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A is for Anarchy: an interview with Alan Moore

17 Aug

The following conversation between Alan Moore and Margeret Killjoy was originally posted on Infoshop and is included in Margeret’s excellent collection of interviews with Anarchist writers, Mythmakers and Lawbreakers: Anarchist Writers on Fiction.

Strangers in a Tangled  Wilderness have released each of the interviews in zine format, and we’ll include links to the Alan Moore pdfs at the end of this post – enjoy…

Authors on Anarchism – an Interview with Alan Moore

An Interview by Margaret Killjoy

MK: I’ll start with the basics: What are your associations with anarchism? Do you consider yourself an anarchist? How did you first get involved in radical politics?

AM:  Well I suppose I first got involved in radical politics as a matter of course, during the late 1960s when it was a part of the culture. The counterculture, as we called it then, was very eclectic and all embracing. It included fashions of dress, styles of music, philosophical positions, and, inevitably, political positions. And although there would be various political leanings coming to the fore from time to time, I suppose that the overall consensus political standpoint was probably an anarchist one. Although probably back in those days, when I was a very young teenager, I didn’t necessarily put it into those terms. I was probably not familiar enough with the concepts of anarchy to actually label myself as such. It was later, as I went into my twenties and started to think about things more seriously that I came to a conclusion that basically the only political standpoint that I could possibly adhere to would be an anarchist one.

It furthermore occurred to me that, basically, anarchy is in fact the only political position that is actually possible. I believe that all other political states are in fact variations or outgrowths of a basic state of anarchy; after all, when you mention the idea of anarchy to most people they will tell you what a bad idea it is because the biggest gang would just take over. Which is pretty much how I see contemporary society. We live in a badly developed anarchist situation in which the biggest gang has taken over and have declared that it is not an anarchist situation—that it is a capitalist or a communist situation. But I tend to think that anarchy is the most natural form of politics for a human being to actually practice. All it means, the word, is no leaders. An-archon. No leaders.

And I think that if we actually look at nature without prejudice, we find that this is the state of affairs that usually pertains. I mean, previous naturalists have looked at groups of animals and have said: “ah yes this animal is the alpha male, so he is the leader of the group.” Whereas later research tends to suggest that this is simply the researcher projecting his own social visions onto a group of animals, and that if you observe them more closely you will find out that, yes there is this big tough male that seems to handle most of the fights, but that the most important member of the herd is probably this female at the back that everybody seems to gather around during any conflict. There are other animals within the herd that might have an importance in terms of finding new territory. In fact the herd does not actually structure itself in terms of hierarchies; every animal seems to have its own position within the herd.

And actually, if you look at most natural human groupings of people, such as a family or a group of friends, you will find that again, we don’t have leaders. Unless you’re talking about some incredibly rigid Victorian family, there is nobody that could be said to be the leader of the family; everybody has their own function. And it seems to me that anarchy is the state that most naturally obtains when you’re talking about ordinary human beings living their lives in a natural way. Its only when you get these fairly alien structures of order that are represented by our major political schools of thought, that you start to get these terrible problems arising—problems regarding our status within the hierarchy, the uncertainties and insecurities that are the result of that. You get these jealousies, these power struggles, which by and large, don’t really afflict the rest of the animal kingdom. It seems to me that the idea of leaders is an unnatural one that was probably thought up by a leader at some point in antiquity; leaders have been brutally enforcing that idea ever since, to the point where most people cannot conceive of an alternative.

This is one of the things about anarchy: if we were to take out all the leaders tomorrow, and put them up against a wall and shoot them— and it’s a lovely thought, so let me just dwell on that for a moment before I dismiss it—but if we were to do that, society would probably collapse, because the majority of people have had thousands of years of being conditioned to depend upon leadership from a source outside themselves. That has become a crutch to an awful lot of people, and if you were to simply kick it away, then those people would simply fall over and take society with them. In order for any workable and realistic state of anarchy to be achieved, you will obviously have to educate people—and educate them massively—towards a state where they could actually take responsibility for their own actions and simultaneously be aware that they are acting in a wider group: that they must allow other people within that group to take responsibility for their own actions. Which on a small scale, as it works in families or in groups of friends, doesn’t seem to be that implausible, but it would take an awful lot of education to get people to think about living their lives in that way. And obviously, no government, no state, is ever going to educate people to the point where the state itself would become irrelevant. So if people are going to be educated to the point where they can take responsibility for their own laws and their own actions and become, to my mind, fully actualized human beings, then it will have to come from some source other than the state or government.

There have been underground traditions, both underground political traditions and underground spiritual traditions. There have been people such as John Bunyan, who spent almost 30 years in prison in nearby Bedford. This is the author of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” who spent nearly 30 years in prison because the spiritual ideas he was espousing were so incendiary. This was a part of a movement; around the 17th century in England there were all sorts of strange ideas bubbling to the surface, particularly around the area where I live, in the midlands. You’ve got all of these religions—although they were often considered heretical—which were stating that there was no need for priests, that there was no need for leaders; they were hoping to announce a nation of saints. That everybody would become a saint, and that they would become mechanic philosophers. People could work all day, as say a tinker, but that in the evening they could stand up and preach the word of the Lord with as much authority as any person in a pulpit. This looks to be a glorious idea, but you can see how it would have terrified the authorities at the time.

And indeed it was during the 17th century that, partly fueled by similar ideas, Oliver Cromwell rose up and commenced the British civil war, which eventually led to the beheading of Charles I. I mean it was, in the phrase of one of the best books about the period, “literally a case of the world turned upside down.” There have been these underground traditions, whether they are spiritual or purely political, that have expressed anarchist ideas for centuries, and these days there is even more potential for the dissemination of ideas like that. With the growth of the internet and the growth of communication in general, these ideas are much harder to suppress. Simply putting John Bunyan in jail for 30 years isn’t really going to cut it anymore. Also, the internet does suggest possibilities for throwing off centralized state control.

