Passion for change

John Walsh reviews 'All power to the imagination' by Dave Douglass

This book is a strange mix of the crass and the insightful, whose theme is very difficult to pinpoint. It is in part a defence of the trade union movement against some of Dave Douglass’s comrades within the anarchist tradition - those who are not only arrogant and elitist beyond belief, but are also stupid and ignorant. The author does a superb job in exposing all these qualities.

Comrade Douglass describes himself as an anarchist and a Marxist. This is problematic, to say the least. Marxism is concerned with class democracy, whereas anarchism has been opposed to all authority, including the most democratic. In practical terms comrade Douglass is a confused left communist, who recognises the need for some kind of minimum state (see p26). Although he throws around charges about being petty bourgeois, he fails to recognise that many of his own attitudes fall into that category. Despite his remarks about political correctness thrown in the direction of “tree-huggers” and “bunny-lovers”, he himself is not immune to irrationality. For example, it seems that all southerners are rich bastards, and all northerners are the salt of the earth, while the Celts sing lovely songs and exist as a political entity.

Dave demonstrates his very considerable knowledge of the National Union of Mineworkers - although, I must say, he tends to think that familiarity with the NUM automatically gives him a knowledge of all trade unions. The book also wanders into other areas: imperialism, the state of world trade, sexual freedom, the Labour Party, world history ... All of this is quite legitimate insofar as such questions have a bearing on the main argument. They would have even more legitimacy if it were possible to see some thread of connection, for comrade Douglass leaps from twig to twig with the mastery and elegance of a rather large rhinoceros.

The book contains many statements that are either meaningless, quoted out of context or simply wrong. For example: “Ninety percent of the world’s population has no access to electricity, and 1.3 billion people are denied access to drinking water” (original emphasis, p35). Although he claims to be citing a United Nations trade and development report, his figures are clearly wrong. As the 1.3 billion people are alive, they obviously have access to water for drinking, so presumably he means safe drinking water. As regards access to electricity, the inhabitants of the EU and North America alone account for well over 10% of the world’s population. Almost all have such access.

Why does comrade Douglass so consistently gets things only half right? The answer is clear: he is speaking out of the passion he feels about the oppressive capitalist system. But passion is not enough. We need a detailed and accurate understanding of the world, if we are to change it.

Comrade Douglass points out that he did not have much of a bourgeois education, which might have trained him in the necessary literary techniques, such as structuring the book, not to mention getting the spelling right. As a dyslexic myself who comes from a very similar background to his, I am sympathetic to him on this issue. However, I have learnt over the years that the services of a good proofreader and editor - or even a computer spellcheck - can be invaluable.

John Walsh