canol wedi bod dinistrio ein symudiad am mor hir ydy’r Dosbarth Gweithiol wedi bodoli.

Ein Aneliad

Felly aneliad y CWF yw i gynyddu’r milwriaetholdeb a hunan ymwybyddiaeth y Dosbarth Gweithiol i amddiffyn eu diddordebau ac I ddatrys eu problemau. Rydym yn gwneud hyn drwy bropoganda, cyfranogiad bywiog a dadlau cydraddol.

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