There was a very interesting piece, a 10 minute television broadcast, made over here by a gentleman from the London school of economics, a lecturer who looked like the least threatening man that you can imagine. He didn’t look like an apocalyptic political firebrand by any means; he looked like and was an accountant and an economist. And yet the actual picture he was painting was quite compelling. He was saying that the only reason that governments are governments is that they control the currency; they don’t actually do anything for us that we don’t pay for, other than expose us to the threat of foreign wars by their reckless actions. They don’t actually really even govern us; all they do is control the currency and rake off the proceeds.

Now in the past, if you wanted to get yourself thrown into jail forever than the best way of going about it woulda been not to have molested children or gone on a serial killing spree or something like that, the best way would have been to try to establish your own currency. Because the nature of currency is a kind of magic: these pieces of metal or pieces of paper only have value as long as people believe that they do. If somebody were to introduce another kind of piece of metal or piece of paper, and if people were to start believing in that form of currency more than yours, then all of your wealth would suddenly vanish. So attempts to introduce alternative currencies in the past have been ruthlessly stamped out. And with the internet, that is no longer anywhere near as easy. In fact, a lot of modern companies have rewards schemes; supermarkets run reward schemes that are in certain senses like a form of currency. A lot of companies have schemes in which workers will be paid in credits which can be redeemed from almost anything from a house to a tin of beans at the company store. There are also green economies that are starting up here and there whereby you’ll have say, an underprivileged place in England where you have an out-of-work mechanic who wants his house decorated. He will, as an out-of-work mechanic, have accumulated green credits by doing the odd job around the neighborhood—fixing peoples cars, stuff like that—and he will be able to spend those credits by getting in touch with an out-of-work decorator who will come and paint his house for him.

Now again, schemes like this are increasingly difficult to control, and what this lecturer from the London school of economics was saying is that in the future we would have to be prepared a situation in which we have firstly, no currency, and secondly, as a result of that, no government. So there are ways in which technology itself and the ways in which we respond to technology—the ways in which we adapt our culture and our way of living to accommodate breakthroughs and movements in technology—might give us a way to move around government. To evolve around government to a point where such a thing is no longer necessary or desirable. That is perhaps an optimistic vision, but it’s one of the only realistic ways I can see it happening.

I don’t believe that a violent revolution is ever going to work, simply on the grounds that it never has in the past. I mean, speaking as a resident of Northampton, during the English civil war we backed Cromwell—we provided all the boots for his army—and we were a center of antiroyalist sentiment. Incidentally, we provided all the boots to the Confederates as well, so obviously we know how to pick a winner. Cromwell’s revolution? I guess it succeeded. The king was beheaded, which was quite early in the day for beheading; amongst the European monarchy, I think we can claim to have kicked off that trend. But give it another ten years; as it turned out, Cromwell himself was a monster. He was every bit the monster that Charles I had been. In some ways he was worse. When Cromwell died, the restoration happened. Charles II came to power and was so pissed off with the people of Northampton that he pulled down our castle. And the status quo was restored. I really don’t think that a violent revolution is ever going to provide a long-term solution to the problems of the ordinary person. I think that is something that we had best handle ourselves, and which we are most likely to achieve by the simple evolution of western society. But that might take quite a while, and whether we have that amount of time is, of course, open to debate.

So I suppose that those are my principal thoughts upon anarchy. They’ve been with me for a long time. Way back in the early 80s, when I was first kicking off writing V for Vendetta for the English magazine Warrior, the story was very much a result of me actually sitting down and thinking about what the real extreme poles of politics were. Because it struck me that simple capitalism and communism were not the two poles around which the whole of political thinking revolved. It struck me that two much more representative extremes were to be found in fascism and anarchy.

Fascism is a complete abdication of personal responsibility. You are surrendering all responsibility for your own actions to the state on the belief that in unity there is strength, which was the definition of fascism represented by the original roman symbol of the bundle of bound twigs. Yes, it is a very persuasive argument: “In unity there is strength.” But inevitably people tend to come to a conclusion that the bundle of bound twigs will be much stronger if all the twigs are of a uniform size and shape, that there aren’t any oddly shaped or bent twigs that are disturbing the bundle. So it goes from “in unity there is strength” to “in uniformity there is strength” and from there it proceeds to the excesses of fascism as we’ve seen them exercised throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.

Now anarchy, on the other hand, is almost starting from the principle that “in diversity, there is strength,” which makes much more sense from the point of view of looking at the natural world. Nature, and the forces of evolution—if you happen to be living in a country where they still believe in the forces of evolution, of course —did not really see fit to follow that “in unity and in uniformity there is strength” idea. If you want to talk about successful species, then you’re talking about bats and beetles; there are thousands of different varieties of different bat and beetle. Certain sorts of tree and bush have diversified so splendidly that there are now thousands of different examples of this basic species. Now you contrast that to something like horses or humans, where there’s one basic type of human, and two maybe three basic types of horses. In terms of the evolutionary tree, we are very bare, denuded branches. The whole program of evolution seems to be to diversify, because in diversity there is strength.

And if you apply that on a social level, then you get something like anarchy. Everybody is recognized as having their own abilities, their own particular agendas, and everybody has their own need to work cooperatively with other people. So it’s conceivable that the same kind of circumstances that obtain in a small human grouping, like a family or like a collection of friends, could be made to obtain in a wider human grouping like a civilization.

So I suppose those are pretty much my thoughts at the moment upon anarchy. Although of course with anarchy, it’s a fairly shifting commodity, so if you ask me tomorrow I might have a different idea.

MK: In “writing for comics” you write about how stories can have relevance to the world around us, how stories can be “useful” in some way. How do you think that stories can be useful? And how do politics inform your work?

