Friday, 25 August 1989


Paul Anderson, review of A Commitment to Campaign: A Sociological Study of CND by John Mattausch (Manchester, £29.95), Tribune 25 August 1989

Back in the sixties, Frank Parkin did a study of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Middle Class Radicals, that is still on the reading lists of political sociology students in Britain's universities.

Parkin's line on the first "ban-the-bomb" movement, based largely on responses to questionnaires put out well after it had passed its peak, was that it was something of an emotional prop for its deviant, alienated, highly educated adherents. It is a measure of how far this analysis hurt that books are still being written to attack it.

Mattausch starts from methodological premises: Parkin was writing before ethnomethodology and phenomenology hit British sociology: overwhelmed by positivism, he never engaged in empathetic understanding of how his "middle class radicals" perceived their project in the context of their everyday lives. In other words, Parkin didn't spend hours and hours listening to what CNDers had to say and recording it in minute detail.

Mattausch has an important point: it is daft to make grand assumptions about what motivates people without talking to them, and in-depth interviews are undoubtedly the best way of finding out what people think.

But that's not the end of the story. Doing sociology this way has its own problems. Which people should be chosen for interview, and how should they be chosen? How can the chosen few be considered "typical" of those not interviewed? And what should the interviewees be asked?

Mattausch chose to talk to "grass-roots" CND members and elected officers in two groups, one in a Scottish city and another in the south of England, and interviewed them in most detail about their CND activities and employment, with general political beliefs and ideas about international affairs taking a back seat. Much that comes out of the interviews is interesting, not least the heterogeneity of the CNDers' broad political views and the disproportionate number of them who work as welfare professionals.

But the overall effect is rather frustrating. His samples are small, and are drawn from only two places, both with very particular political cultures, so it is difficult to draw many substantial general conclusions from his research. More important, the absence from his "interview schedule" of serious questions about attitudes to international affairs severely limits the value of the whole exercise.

Mattausch's book provides some useful insights into the peace movement, but much of the picture is missing.


Paul Anderson, review of A Flea in Her Ear by Georges Feydeau (Old Vic) , Tribune 25 August 1989

Georges Feydeau was a contemporary of Alfred Jerry and Sigmund Freud, and his work, like Jarry's and Freud's, was much admired by later surrealists and absurdists. Eugene Ionesco, for example, described Feydeau as "the true precursor of the Marx Brothers and other American comedians, in whose work everything starts with apparent casualness, only to end up in a state of precipitation — which may well be an accurate caricature of our own agitation, our gallop towards the abyss".

So why not go for an uncompromising modernist interpretation of A Flea in Her Ear? That is certainly what Richard Jones has tried with his Old Vic production, which goes out of its way to emphasise the serious modern core of Feydeau's farce.

Out go the stuffy interiors and costumes normally associated with fin de siecle French vaudeville; in come some exquisite sets from the Brothers Quay (an elegant office and the seediest brothel imaginable) and some gloriously improbable over-the-top outfits (at least for the women) by Sue Blanc. Instead of presenting believable characters in an improbable situation, as Feydeau intended, the play becomes the nightmare story of Victor Emmanuel Chandebise's fantasy of sexual impotence, peopled by ghoulish caricatures. The whole thing is taken at about half the normal farce pace.

All this works particularly well where the caricatures are particularly cruel — as with Kevin William's psychotic hot-blooded Carlos Homenides De Histangua, Phelim McDermott's ineffectual Camille Chandebise and Matthew Scurfield's sadistic brothel-keeper.

There are times when no amount of clowning can make up for the (deliberate) lack of characterisation in Feydeau's parts and times (remarkably few) when the play is simply too slow but, on the whole, Jones's unorthodox treatment is both instructive and hugely entertaining.

Friday, 4 August 1989


Paul Anderson, review of For Anarchism by David Goodway (ed) (Routledge, £12.95), Tribune, 4 August 1989

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, anarchism had significant influence in radical peasant and working-class movements throughout the world, particularly in southern Europe, Russia and Latin America. But that influence declined rapidly after the Bolshevik revolution. In Russia, the anarchists were the first victims of the Red terror; in Italy, they were eclipsed by fascism; in Spain, they were first skewered by the Comintern then roasted by Franco.

In France and most the rest of the world they slipped slowly into the political margins, unable to compete with the partisans of a "successful" revolution for the allegiance of workers, peasants and intellectuals who wanted more drastic change than that promised by reformist social democracy. By the fifties, although the flame was kept alive by small schismatic groups of intellectuals, anarchism seemed to be finished.

But then came an unexpected revival. From the late fifties, anarchism once again established itself as a current in the radical left — not this time among peasants and workers in societies just beginning to industrialise, but among the young of the developed world, disillusioned by the banal consumerism of the west and repelled by the police states of "actually existing socialism". In 1968, the anarchist black flag flew above the Sorbonne.

Even in Britain, anarchist groups and magazines blossomed through the sixties and seventies. Few lasted long, and the number of "self-confessed" anarchists at any one time was tiny, as it still is. Paris 1968 and the 1981 riots notwithstanding, revolution in Britain has not been on the cards for at least 60 years, and a revolutionary ideology without even the petty authoritarian organisation of the Leninist sects stands little chance of holding on to most of its adherents.

Nevertheless, libertarian ideas — about decentralisation and democratisation of power, direct action and autonomous self-organisation — have had a massive effect on the left and on wider social movements in the past 30 years. With Leninism appearing more and more bankrupt, libertarianism has been the obvious tradition to turn to for alternatives to orthodox social democracy. Even the Communist Party is saying things today that it would not have looked out of place in Anarchy in the early sixties.

The cover of For Anarchism, a book of essays from the History Workshop Anarchist Research Group, boasts that its contributors demonstrate that anarchism is a "vital, creative tradition which should once more be considered seriously", so I was looking forward to some analysis of the post-68 impact of libertarian ideas in its pages. But I was disappointed.

David Goodway provides an upbeat introduction on the fortunes of British "true-believer" anarchism in the'past 30 years, but fails to address the question of anarchism's broad influence; and although the book's historical studies of turn-of-the-century anarchist thought and practice and its contributions to contemporary political philosophy are interesting enough if you like that sort of thing, they fall far short of fulfilling the blurb's promise.

Only Tom Cahill, with a piece on co-operatives, and Murray Bookchin, putting the case for eco-anarchism as the basis for any future left, really leave the academic anarchist ghetto to engage with the concerns of the wider world. Neither, however, gets much further than clearing his throat. Give me Colin Ward any day.