If wikipedia is to believed, John Lydon was merely searching for a rhyme to “antichrist” when he wrote “Anarchy in the UK.” It seems plausible, and also fitting that when Dave Mustaine of Megadeth covered it, he simply made up the words he didn’t understand. While I’m sure there is a rich intellectual tradition to anarchism, the ones that spout the loudest about it don’t really seem to know much at all. As the socialist league in the UK was disintegrating in 1889, William Morris wrote:
“the active (?) members in London mostly consider themselves Anarchists, but don’t know anything about Socialism and go about ranting revolution in the streets, which is as likely to happen as the conversion of Englishmen from stupidity to quickwittedness.”
E.P. Thompson, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary (2011- originally published 1955, 1976), p.522
Given the politics of the occupy movement and several attempts to address real social problems in the last few years, it seems as if the touting of “anarchism” (which seems to me to read as synonymous with radical libertarianism, or better, individualism) tends to obscure most attempts to create actual change. Morris clearly felt that the main job of his socialist league was education— to “make socialists” by educating people about the oppressive nature of the capitalist system that dominated them. The root cause of economic misery is the economic system, not any abstract notion of “government” as the anarchist/libertarians propose. Morris did not favor a state based socialism, by any means, but an individual socialism that would require an educated polis. The details are sketched in News from Nowhere. Where I get confused is the fact that Morris tends to lump the anarchists with the parliamentarians:
“The truth must be face, the ‘Communists of the League’ are in a very weak position in the Socialist party at present. We have been damaged both by parlementaires & Anarchists, & I don’t think we are strong enough to run a paper; although, numbers apart, there is something to be said for us”
ibid., p. 519
Yes, I do think there is something to be said for them myself. It’s hard to sort through it all. The difficulty of reading a massive book like Thompson’s is that there are so may ways to slice through the contents. After reflecting on Morris’s distaste for Anarchy, which I share, I find myself now wondering why he also dismissed the movement toward “simplicity” claiming that the simple folks were, well, simple. I didn’t save a note in those sections, and I don’t want to reread the entire book to find them. I’ve moved on to a different, less challenging book these past few days.
I’m not through with Morris by any means, but I wanted to try to sort some other things out.