AM: Well, I think that stories are probably more than just useful; they are probably vital. I think that if you actually examine the relationship between real life and fiction, you’ll find that we most often predicate our real lives upon fictions that we have applied from somewhere. From our earliest days in the caves I’m certain we have, when assembling our own personalities, tried to borrow qualities —perhaps from real people that we admire, but as often as not from some completely mythical person, some god or some hero, some character from a storybook. Whether this is a good idea or not, this tends to be what we do. The way that we talk, the way that we act, the way that we behave, we’re probably taking our example from some fiction or prototype. Even if it’s a real person who’s inspiring us, it may be that they were partly inspired by fictional examples. And given that, it is quite easy to see that in a sense, our entire lives— individually or as a culture—are a kind of narrative.

It’s a kind of fiction, it is not a reality in the sense that it is something concrete and fixed; we constantly fictionalize our own experience. We edit our own experience. There are bits of it that we simply misremember, and there are bits of it that we deliberately edit out because they’re not of interest to us or perhaps they show us in a bad light. So we’re constantly revising, both as individuals and as nations, our own past. We’re turning it moment by moment into a kind of fiction, that is the way that we assemble our daily reality. We are not experiencing reality directly, we are simply experiencing our perception of reality. All of these signals pulsing down optic nerves, and in the tympanums of our ears, from those we compose, moment by moment, our view of reality. And inevitably, because people’s perceptions are different, and the constructions that people put on things are different, then there is no such thing as a cold, objective reality that is solid and fixed and not open to interpretation. Inevitably, we are to some extent creating a fiction every second of our lives, the fiction of who we are, the fiction of what our lives are about, the meanings that we give to things.

So to some degree, stories are at the absolute center of human existence. Sometimes to disastrous effect; if you think about how various ancient religious stories—that may have been intended at the time as no more than fables—have led to so many devastating wars up to and including the present day. Obviously there are some occasions when the fictions that we base our lives upon lead us into some terrifying territory. So yes, I think that stories have a great part to play, in some ways more than the development of laws or the development of any other kind of sociological marker. I think that it is the development of our fictions and the development of our stories that tend to be the real measure of our progress. I tend to think that when we look back at culture, we’re generally looking at art as the measure of the high points of our culture. We’re not looking at war, or the major, benign political events. We’re generally looking at cultural highpoints, such as a story.

As to how politics relate to the storytelling process, I’d say that it’s probably in the same way that politics relate to everything. I mean, as the old feminist maxim used to go, “the personal is the political.” We don’t really live in an existence where the different aspects of our society are compartmentalized in the way that they are in bookshops. In a bookshop, you’ll have a section that is about history, that is about politics, that is about the contemporary living, or the environment, or modern thinking, modern attitudes. All of these things are political. All of these things are not compartmentalized; they’re all mixed up together. And I think that inevitably there is going to be a political element in everything that we do or don’t do. In everything we believe, or do not believe.

I mean, in terms of politics I think that it’s important to remember what the word actually means. Politics sometimes sells itself as having an ethical dimension, as if there was good politics and bad politics. As far as I understand it, the word actually has the same root as the word polite. It is the art of conveying information in a politic way, in a way that will be discrete and diplomatic and will offend the least people. And basically we’re talking about spin. Rather than being purely a late 20th, early 21st century term, it’s obvious that politics have always been nothing but spin. But, that said, it is the system which is interwoven with our everyday lives, so every aspect our lives is bound to have a political element, including writing fiction.

I suppose any form of art can be said to be propaganda for a state of mind. Inevitably, if you are creating a painting, or writing a story, you are making propaganda, in a sense, for the way that you feel, the way that you think, the way that you see the world. You are trying to express your own view of reality and existence, and that is inevitably going to be a political action—especially if your view of existence is too far removed from the mainstream view of existence. Which is how an awful lot of writers have gotten into terrible trouble in the past.

MK: Have you run into any problems with your publishers, owing to your radical politics?

AM: Well, no, surprisingly. I largely got into comics under the influence of the American underground comics; that was probably the background that I was coming from, a kind of adulation of American underground culture, including its comic strips. Now that background was always very, very political. So right from the start there would probably always be some politically satirical element, at least from time to time. When it was necessary, or felt right for the story, there would be some satirical political element creeping in to my work right from the earliest days. A lot of the very early little short stories I did for 2000AD, little twist-ending science-fiction tales. When it was possible I would try to get some kind of political moral, or simply moral, into stories like that. Simply because it made them better stories, and it made me feel better about writing them because I was expressing my own beliefs.

Now because those stories were popular, because they sold more comics, I never had any problem at all. Even if the people publishing the books didn’t share my beliefs or politics—and in most instances their politics would have been 180 degrees away from mine—they at least understood their own sales figures. And they seemed to be able to live with that, with publishing views to which they themselves they did not subscribe, so long as the readers were buying the books in large numbers. They are prepared to forgive you anything if you’re making enough money for them. I think that’s the general message that I’ve taken from my career in comics; that if you’re good enough, if you’re popular enough, if you’re making enough money, then they will quite cheerfully allow you to use their publishing facilities to disseminate ideas that perhaps are very, very radical. Perhaps even in some contexts, potentially dangerous. This is the beauty of capitalism: there is an inherent greed that is more concerned with raking in the money than in whatever message might be being circulated. So no, I’ve never really had any problems with that.

MK: Can you point to any effect that your stories have had on the world?

AM:  I can’t think that many positive ones. I would like to think that some of my work has opened up people’s thinking about certain areas. On a very primitive level, it would be nice to think that people thought a little bit differently about the comics medium as a result of my work, and saw greater possibility in it. And realized what a useful tool for disseminating information it was. That would be an accomplishment. That would have added a very useful implement to the arsenal of people who are seeking social change, because comics can be an incredibly useful tool in that regard. I’d also like to think that perhaps, on a higher level, that some of my work has the potential to radically change enough people’s ideas upon a subject. To perhaps, eventually, decades after my own death, affect some kind of minor change in the way that people see and organize society. Some of my magical work that I’ve done is an attempt to get people to see reality and it’s possibilities in a different light. I’d like to think that that might have some kind of impact eventually. I’d like to think that Lost Girls, with its attempt to rehabilitate the whole notion of pornography, might have some benign effects. That people will be able to potentially come up with a form of pornography which is not ugly, which is intelligent, and which potentially makes pornography into a kind of beautiful, welcoming arena in which our most closely guarded sexual secrets can be discussed in an open and healthy way. Where our shameful fantasies are not left to fester and to turn into something monstrous in the dark inside us. It would be nice to think that maybe stuff like Lost Girls and the magical material might have the potential to actually change the way people think.

