Are Anarchists Extremists?

I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as Truth, and as uncompromising as Justice. On this subject I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen – but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – and I will be heard. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal and hasten to the resurrection of the dead.’

– William Lloyd Garrison, in the first issue of The Liberator (1st January, 1831), for the abolition of the slave trade in America.

We are often told that anarchists are ‘extremists’. We have no objection to this description in an age which shows the bankruptcy of ‘centrism’. The politicians who have carefully defined the ‘right’ and ‘left’ limits beyond which political controversy ought not to go, have given us typical performances of ‘moderately putting out fires’.

Who would have thought when Socialist propagandists first kindled the enthusiasm of the masses for a ‘moderate’ struggle against capitalism, that the result would be a Labour Government that apparently thinks our economic ills are caused by people selling fruit from a barrow? If that sounds an exaggeration, count the number of fulminations against ‘spivs and drones’ with those against capitalists! If Mr. Shinwell makes an occasional slighting remark against the latter for the benefit of the workers, the result is so unexpected as to cause a national controversy. Capitalists ought to be partners in industry with workers – we are told by those who once were the ‘moderate’ strugglers against capitalism.

The Conservatives are attempting to make a come-back amongst the workers by play about freedom from State controls. How popular this might be! But it is very plain that all the freedom they offer is freedom for the capitalist to exploit without the interference of any restriction. It is only very ‘moderate’ freedom they want. They ‘moderately’ struggle against State monopoly because they do not want to see it disappear: They want the State to be solely the executive committee of the ruling class, and not to assume the functions of exploitation on its own account that it has been doing.

But what is the prevailing political mood? It is not enthusiasm for State control measured with capitalism that is common to both the main parties, which merely differ in the accent placed on either. The prevailing mood is apathy. ‘Moderation’, the ‘wise counsels’ that always mean acquiescence with the dominant system and the deferment of rebellion as inopportune, is dictated by the apathy of the people. The old stock sayings of ‘haste breeds delay’ and ‘avoiding extremes’ are hackneyed excuses brought out in every period in history when great issues lie before us, by those who appreciate the need for drastic changes but fear to oppose the ruling powers.

In this sense anarchists accept the charge that they are against those who seek to avoid the struggle for social change by excuses that ‘the masses are not ready’.


We reject, however, the application to anarchists of ‘extremist’ in the terms of ‘right’ and ‘left’. The figure of speech, taken from a purely arbitrary arrangement of the French Chamber, that defines parties as ‘right’ and ‘left’, is in fact meaningless to-day.

It has primarily been made meaningless by the fact that Communists, who were once the more revolutionary wing of the social-democratic movement, have a policy dictated by the needs of the Russian State. Only a blind belief that this in any way whatever represents the interests of the workers, and not those of bureaucracy, can say that this is in the least any more ‘progressive’ than having a policy, like the Right Wing, dictated by the needs of any other national State.

When Russian imperialist policy dictated it, the Communists took a more reactionary point of view than the Conservatives. At the moment in England they support strikes because of the possibility of war with Russia; during the war, Russia being on our side, they opposed strikes. It is impossible to define them as a party more ‘progressive’ or revolutionary than the Labour Party but not quite so much as the Anarchists, as belief in the old ‘right-left’ formula would imply. In fact, Mr. Attlee was perfectly correct when in his May Day speech he denied that the Communists were a party of the Left, but, insofar as one is going to use those terms, a party of the Right.

The authoritarian state of the Bolshevists is poles apart from anarchism, and not nearer to it than bourgeois democracy. Obviously, the identity of Fascism and Bolshevism puts these parties nearer together than any other party. This is what suits the ‘moderate’ politicians, and only the Communists use of deserved Left criticism of the Labour Party caused Attlee to deny they were ‘Left’.

For the politicians generally wish to show Fascism at one extreme and Bolshevism at the other extreme; and themselves happily moderate in the middle. Thus, they wish to overlook their affinities with either and both. And it comes in very conveniently to mask any repressive measure with a show of impartiality. Communists banned from secret Civil Service jobs? Obviously necessary from the point of view of security in view of the preparations for war with Russia; but to make it look impartial, they ban both Communists and Fascists, although it is perfectly obvious Fascists are not so likely to disclose secrets to the enemy when it is Russia (their Utopia having been Germany). The Mosley march in East London was likely to cause trouble? All processions therefore banned, although it is only the Mosley marches at which trouble is ever caused, primarily because they are always held in a district where it would cause the most provocation.


In the struggle for social emancipation we must cut away from all politicians and traditional ties. Is there not cause for severity of language in the endeavour to make a clean break with the class- collaboration and political manoeuvring that now is called the Labour movement? On this subject Anarchists, like Lloyd Garrison on the slave trade in history, cannot ‘think, speak or write with moderation’. We have the apathy of the people to overcome.


Freedom 1948-05-15