I can never resist the weekly second hand book stall on campus. Last week I scored Janice Reid’s ‘Sorcerers and Healing Spirits’ for eight potatoes. This week I stumbled upon George Woodcock’s ‘Anarchism: a history of libertarian ideas and movements’ and Bertrand Russell’s ‘Roads to Freedom: socialism, anarchism and syndicalism’ – for a total of ten potatoes. I’m particularly interested in reading the latter, which was written ‘in the darkest days of teh first war, when Russell, on the point of being imprisoned, was perhaps at his most vigorous and clear-sighted in his concern for social reconstruction.’ It was originally published in 1918,
‘when the Germans still appeared to be everywhere victorious. The Russians were concluding a separate peace, and in the West it seemed that the Germans would capture the Channel Ports and drive a wedge between the British and French armies. The prospect of peace seemed remote’ (p. 5).
Anyone who has come across Alexader Berkman’s ‘Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist’ or read anything of Gramsci’s ‘Prison Notebooks’ will understand something of my curiosity and admiration for examples besieged radical writing. Anyway, the introduction begins thus so:
The attempt to conceive imaginatively a better ordering of human society than the destructive and cruel chaos in which mankind have hitherto existed is by no means modern: it is at least as old as Plato, whose ‘Repulic’ set the model for the Utopias of subsequent philosophers. Whoever contemplates the word in the light of an ideal – whether what he seeks be intellect, or art, or love, or simple happiness, or all together – must feel a great sorrow in the evils that men needlessly allow to continue, and – if he be a man of force and vital energy – an urgent desire to lead men to the realisation of the good which inspires his creative vision. It is this desire which has been the primary force moving the pioneers of Socialism and Anarchism, as it moved the inventors of ideal commonwealths in the past. In this there is nothing new. What is new in Socialism and Anarchism is that close relation of the ideal to the present sufferings of men, which has enabled powerful political movements to grow out of the hopes of solitary thinkers. It is this that makes Socialism and Anarchism important, and it is this that makes them dangerous to those who batten, consciously or unconsciously, upon the evils of our present order of society’ (p. 13).