With relation to the magic, I can remember one the last conversations I had with my very dear and much missed friend, the writer Kathy Acker. This was very soon after I had just become interested and involved with magic. I was saying to her how the way I was then seeing things was that basically magic was about the last and best bastion of revolution. The political revolution, the sexual revolution, these things had their part and had their limits, whereas the idea of a magical revolution would revolve around actually changing people’s consciousnesses, which is to say, actually changing the nature of perceived reality. Kathy agreed with that completely—it sort of followed on some of her own experiences—and I still think that that is true. In some ways, magic is the most political of all of the areas that I’m involved with.

For example, we were talking earlier—well I was talking earlier— about anarchy and fascism being the two poles of politics. On one hand you’ve got fascism, with the bound bundle of twigs, the idea that in unity and uniformity there is strength; on the other you have anarchy, which is completely determined by the individual, and where the individual determines his or her own life. Now if you move that into the spiritual domain, then in religion, I find very much the spiritual equivalent of fascism. The word “religion” comes from the root word ligare, which is the same root word as ligature, and ligament, and basically means “bound together in one belief.” It’s basically the same as the idea behind fascism; there’s not even necessarily a spiritual component it. Everything from the Republican Party to the Girl Guides could be seen as a religion, in that they are bound together in one belief. So to me, like I said, religion becomes very much the spiritual equivalent of fascism. And by the same token, magic becomes the spiritual equivalent of anarchy, in that it is purely about self-determination, with the magician simply a human being writ large, and in more dramatic terms, standing at the center of his or her own universe. Which I think is a kind of a spiritual statement of the basic anarchist position. I find an awful lot in common between anarchist politics and the pursuit of magic, that there’s a great sympathy there.

MK: Have you heard of the A for Anarchy project that happened in New York City with the release of the movie version of V for Vendetta?

AM:  No I haven’t, please go on, inform me.

MK:  Some anarchist activist types started tabling outside of the movie showings with information about how Hollywood had taken the politics out of the movie.

AM:  Ah, now that is fantastic, that is really good to hear, because that’s one of the things that had distressed me. What had originally been a straightforward battle of ideas between anarchy and fascism had been turned into a kind of ham-fisted parable of 9-11 and the war against terror, in which the words anarchy and fascism appear nowhere. I mean, at the time I was thinking: look, if they wanted to protest about George Bush and the way that American society is going since 9-11—which would completely understandable—then why don’t they do what I did back in the 1980s when I didn’t like the way that England was going under Margaret Thatcher, which is to do a story in my own country, that was clearly about events that were happening right then in my own country, and kind of make it obvious that that’s what you’re talking about. It struck me that for Hollywood to make V for Vendetta, it was a way for thwarted and impotent American liberals to feel that they were making some kind of statement about how pissed off they were with the current situation without really risking anything. It’s all set in England, which I think that probably, in most American eyes, is kind of a fairytale kingdom where we still perhaps still have giants. It doesn’t really exist; it might as well be in the Land of Oz for most Americans. So you can get set your political parable in this fantasy environment called England, and then you can vent your spleen against George Bush and the neo- conservatives. Those were my feelings, and I must admit those are completely based upon not having seen the film even once, but having read a certain amount of the screenplay. That was enough.

But that’s really interesting about the A for Anarchy demonstrations. That’s fantastic.

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Bone Idle: or Work Doesn’t Work! An Interview with Ian Bone and Ray Roughler Jones

15 Aug

The following conversation between Tom Hodgkinson (The Idler), Ian Bone (of Class War fame) and Ray Roughler-Jones (Roughler TV) took place in December 2009 and appears in issue 43 of The Idler: Back to the Land.

Taking Liberties

by Tom Hodgkinson

WHEN IT COMES to being a professional idler, I have to take my hat off to those two grand masters of anti-capitalist slack, Ian Bone and Ray Roughler-Jones. Bone is best known for Class War, his provocative, aggressive, radical paper. I also read Bone’s excellent biography, Bash the Rich, an account of a working class bohemian life. Being working class for Bone is not about slaving in the factories, but about pursuing a life of intellectual curiosity, pleasure and freedom; in a sense, not working. Ray Roughler-Jones is Bone’s old friend who I remember from my days working at Rough Trade shop in Portobello Road in 1990. Ray edits the Roughler magazine and puts on all sorts of events in the W11 area, often working with the actress Anna Chancellor, who starred in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Another project is the Youtube channel Roughler TV. He has been on the dole for about forty years. Bone is publishing Ray’s autobiography, Drowning on Dry Land, on his indie publishing label, Bone Books. Another release on Bone Books is Hartmann the Anarchist: The Doom of the Great City, a story first published in 1892 and written by a seventeen year old public schoolboy called E. Douglas Fawcett.

Anyway, I arranged to meet up these two outstanding beacons of the idling classes in Mike’s Café in Portobello Road. “Blimey, this has smartened up a bit, hasn’t it?” commented Bone when he walked in. Bone is well-dressed in a Fedora and a nice wool overcoat.

TH: Now most people think of anarchy as violent and aggressive. But to me it is all about voluntary action and independence. I have been talking [with Warren Draper] about an anarchy movement—called “Anglarchy”—that is rooted in English literature, Blake and Cobbett, very practical, and not about smashing up the bus stops. Although there may be a place for that. What’s your idea of liberty, anarchy, freedom?

