By George Woodcock
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Extra info for The Anarchist Reader
Anarchism, in summary, is a phoenix in an awakening desert, an idea that has revived for the only reason that makes ideas revive: that they respond to some need felt deeply by people - and, since activists are always the tip of any social iceberg, by more people than overtly appear concerned. Anarchism's recent popularity has been in part due to a general reaction against the monolithic welfare state, and already some of the libertarian proposals, like the greater involvement of workers in industrial control and the greater decisive say by people in matters that affect them locally and personally, were beginning to take shape in the 1960s as part of a general shift towards participatory democracy.
Two years of war and political intrigue broke the spirit of the Spanish anarchists. The historic movement created by Bakunin and Proudhon died when Franco's armies marched unopposed into anarchist Barcelona. But the anarchist idea, as distinct from the movement, did not, and in the last decade it has risen like a phoenix from the fire of its own transformation. 4 PHOENIX IN THE AWAKENING DESERT In these pages I have been stressing the differences between anarchism and more dogmatic political orthodoxies, and especially between anarchist groups and the tightly hierarchical structures of political parties whose aim is power.
Groups dedicated to direct action and to exploring the implications of a society without war and violence and hence without coercion sprang up all over Britain. At the same time the remnants of the anarchist movement was revivified, and the anarchists - in the new sense as well as the old - became a vocal and active element in British political life, few in comparison with the larger political parties, but more numerous and more influential than they ever were in the England of the past. A striking characteristic of the neo-anarchism that emerged in Britain and the United States at this time was that, like so many modern protest movements, it represented mainly a trend among the young, and the middle-class young especially.