IB: Pretty much the same as yours: a world without work, a world of unlicensed pleasure. I certainly don’t go for all that right-to-work bollocks. I see interviews with kids hanging around shopping centres and all they want to do is sit on the wall all day and talk to their mates, and someone with a microphone goes: “wouldn’t you rather have a job?” And they say, “yes, oh yeah, we’d rather have a job”, as a knee jerk. But that’s the last thing in the world they want.

TH: The recent marches and demonstrations in London: they were marching for jobs. They had banners saying, “we want jobs”. And there’s this thing called The People’s Charter, which says vaguely “we want more and better jobs”.

IB: That’s just bollocks. It’s mostly people on the Left who have this ethos, but the feckless working class doesn’t want “more and better jobs”. The Left has an image of the Jarrow Marches. My Grandad was an unemployed miner in Scotland in the thirties, at the same time as the Jarrow Marches. He was supposed to have had a job filling the pits in, but instead, there’s a great photo of him playing cards and dominos. The central question is, how do the working class become idlers, as opposed to those who can afford idleness, knowing others will provide their sewerage, drains, electricity, food, water and so on. There is a pivotal moment in Dave Douglass’s new book where he writes about the return to work after the miners’ strike where many miners deliberately sabotaged the pits in order to take redundancy payments. This unseen, unheroic working class struggle for freedom from work is seldom recognised or acknowledged, so idleness as a class issue is not taken up because the Left has a different agenda, with its Jarrow heroism.

TH: One of my enemy figures would be Tony Benn. He has this idea of full employment and the working classes riding off to the factory.

IB: In the Eighties the SWP organised the “right to work” marches. Everyone had their little SWP bibs on. The kids who went on it were promised discos every night, sex, and all they got was Trotsky’s Transitional Programme.

TH: Do you ever hear that thing where people on the hard Left accuse anarchists of being bourgeois?

IB: Fucking hypocrites — the SWP is entirely made up of people who used to be polytechnic lecturers wearing corduroy trousers… what’s their working class composition? Virtually nil, now. But I don’t really care about people’s background: it’s where you are now. What you can’t do is do both: be politically anarchist and retain all the privileges of the previous life. For example George Monbiot, who has done the classic thing: Monbiot is so keen on allotments that he has seven of his own. But it never occurs to him there might be six other people out there. Have you heard his thing, “the Land is Ours”? Yes, the land is yours: you fuckin’ own it, you cunt!

TH: Yes, but Simon Fairlie and The Land, though: that really is a good magazine.

IB: Oh yes, well I like all the anti-enclosures stuff, the history of English radicalism. The poaching wars. There were huge wars in the 18th century between poachers and gamekeepers, with huge gangs on either side.

TH: How have things changed since you two first came to London thirty or forty years ago?

RRJ: In Wales, signing on for us was a full-time job. The only people I knew who had jobs were people who were just about to have a court appearance. Nowadays, with the questions they ask you before you go on a medical, you can work out all the conditions to get on the sick… “bad back” used to be the only clincher… now with the Internet you can authoritatively claim to have the symptoms of Ebola virus and they’ll sort you out sharpish.

TH: And when did you both take against work?

RRJ: It’s just that nobody worked, none of our friends worked.

IB: No one ever worked… in Bash the Rich there’s a story about “turning to the working class” but we didn’t know anyone who was working! We were all on the dole so we started a Claimants’ Union, a union for people on the dole. We would fight to get you all your entitlements. The classic line was: “If they get you a job, we’ll fight your case!” There were all the jokes about what occupation you gave when you were signing on: Father Christmas, snow clearer. and so on. One job I gave was “Coronation Programme Seller”. “What’s that then, Mr Bone?” asked a puzzled clerk. “Very long hours. On the day, you’re up at five in the morning till all hours,” I countered — not mentioning I hadn’t had the luck of securing such a position since 1953!

TH: Is it actually responsible to be claiming dole from the State?

RRJ: Well, the less money they have to start wars.

TH: Is it easier now, or harder?

IB: It’s just as easy. My son was sent for a job in Cashbusters in Bristol. How was he going to get out of it? I said, well, first ask about unions. What sort of union is there? Then the clincher – ask about paternity leave.

TH: So you advise your son on how not to work?

IB: Like a duck to water. He just didn’t want to take a glorified debt collection job.

TH: Does the skiving thing go back for generations, do you think?

RRJ: It’s not exactly skiving. It’s hard graft to be on the dole. They never leave you alone… one time, we thought we’d better get a job. And we saw these dustmen in the pub in Swansea. They were always there at eleven in the morning. We thought we’d try that. We went down there. The interview was: “what’s your name? Right, start tomorrow.” So we went the next day. Fireball XL5 was the name of our wagon. We said to the bloke in charge, early finish is it? He said, oh yes, you’ll be finished by half past four. We said, what about the eleven o’clock finish? And he said, you’ve got to be here thirty years before you get that shift. I remember running away from the depot.

TH: So even the prospect of working till four thirty just for one day was too much?

IB: Yes — we’re fucking men of principle.

RRJ: It’s a tricky old life on the dole, because they don’t leave you alone and they don’t give you much money. So you spend the rest of the time trying to top up.

TH: Little businesses and things?

RRJ: Or whatever.

IB: The critical problem for me has always been that capitalism needs a reserve army of the unemployed. What about the people who want to be unemployed? All these people who are broken-hearted because they can’t get a job or are being made redundant… so you might as well have people who want to be unemployed.

TH: But capitalism wants the unemployed people who are desperate for a job, not the ones who enjoy being unemployed.

IB: Remember the four week rule in the seventies – if you were single and didn’t take a job in four weeks they’d stop your money. A fucking disgrace.

RRJ: It’s tricky at the moment.

TH: Are you on the dole?

RRJ: I’m on the sick.

TH: On the sick from what, though?

IB: Bad back…

TH: I have one friend who has declared himself mad.

RRJ: Then they leave you alone completely.

TH: Won’t you both be getting a pension soon?

IB: I’ve never paid enough subs to get a pension…. I was on the dole for years. And I had a job as a community worker. I used to go in and read the Guardian, make some phone calls and go on the Internet. I used to sit there reading the Annual Report for hours. I didn’t even look busy. You’re supposed to look busy. Most jobs you could do the work in about an hour, to be honest.

TH: So this is all about using your intellect to become master of your situation?

RRJ: The thing is, I’m always busy. I can’t stay in the flat after eight in the morning.

TH: I meet people who have taken control of their own lives and their work and been creative, and created an autonomous life, and I wonder, why is it that so few people do that? And it’s not actually a class issue.

RRJ: People are frightened.

IB: People have families so it ain’t such a good rate to be on the dole as when you’ve got no dependants… Even I had to work as a postie and a hospital porter for years when the kids were young.

TH: Well, I’ve been in a nuclear family for ten years, and it can be hard to keep the energy up to stay freelance. Sometimes you think, this is too much hard work. Life might be easier if I just had to turn up in an office. And what did you do when you first got to London, Ray?

RRJ: I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do when I got here. I got a flat… I had a girlfriend at college, and she did what exactly what she wanted to do. She was career-minded. Her father was a professor and she had the work ethic. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I went on the dole. And nothing much has changed since.

IB: Ray was an accomplished shop-lifter in Swansea so was able to supplement his income.

RRJ: I gave all that up.

IB: Most people go round nicking big lumps of cheese, joints of meat and big Nescafé jars and hawk ‘em round the pubs at lunchtime to get beer money.

TH: So you were exiled from Swansea, Ray?

RRJ: Yes. I nicked a suit with an alarm on, got chased by a security guard who got knocked down by a car but still got up and nabbed me. All the security guards used to say, ‘Morning Ray’.

TH: You had political beliefs behind this.

IB: I didn’t want to work either for the state, being an anarchist, or for some fucking capitalist company. I thought I’d never work officially, but I could do stints on the dole and survive on fuck all money with no possessions outside of a bin bag.

TH: It’s a gentlemanly existence, isn’t it?

RRJ: This is from my book: “On the third day, they’d got us working in the bowels of some huge silo thing… a falling brick fractures my arm and crushes two of my toes. I was lucky. Who said hard work never killed anyone? The twat.”

IB: A mate of ours, John, worked as a ticket collector at Ladbroke Grove station; stood as Class War candidate in the Kensington by-election in ‘87. He never checked any tickets because he would read Class War or The Sun all day. After a while his Underground bosses said, we’ve been watching you for four hours, and you haven’t checked one ticket. You’ve been reading a copy of Class War all day. He brought a successful case saying he had been harassed. And then successfully transferred to the sick for years claiming stress!

TH: Have you ever gone into a job and tried to rouse up the workers to rebellion against the bosses?

IB: Well, always. When I was in the Housing Association once, I eventually got the sack for breach of confidentiality.. There was some fiddling going on, and I told the local paper. They quoted me, an anonymous source, but then put my name in!

TH: I thought it would be a good piece for the Idler, to get a young man to take lots of crap jobs and, in a sense, just behave like a dignified human being and see how long you last. And say: “I’m ethically opposed to that. I can’t do it.”

IB: Cashbusters… they’re all working for debt collecting agencies, pawnbrokers, call centres, charity muggers – all jobs offering mind-numbing boredom and you don’t even get the collectivity of signing on any more – all done from your computer.

TH: My parents were in Fleet Street in the Seventies, and the workplace was something completely different then. Clattering typewriters, shouting, smoking. People worked together and it was fun. They went to the pub together. Now we are separated by the computer. Before Wapping, the unions had ensured that there were some good jobs.

IB: The printers or rather the Union Chapel ran the show and got their members on about a million quid a week… in the heyday of Red Robbo, fighting for jobs, the night shift at British Leyland used their engineering skills to build secret bedrooms on the factory floor where they could grab a crafty kip.

TH: If there was something they didn’t like in the paper, the Father of the Chapel would come upstairs and say: “the boys ain’t happy.” And they were very well paid.

IB: All those big industrial jobs went. We went to a meeting called by Arthur Scargill… one of the miner’s wives went through a litany of family deaths and illness from industrial diseases caused by working in the pits then said: “I’ll fight to keep the pits open for my children and my children’s children…” A lot of the miners didn’t want to go back. They were having a far better time on strike. They were meeting lots of women. They were going all over the country… they were having a great time. There was an argument to say: “Fuck the pits. We ain’t going back underground.” After they went back a lot of them systematically sabotaged the pits so they could take the redundancy money. It’s always the middle class Lefties who claim that the working class is desperate to fucking work. There’s a whole lot of mythologised hokum spun by the Communist Party around the Jarrow marches and South Wales Miners’ libraries. And the proud working class desire for self-improvement… In his top book The Intellectual Life of the British Working Class, David Rose shows that most miners detested the communists because they were arrogant and bullying. The most taken out book from Maerdy miners’ library was not The Communist Manifesto but East Lynne, a Victorian melodrama.

TH: Can you generalize about what the miners did when the mines closed?

IB: Turn to heroin! No, get on the long term sick. They ran pubs. Many of them moved away and totally revamped their lives. After twenty five years few of them regretted. moving from the pits despite the nostalgic camaraderie.

TH: Now what about the argument that says: there is camaraderie in the workplace?

IB: Well there is, and solidarity. But people will find camaraderie in prisons or the most desperate situations you know. There is that camaraderie, but you find other ways of getting it outside the world of work. A lot of the miners found that difficult at first especially with Thatcher intent on destroying a sense of community through her “no such thing as society” speech.

TH: The Guardian is the worst for this. The comments on their blogs are by far the most mean-spirited of all the comment-makers. They’re the worst for calling for “more and better jobs”. They’re also the worst payers in Fleet Street. And it’s full of hierarchy.

IB: Well, they’re all Oxbridge, aren’t the

TH: Well, I am too! But it is Oxbridge-dominated.

IB: The editor’s daughter is on the payroll… When you see a young sprog in the Guardian, you know they’re related… Barnaby, Josh and Harry… leave it out!

TH: As an alternative to wage slavery, we want to do a “taking care of business” issue of the Idler, which will look at how to start your own small business. That is a realistic alternative. We are now running an online shop at the Idler as a micro-business.

IB: For a someone who is idle you put in a hell of a lot of hard work.

TH: As you can imagine, I’ve heard that comment a lot. Yes, we are quite productive. But at home, I work from nine to one and that’s it, really.

RRJ: If you are doing something that you enjoy, as he enjoys it, then you are idle.

IB: It’s like you said earlier, Ray: you are actually very busy.

TH: Idlers are busy! You’re more lazy in a full time job. You just sit there waiting for six o’clock to come. Then you are too tired to do much beyond go to the pub or watch telly.

IB: Do something to disengage your brain.

TH: Jobs tend to be humiliating. You spend all day being told off and then you run to the tube. Then you can’t wait for the tube journey to be over. Then you run home. What do I do now? Have a glass of wine and watch Twin Peaks.

RRJ: The magazine I did, The Roughler, that was really hard work. It was a nightmare and that was just a fanzine.

TH: Yes, it is hard putting a magazine together.

IB: The print costs have come right down. You used to go abroad to get stuff done, but you can get it done in this country now, cheap. The turnaround time is a hell of a lot quicker, too.

TH: I’ve been looking at the pre-Reformation calendar. There was more fun. Cromwell ruined it and then Charles II reopened the theatres and the maypoles went back up.

IB: Well, Charles II… The Ranters were against him

TH: When were the Ranters?

IB: Well, around the same time.

TH: But Cromwell hated the Ranters and the Diggers and the Levellers as well.

IB: Winstanley… Ranters… puritans… fornication… swearing…blasphemy – all that moment of liberation came out of nowhere.

TH: Now, do you think it is always only going to be small groups who break away in this way, like you guys, or the Ranters? Can you imagine mass liberty, or are people just too scared to take that liberty?

IB: A lot of them in jobs are doing what they want anyway…

RRJ: Everyone’s trying to be an entrepreneur all of a sudden…

TH: Yes, but take postmen as an example. I know two posties. One had a heart attack and one was off ill from stress for months. And that’s supposed to be a pleasant job.

IB: “When I get fed up I can climb higher – in time for my heart attack when I retire” – that’s an old number called “Right to Work” our band used to do.

TH: All this ingenuity…

IB: Sabotaging the production line has been a staple of worker’s fightback throughout history.

TH: Wouldn’t it be better if all that ingenuity, energy and collective action was directed towards working for ourselves?

IB: Not if it’s useless production or some chinless fuckwit fashion designer entrepreneur. And don’t get me started on fucking farmers’ fucking markets.

TH: I don’t get anywhere in persuading people near me to boycott Tesco’s… what sort of spirit do you see in people compared to the late sixties and seventies?

IB: There’s very little fightback or imagination around at the moment. We are fed a diet of Daily Mail heath scares and panics. Don’t go outside you might get swine flu. Also in the eighties if you went on a riot and weren’t nicked on the day you got away with it. Now with CCTV and telly coverage you can get nicked months or years later. No fun in that.

TH: What about Climate Camp and all the rest of it

IB: I think that’s just middle class wank turning into green careers or environmental quangos. Climate Camp is the new Cowes week.

TH: Well, what’s happened to the working class intellectuals, then?

IB: A lot of them have been bought off, writing opinion pieces like in-house bits of rough.

TH: Or they become stand-up comedians.

IB: That’s another lot – even the fucking comedians have all been to Oxbridge… Sorry to say it, Tom, but they’re all fucking at it. Everything from the protest movement to even the journos are Oxford or Cambridge educated – Tony Benn, Tariq Ali, Ken Loach…

RRJ: I interviewed Tony Benn. And I said to him, Tony, what about this story of Mrs Thatcher liking you? “Oh, that’s in the past, we’ve got to forget about the past.”

IB: I remember when Churchill died in South Wales. There were collections and some English villages raised thousands. Merthyr Tydfil raised half a crown, a couple of buttons. And some green shield stamps.

TH: But what’s wrong with a good education…

IB: Tony Benn, Ken Loach… I rest my case.

TH: I wrote a chapter in one book about how anti-war marches were a waste of time. But my liberal publishers — who work with the organization Liberty — wouldn’t print it.

IB: One of the problems with the anarchist movement is that it’s lost its libertarian impulse and its hedonism. It doesn’t vigorously oppose restrictions on liberty. We believe in free speech – opposing Griffin going on Question Time was fucking ridiculous, with people saying: “I believe in free speech but…”

TH: But a big part of the anarchist thing is to bust up racist marches and so on.

IB: Nothing wrong with a punch up. I believe Griffin can have free speech but take the physical consequences if people don’t like what he says. I used to admire Donald Soper on his stepladder at Speakers Corner taking on all comers. Top geezer. There’s a whole gamut of things… that’s what I like in the Idler, that libertarian, English anarchy, an affection for place and roots. I love Frank Newbold’s wartime posters: “It’s Your England… Fight For It” and Orwell’s English socialist patriotism. A lot of anarchists are actually just boring leftists…

TH: I like those creative things that actually add to people’s lives, rather than the far Left whingeing. Which is also, in lots of cases, just resentment. And resentment is the wrong attitude.

IB: Nothing wrong with a bit of resentment. Resentment and bitterness! The Yippees and the Dutch Provos showed you can be both bitter and funny. I can just imagine Monbiot on the train saying “don’t do that, Harry” to one of his annoying sprogs who’s annoying every other fucker in the compartment.

RRJ: At dinner, the parents will stop the conversation so their child can interrupt!

TH: We’ve been a bit guilty of that sort of thing. There’s something wrong with my generation of parents. It’s good to be ignored.

IB: People give their kids ridiculous choices. Shut up and eat it! Would you like shallots? No fucking way.

RRJ: If their mother and father are going out, the children should know they’ve got to behave…

TH: Some kind of horrible progressive thing has happened. The word “parenting” is a new word.

IB: They’re treated as young adults. But they’re not and you need to take decisions for them.

TH: State schools are pretty awful because they have been subjected to successive progressive ideologies. That’s why at home we are rebelling by learning Latin, by rote. So we are learning amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant.

IB: Amabo, amabis, amabit, amabimus, amabitis, amabunt.

TH: The future simple! You remember it. You were probably taught well.

IB: I did O level Latin. It’s so easy to learn.

TH: That’s why you have a good brain.

IB: Because of the Latin?

TH: Someone like Boris Johnson did classics at Oxford. He has that bluff exterior but he is a serious guy.

IB: There was a story in the paper this morning that a woman was suing her boss for sexual harassment at work, and he had sent her a rude poem by Catullus in Latin He claimed that she couldn’t possibly have known Latin, but she did!

TH: The old ways

IB: The old ways! I went to visit a kid at Summerhill School once.

TH: How did you find it?

IB: Oh, fucking awful. Half of them are Japanese, strangely enough, and there was a big row about stabbing a pet rabbit… They were having a debate about poor dead bunny but the young kids don’t know what to think… what are your views on stabbing a rabbit to death, aged three?

RRJ: Piers Thompson [a friend with kids] said to me, which camp do you think we fall into, Ray? I said, there are two camps. Either you tell your kids what to do, or you ask them what they want to do. If you tell them what to do, that’s tough love. If you ask them, then you’re a twat.

IB: On the train Jane, my partner, has no patience with middle class twats letting their kids run amok… “Stop these children coming up and pawing me… Harry, Harriet and Josh… you’re going to get thumped in a minute.” She got off to a bad start, because their mater was reading the Tatler. Because she was reading Tatler, she thought everyone else had to look after her kids. After some strong words from Jane, the woman called the police… everyone was craning their necks – class war on the 5.20 outta Paddington!

TH: This new attitude makes having children doubly more difficult than it was before. The men are feeling emasculated because the women ask for so much help, and naturally enough turn to the nearest person around. There’s not enough help from the wider family group.

IB: Also other people used to intervene with your kids. Children are indoors much more these days. The computer games but also the fear… parents read the Daily Mail horror stories

TH: Which are very rare instances.

IB: The local papers like the Hackney Gazette are full of it…

TH: Even where we are, the Mums are frightened. They say: “You can’t be too careful these days.” Although it may be changing: I just came back from a conference of teachers and social workers in Scotland and the theme there was that we have become too “risk-averse” as the jargon has it.

IB: I can remember hitch-hiking – no one does that now. So, Tom, you mix with a broad church of people, then? Social workers, Women’s Institute. A life of ludic pleasure.

TH: And hard graft.

IB: It’s hard work being playful all day. Don’t you think the Idler will be sucked into the corporations and you’ll be bought out and take the money and run off to Alex James’s organic farm? It’s inevitable…

TH: I think it would have happened by now. We have been doing it for seventeen years.

RRJ: When I get the dole now, they ask me what do I do, and I take up old copies of the magazine, and I say, can I use that computer, and they say, yeah, type this in, and I show them my TV station, Roughler TV. Now, why don’t they jump up and down and say, look at this bloke, he’s actually doing something! Instead of saying, there’s a job in this factory.

TH: I was on the dole when I started the Idler, round here, and they did send me on a sort of dolies’ business training course for a week.

IB: You were on the dole and they send you on a course to produce the Idler!

TH: Ha! But it’s kind of unrealistic because they are asking these seventeen year-old dolies to produce a business plan. There was the Enterprise Allowance Scheme. Can we not though find simple ways of working, which is making things and selling them? Women can make things at home.

IB: You want women staying at home?

TH: That’s surely better than working at Asda, to have your own small business.

IB: What about the camaraderie and the saucy banter?

TH: I’d rather be at home making jam with a couple of friends than being bossed around by an idiot at Asda.

IB: Women at home… cottage industry… I’m going misty eyed.

TH: The Women’s Institute is coming back among young people. There are art students at places like Goldsmiths who are starting their own Women’s Institute branches. It’s creative.

IB: You really do see the good in everything.

TH: It is a good thing, though!

IB: Those organisations have always been around. The Women’s Institute have been making jam at home for years, but you’re saying it’s a new trend.

TH: No, I’m saying that I’m into the old ways.

IB: The old ways!

TH: It’s the old ways that politicians hate. They don’t have a sense of history, Left or Right. They are all Whiggish.

IB: Or they make up versions of the old ways. … myths.

TH: The yeomanry. Old-fashioned Tories… You must have found with Class War, it made people realize that they were not alone.

IB: Oh yeah. We would express the wish that the Queen Mother would die of cancer. And you would get an enormous postbag with people agreeing.

TH: I think the over 65s are more radical than the young ones. How old are you two?

RRJ: I’m 58.

IB: 62. We know the old ways. How old are you?

TH: Me? 41.

IB: Ohhh! And he talks of the old ways!

TH: Well, why do you think I’ve brought you together? So I can pay my respects and sit at your feet.

Ian gives me the last four issues of Class War and also a pamphlet written by Tom Vague about the radical history of Notting Hill. Ian asks me, teasingly, whether I was in the Bullingdon Club when at Cambridge. No, I say. I was playing in hardcore punk bands and doing fanzines. Finally, we discuss schools.

TH: I went to Westminster.

IB: School?

TH: Yes.

IB: Fucking hell. They’re all the same, Ray!

*Ray’s biography, Drowning On Dry Land, is now available from Tangent Books.